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Getting ready for Open Data Day 2020 on Saturday 7th March

- November 8, 2019 in Open Data Day, Open Data Day 2020

Open Data Day 2020Next year marks the 10th anniversary of Open Data Day! Open Data Day is the yearly event where we gather to reach out to new people and build new solutions to issues in our communities using open data. The next edition will take place on Saturday 7th March 2020. Over the last decade, this event has evolved from a small group of people in a few cities trying to convince their governments about the value of open data, to a full-grown community of practitioners and activists around the world working on putting data to use for their communities.  Like in previous years, the Open Knowledge Foundation will continue with the mini-grants scheme giving between $200 and $300 USD to support great Open Data Day events across the world, so stay tuned for that.  In the meantime, you can collaborate on the website. opendataday.org is on Github. Pull requests are welcome and we have a bunch of issues we’d love to get through.  If coding is not your thing but you know a language besides English, you can translate the website into your language, or update one of the other nine languages available so far. If you have started planning your Open Data Day event for next year, the new form to start populating the map will be available soon. You can also connect with others and spread the word about Open Data Day using the #OpenDataDay or #ODD2020 hashtags. Alternatively you can join the Google Group to ask for advice or share tips. To get inspired, you can read more about everything from this year’s edition on our wrap-up blog post.

Why greater tax transparency is needed to help fix the broken global tax system

- July 30, 2019 in Open Knowledge

Public CBCR by Financial Transparency Coalition is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

The international tax system is broken and in need of urgent updating to address issues which allow globalised businesses to move their profits and intellectual property around the world, often to locations where they pay the least tax. Indeed some economists estimate that “close to 40% of multinational profits are shifted to tax havens globally each year” with many of the world’s most important tax havens being connected to the UK. The digital services taxes being proposed by countries such as France and the UK arise from frustrations with the slow pace of progress towards an internationally-agreed solution.  Those processes may continue to be held back by reactions from the US – where many of the largest digital businesses originate – or countries such as Ireland which corporations like Facebook may have chosen as their European base for beneficial tax reasons. The EU has so far failed to pass its own legislation to better tax digital businesses although the incoming president of the European Commission recently stated that the EU must act by the end of 2020 if no other international solution is agreed.  The OECD is currently in discussions about a new programme of work to “develop a consensus solution to the tax challenges arising from the digitalisation of the economy. This work is expected to conclude by the end of 2020 and establish a follow-up to their anti tax avoidance Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) project. However the BEPS process has been criticised as being biased towards rich countries prompting calls – from the G77 coalition of developing nations, China and others, most recently Norway – for the United Nations to set up a UN tax body to create a truly global solution to modern taxation. Tech giants such as Google, Amazon and Facebook may be some of the most high-profile examples of companies using complicated tax structuring that the public is aware of – thanks to years of media reporting and targeted campaigning – but the problem is systemic. Tax justice advocates – such as those that the Open Knowledge Foundation helped convene for our Open Data for Tax Justice project – argue that the world’s tax systems need to be fundamentally restructured and have also pushed for a variety of measures sometimes summed up as the ABCs of tax transparency. A stands for automatic exchange of information where countries can more easily share tax data on individuals or businesses. B stands for beneficial ownership where the issue of opaque company ownership is addressed by publishing public registers of who owns or runs companies and trusts. C stands for country-by-country reporting where corporations would be required to publish details about the tax they pay, people they employ and profits they make in each country where they operate to build up a better picture of their activities. Taken together, it is believed that such transparency measures would shine a light on the insalubrious practices currently being used by multinational corporations in order to help the push to crack down on abuses as exposed by investigations such as the Mauritius Leaks, Paradise Papers and Panama Papers. The BEPS process has seen pushed automatic exchange of information forwards and many countries are joining the drive for beneficial ownership transparency (see the OpenOwnership project for more). There are also steps being taken towards making country-by-country reporting public, but progress is slow.  Two years after the EU voted in favour of publishing public country-by-country reporting information as open data for all large corporations operating in Europe, the issue remains stuck in trilogue discussions at the EU Council. Meanwhile others are taking on the issue including international accounting standards setters and civil society efforts such as the Fair Tax Mark. We believe that a lack of transparency in current country-by-country reporting standards will fail to build confidence in the treatment of corporations, missing an important opportunity to build tax morale and wider public support for tax compliance.  Research has shown how restricting access to country-by-country reporting exacerbates global inequalities in taxing rights while civil society organisations have set out why public country-by-country reporting is a must for large multinationals to create an “effective deterrent of aggressive tax avoidance and profit shifting”. We urge all policymakers working on tax issues to prioritise increased tax transparency as an essential strand of modernising the global taxation system as a way to improve public trust and ensure corporate compliance.

Missed opportunities in the EU’s revised open data and re-use of public sector information directive

- July 9, 2019 in European Union, Open Data, Open Government Data, Open Research

Published by the European Union on June 26th, the revised directive on open data and the re-use of public sector information – or PSI Directive – set out an updated set of rules relating to public sector documents, publicly funded research data and “high-value” datasets which should be made available for free via application programming interfaces or APIs. EU member states have until July 2021 to incorporate the directive into law.  While Open Knowledge Foundation is encouraged to see some of the new provisions, we have concerns – many of which we laid out in a 2018 blogpost – about missed opportunities for further progress towards a fair, free and open future across the EU. Open data stickers Lack of public input Firstly, the revised directive gives responsibility for choosing which high-value datasets to publish over to member states but there are no established mechanisms for the public to provide input into the decisions.  Broad thematic categories – geospatial; earth observation and environment; meteorological; statistics; companies and company ownership; and mobility – are set out for these datasets but the specifics will be determined over the next two years via a series of further implementing acts. Datasets eventually deemed to be high-value shall be made “available free of charge … machine readable, provided via APIs and provided as a bulk download, where relevant”. Despite drawing on our Global Open Data Index to generate a preliminary list of high-value datasets, this decision flies in the face of years of findings from the Index showing how important it is for governments to engage with the public as much and as early as possible to generate awareness and increase levels of reuse of open data. We fear that this could lead to a further loss of public trust by opening the door for special interests, lobbyists and companies to make private arguments against the release of valuable datasets like spending records or beneficial ownership data which is often highly disaggregated and allows monetary transactions to be linked to individuals. Partial definition of high-value data Secondly, defining the value of data is also not straightforward. Papers from Oxford University, to Open Data Watch and the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data demonstrate disagreement about what data’s “value” is. What counts as high-value data should not only be based on quantitative indicators such as potential income generation, breadth of business applications or numbers of beneficiaries – as the revised directive sets out – but also use qualitative assessments and expert judgment from multiple disciplines. Currently less than a quarter of the data with the biggest potential for social impact is available as truly open data even from countries seen as open data leaders, according to the latest Open Data Barometer report from our colleagues at the World Wide Web Foundation. Why? Because “governments are not engaging enough with groups beyond the open data and open government communities”.   Lack of clarity on recommended licenses Thirdly, in line with the directive’s stated principle of being “open by design and by default”, we hope to see countries avoiding future interoperability problems by abiding by the requirement to use open standard licences when publishing these high-value datasets. It’s good to see that the EU Commission itself has recently adopted Creative Commons licences when publishing its own documents and data.  But we feel – in line with our friends at Communia – that the Commission should have made clear exactly which open licences they endorsed under the updated directive, by explicitly recommending the adoption of Open Definition compliant licences from Creative Commons or Open Data Commons to member states. The directive also missed the opportunity to give preference to public domain dedication and attribution licences in accordance with the EU’s own LAPSI 2.0 licensing guidelines, as we recommended. The European Data Portal indicates that there could be up to 90 different licences currently used by national, regional, or municipal governments. Their quality assurance report also shows that they can’t automatically detect the licences used to publish the vast majority of datasets published by open data portals from EU countries. If they can’t work this out, the public definitely won’t be able to: meaning that any and all efforts to use newly-released data will be restrained by unnecessarily onerous reuse conditions. The more complicated or bespoke the licensing, the more likely data will end up unused in silos, our research has shown. 27 of the 28 EU member states may now have national open data policies and portals but, once discovered, it is currently likely that – in addition to confusing licencing – national datasets lack interoperability. For while the EU has substantial programmes of work on interoperability under the European Interoperability Framework, they are not yet having a major impact on the interoperability of open datasets. Open Knowledge Foundation research report: Avoiding data use silos More FAIR data Finally, we welcome the provisions in the directive obliging member states to “[make] publicly funded research data openly available following the principle of open by default and compatible with FAIR principles.” We know there is much work to be done but hope to see wide adoption of these rules and that the provisions for not releasing publicly-funded data due to “confidentiality” or “legitimate commercial interests” will not be abused. The next two years will be a crucial period to engage with these debates across Europe and to make sure that EU countries embrace the directive’s principle of openness by default to release more, better information and datasets to help citizens strive towards a fair, free and open future.

Missed opportunities in the EU’s revised open data and re-use of public sector information directive

- July 9, 2019 in European Union, Open Data, Open Government Data, Open Research

Published by the European Union on June 26th, the revised directive on open data and the re-use of public sector information – or PSI Directive – set out an updated set of rules relating to public sector documents, publicly funded research data and “high-value” datasets which should be made available for free via application programming interfaces or APIs. EU member states have until July 2021 to incorporate the directive into law.  While Open Knowledge Foundation is encouraged to see some of the new provisions, we have concerns – many of which we laid out in a 2018 blogpost – about missed opportunities for further progress towards a fair, free and open future across the EU. Open data stickers Lack of public input Firstly, the revised directive gives responsibility for choosing which high-value datasets to publish over to member states but there are no established mechanisms for the public to provide input into the decisions.  Broad thematic categories – geospatial; earth observation and environment; meteorological; statistics; companies and company ownership; and mobility – are set out for these datasets but the specifics will be determined over the next two years via a series of further implementing acts. Datasets eventually deemed to be high-value shall be made “available free of charge … machine readable, provided via APIs and provided as a bulk download, where relevant”. Despite drawing on our Global Open Data Index to generate a preliminary list of high-value datasets, this decision flies in the face of years of findings from the Index showing how important it is for governments to engage with the public as much and as early as possible to generate awareness and increase levels of reuse of open data. We fear that this could lead to a further loss of public trust by opening the door for special interests, lobbyists and companies to make private arguments against the release of valuable datasets like spending records or beneficial ownership data which is often highly disaggregated and allows monetary transactions to be linked to individuals. Partial definition of high-value data Secondly, defining the value of data is also not straightforward. Papers from Oxford University, to Open Data Watch and the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data demonstrate disagreement about what data’s “value” is. What counts as high-value data should not only be based on quantitative indicators such as potential income generation, breadth of business applications or numbers of beneficiaries – as the revised directive sets out – but also use qualitative assessments and expert judgment from multiple disciplines. Currently less than a quarter of the data with the biggest potential for social impact is available as truly open data even from countries seen as open data leaders, according to the latest Open Data Barometer report from our colleagues at the World Wide Web Foundation. Why? Because “governments are not engaging enough with groups beyond the open data and open government communities”.   Lack of clarity on recommended licenses Thirdly, in line with the directive’s stated principle of being “open by design and by default”, we hope to see countries avoiding future interoperability problems by abiding by the requirement to use open standard licences when publishing these high-value datasets. It’s good to see that the EU Commission itself has recently adopted Creative Commons licences when publishing its own documents and data.  But we feel – in line with our friends at Communia – that the Commission should have made clear exactly which open licences they endorsed under the updated directive, by explicitly recommending the adoption of Open Definition compliant licences from Creative Commons or Open Data Commons to member states. The directive also missed the opportunity to give preference to public domain dedication and attribution licences in accordance with the EU’s own LAPSI 2.0 licensing guidelines, as we recommended. The European Data Portal indicates that there could be up to 90 different licences currently used by national, regional, or municipal governments. Their quality assurance report also shows that they can’t automatically detect the licences used to publish the vast majority of datasets published by open data portals from EU countries. If they can’t work this out, the public definitely won’t be able to: meaning that any and all efforts to use newly-released data will be restrained by unnecessarily onerous reuse conditions. The more complicated or bespoke the licensing, the more likely data will end up unused in silos, our research has shown. 27 of the 28 EU member states may now have national open data policies and portals but, once discovered, it is currently likely that – in addition to confusing licencing – national datasets lack interoperability. For while the EU has substantial programmes of work on interoperability under the European Interoperability Framework, they are not yet having a major impact on the interoperability of open datasets. Open Knowledge Foundation research report: Avoiding data use silos More FAIR data Finally, we welcome the provisions in the directive obliging member states to “[make] publicly funded research data openly available following the principle of open by default and compatible with FAIR principles.” We know there is much work to be done but hope to see wide adoption of these rules and that the provisions for not releasing publicly-funded data due to “confidentiality” or “legitimate commercial interests” will not be abused. The next two years will be a crucial period to engage with these debates across Europe and to make sure that EU countries embrace the directive’s principle of openness by default to release more, better information and datasets to help citizens strive towards a fair, free and open future.

Two years on, little action from the EU on public country-by-country reporting

- May 13, 2019 in OD4TJ, Open Knowledge

Two years ago, members of the European Parliament voted to force large multinational corporations registered in Europe to reveal how much tax they pay, how many people they employ and what profits they make in every country where they work. The transparency measure – known as public country-by-country reporting (or public CBCR) – was first proposed by the Tax Justice Network in 2003 and has gained prominence in recent years following international tax scandals including the Panama Papers. MEPs approved the introduction of the measure by 534 votes to 98 votes and also mandated that the information should be published by corporations as open data to allow anyone to freely use, modify and share it. Calls for action on this issue had come from campaigners including the Tax Justice Network, Tax Justice UK and Transparency International and were echoed by politicians from Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and a cross-party selection of UK MPs to the European Commission’s Taxation and Customs Union. Some large companies and investors also spoke out in favour. 78% of British voters would be in favour of public CBCR for multinationals present in UK, according to a 2017 YouGov poll conducted for Oxfam. Oxfam called on the UK government to enforce comprehensive public CBCR for UK companies by the end of 2019. But, ahead of the European parliamentary elections due next week, little progress has been made towards introducing public CBCR across the continent, with legislation being blocked by members of the EU Council. So what will it take for public CBCR to become law?

Public CBCR by Financial Transparency Coalition is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

The European Union already requires companies in the extractive, logging and banking sectors to publish public CBCR information on a regular basis, albeit not as open data. These measures were introduced following the 2007/08 financial crash and in line with the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. Using this information, researchers have revealed the extent to which the top 20 EU banks are using tax havens and also to show how CBCR requirements have forced some banks to change their behaviour. But academics have also shown how better data is needed and efforts to understand the data have been hampered by the need to extract, structure and clean it from tables or text in companies’ annual reports. Since MEPs voted in 2017, the case for the EU to act to introduce public CBCR across more sectors and industries has only grown stronger. The final report of the European Parliament’s Panama Papers committee adopted in December 2017 called for “ambitious public country-by-country reporting in order to enhance tax transparency and the public scrutiny of multinational enterprises” noting that public CBCR is “one of the key measures for achieving greater transparency in relation to companies’ tax information for all citizens”. Investors and those promoting business sustainability have recognised the importance of understanding more about corporations’ tax affairs as well as structuring this information in more of a standardised way. Some businesses have even gone so far as to publish their own CBCR reports ahead of legislation coming into force. In February 2017, as part of our Open Data for Tax Justice project, the Open Knowledge Foundation published a white paper which examined the prospects for creating a global database on the tax contributions and economic activities of multinationals as measured by public CBCR. This found that such a public database was possible and that a pilot could be created by bringing together the best existing source of public CBCR information – disclosures made by European Union banking institutions in line with the Capital Requirements Directive IV (CRD IV) passed in 2013. In July 2017, we took steps towards the creation of this pilot. As European parliamentary candidates enter the final stretch of campaigning, we urge those elected to return to Brussels in July to arrive with a renewed sense of urgency in this area and to focus efforts on making sure public CBCR becomes law before the public’s trust is rocked by yet another international tax scandal.

Why public country-by-country reporting should be introduced in the UK and across Europe

- November 22, 2017 in cbcr, OD4TJ, Open Fiscal Data, paradise papers

The release of the Paradise Papers has drawn attention to international calls for greater tax transparency to tackle the issues raised by the leak of millions of documents detailing the offshore behaviour of some of the world’s richest people and corporations. Along with a renewed push for the creation of public beneficial ownership registers to stop the use of anonymous companies for illicit purposes, debate has focused on how a transparency measure called public country-by-country reporting – or public CBCR – may help dissuade multinational corporations from shifting their profits to tax havens or low tax jurisdictions.

Countries where country leaders, politicians, public officials, or their close family/associates are implicated in the Paradise Papers. Image: JayCoop

Calls for action on this issue from campaigners including the Tax Justice Network, Tax Justice UK, Oxfam and Transparency International have been echoed by politicians from Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and a cross-party selection of UK MPs to MEPs and the European Commission’s Taxation and Customs Union. Some large companies and investors have also spoken out in favour. 78% of British voters would be in favour of public CBCR for multinationals present in UK, according to a new YouGov poll conducted for Oxfam. So what is public CBCR and what steps could politicians take to use it to shine a light on tax avoidance behaviour?

What is country-by-country reporting?

CBCR requires that corporations publish information about their economic activities in all of the countries where they operate. This includes information on the taxes they pay, the number of people they employ and the profits they report. In February, as part of our Open Data for Tax Justice project, Open Knowledge International published a white paper co-authored by Alex Cobham, Jonathan Gray and Richard Murphy which examined the prospects for creating a global public database on the tax contributions and economic activities of multinationals as measured by CBCR. This found that such a public database was possible and that a pilot database could be created by bringing together the best existing source of public CBCR information – disclosures made by European Union banking institutions in line with the Capital Requirements Directive IV (CRD IV) passed in 2013. In July, we took the first steps towards the creation of this pilot.

What should be done now?

While our white paper found that some sources of public CBCR are available now, debates on expanding this measure to apply to a wider range of corporations have been slow to progress in the UK and across Europe.    The UK took the lead by legislating in favour of public country-by-country reporting in the 2016 Finance Act. But the final cross-party amendment from Caroline Flint MP did not include an implementation date and the UK government now says it will only “support the development of a public country-by-country reporting model that operates on a multilateral basis”. In July 2017, the European Parliament voted in favour of requiring all large multinational corporations to publish public CBCR information as open data. But this issue has now been passed over to the Council of the European Union for them to consider how to proceed and it is unclear how or when a decision by EU member states will be taken. The issue will continue to be debated in coming weeks. On 22nd November, Nigel Mills MP will lead a debate on public CBCR at the Houses of Parliament in the UK. Oxfam have called on the UK government to enforce comprehensive public CBCR for UK companies by the end of 2019. Shortly afterwards, a special Paradise Papers hearing will be held at the European Parliament on 28th November. And in early December, the final recommendations from the Panama Papers committee at the European Parliament which call for “the need of an ambitious public country-by-country reporting (CBCR) in order to enhance tax transparency and public scrutiny of multinational enterprises (MNEs)” are due to be voted on by MEPs. To tackle the issues exposed by the Paradise Papers, we urge the UK government to take the lead by putting their 2016 powers into action and encourage the European Parliament and EU Council to endorse swift moves towards public CBCR to help expose and tackle profit shifting by multinational corporations. Please email contact@datafortaxjustice.net if you’d like to be added to the Open Data for Tax Justice mailing list or want to join the Open Data for Tax Justice network. You can also follow the #OD4TJ hashtag on Twitter for updates.

Open Data for Tax Justice design sprint: building a pilot database of public country-by-country reporting

- July 27, 2017 in Open Knowledge

Tax justice advocates, global campaigners and open data specialists came together this week from across the world to work with Open Knowledge International on the first stages of creating a pilot country-by-country reporting database. Such a database may enable to understand the activities of multinational corporations and uncover potential tax avoidance schemes.  This design sprint event was part of our Open Data for Tax Justice project to create a global network of people and organisations using open data to improve advocacy, journalism and public policy around tax justice in line with our mission to empower civil society organisations to use open data to improve people’s lives. In this post my colleague Serah Rono and I share our experiences and learnings from the sprint.    What is country-by-country reporting?

Image: Financial Transparency Coalition

Country-by-country reporting (CBCR) is a transparency mechanism which requires multinational corporations to publish information about their economic activities in all of the countries where they operate. This includes information on the taxes they pay, the number of people they employ and the profits they report. in order  Publishing this information canto bring to light structures or techniques multinational corporationsthey might be using to avoid paying tax in certain jurisdictions by shifting their profits or activities elsewhere.

In February 2017, Open Knowledge International published a white paper co-authored by Alex Cobham, Jonathan Gray and Richard Murphy which examined the prospects for creating a global public database on the tax contributions and economic activities of multinational companies as measured by CBCR. The authors found that such a public database was possible and concluded that a pilot database could be created by bringing together the best existing source of public CBCR information – disclosures made by European Union banking institutions in line with the Capital Requirements Directive IV (CRD IV) passed in 2013.  The aim of our design sprint was to take the first steps towards the creation of this pilot database.   What did we achieve?

From left to right: Tim Davies (Open Data Services), Jonathan Gray (University of Bath/Public Data Lab), Tommaso Faccio (University of Nottingham/BEPS Monitoring Group), Oliver Pearce (Oxfam GB), Elena Gaita (Transparency International EU), Dorcas Mensah (University of Edinburgh/Tax Justice Network – Africa) and Serah Rono (Open Knowledge International). Photo: Stephen Abbott Pugh

A design sprint is intended to be a short and sharp process bringing together a multidisciplinary team in order to quickly prototype and iterate on a technical product.

On Monday 24th and Tuesday 25th July 2017, Open Knowledge International convened a team of tax justice, advocacy, research and open data experts at Friends House in London to work alongside developers and a developer advocate from our product team. This followed three days of pre-sprint planning and work on the part of our developers. All the outputs of this event are public on Google Drive, Github and hackmd.io. To understand more from those who had knowledge of trying to find and understand CRD IV data, we heard expert presentations from George Turner of Tax Justice Network on the scale of international tax avoidance, Jason Braganza of Tax Justice Network – Africa and Financial Transparency Coalition on why developing countries need public CBCR (see report for more details) and Oliver Pearce of Oxfam Great Britain on the lessons learned from using CRD IV data for the Opening the vaults and Following the money reports. These were followed by a presentation from Adam Kariv and Vitor Baptista of Open Knowledge International on how they would be reusing open-source tech products developed for our Open Spending and OpenTrials projects to help with Open Data for Tax Justice. Next we discussed the problems and challenges the attendees had experienced when trying to access or use public CBCR information before proposing solutions to these issues. This lead into a conversation about the precise questions and hypotheses which attendees would like to be able to answer using either CRD IV data or public CBCR data more generally.

From left to right: Georgiana Bere (Open Knowledge International), Adam Kariv (Open Knowledge International), Vitor Baptista (Open Knowledge International).

As quickly as possible, the Open Knowledge International team wanted to give attendees the knowledge and tools they needed to be able to answer these questions. So our developers Georgiana Bere and Vitor Baptista demonstrated how anyone could take unstructured CRD IV information from tables published in the PDF version of banks’ annual reports and follow a process set out on the Github repo for the pilot database to contribute this data into a pipeline created by the Open Knowledge International team. Datapackage-pipelines is a framework – developed as part of the Frictionless Data toolchain – for defining data processing steps to generate self-describing Data Packages. Once attendees had contributed data into the pipeline via Github issues,  Vitor demonstrated how to write queries against this data using Redash in order to get answers to the questions they had posed earlier in the day.   Storytelling with CRD IV data Evidence-based, data-driven storytelling is an increasingly important mechanism used to inform and empower audiences, and encourage them to take action and push for positive change in the communities they live in. So our sprint focus on day two shifted to researching and drafting thematic stories using this data. Discussions around data quality are commonplace in working with open data. George Turner and Oliver Pearce noticed a recurring issue in the available data: the use of hyphens to denote both nil and unrecorded values. The two spent part of the day thinking about ways to highlight the issue and guidelines that can help overcome this challenge so as to avoid incorrect interpretations. Open data from a single source often has gaps so combining it with data from additional sources often helps with verification and to build a stronger narrative around it. In light of this, Elena Gaita, Dorcas Mensa and Jason Braganza narrowed their focus to examine a single organisation to see whether or not this bank changed its policy towards using tax havens following a 2012 investigative exposé by a British newspaper. They achieved this by comparing data from the investigation with the bank’s 2014 CRD IV disclosures. In the coming days, they hope to publish a blogpost detailing their findings on the extent to which the new transparency requirements have changed the bank’s tax behaviour.  

Visual network showing relation between top 50 banks and financial institutions who comply with Capital Requirements Directive IV (CRD IV) and countries in which they report profits. Image: Public Data Lab

To complement these story ideas, we explored visualisation tools which could help draw insights and revelations from the assembled CRD IV data. Visualisations often help to draw attention to aspects of the data that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. Oliver Pearce and George Turner studied the exploratory visual network of CRD IV data for the EU’s top 50 banks created by our friends at Density Design and the Public Data Lab (see screengrab above) to learn where banks were recording most profits and losses. Pearce and Turner quickly realised that one bank in particular recorded losses in all but one of its jurisdictions. In just a few minutes, the finding from this visual network sparked their interest and encouraged them to ask more questions. Was the lone profit-recording jurisdiction a tax haven? How did other banks operating in the same jurisdiction fare on the profit/loss scale in the same period? We look forward to reading their findings as soon as they are published.   What happens next? The Open Data for Tax Justice network team are now exploring opportunities for collaborations to collect and process all available CRD IV data via the pipeline and tools developed during our sprint. We are also examining options to resolve some of the data challenges experienced during the sprint like the perceived lack of an established codelist of tax jurisdictions and are searching for a standard exchange rate source which could be used across all recorded payments data. In light of the European Union Parliament’s recent vote in favour of requiring all large multinational corporations to publish public CBCR information as open data, we will be working with advocacy partners to join the ongoing discussion about the “common template” and “open data format” for future public CBCR disclosures which will be mandated by the EU. Having identified extractives industry data as another potential source of public CBCR to connect to our future database, we are also heartened to see the ongoing project between the Natural Resource Governance Institute and Publish What You Pay Canada so will liaise further with the team working on extracting data from these new disclosures. Please email contact@datafortaxjustice.net if you’d like to be added to the project mailing list or want to join the Open Data for Tax Justice network. You can also follow the #OD4TJ hashtag on Twitter for updates.   Thanks to our partners at Open Data for Development, Tax Justice Network, Financial Transparency Coalition and Public Data Lab for the funding and support which made this design sprint possible.               

Why MEPs should vote in favour of releasing public country-by-country reporting as open data

- May 29, 2017 in OD4TJ

Tax avoidance and profit shifting by corporations across the world is an issue which has been gaining visibility over the past decade with many governments, campaigners, researchers and journalists calling for urgent political action. These calls have only gotten louder following recent reporting on scandals such as Luxleaks and the Panama Papers by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. On 30th May 2017, members of the European Parliament have the chance to vote in favour of amendments aimed at forcing Europe’s largest multinational corporations to be more transparent about the tax they pay and their operations in different countries. This would be achieved by getting the companies to release public country-by-country reporting. Despite setbacks and proposals to water down other tabled amendments, MEPs seem likely to back the amendments calling for country-by-country reporting information to be released to the public “in a common template available in an open data format”. Open Knowledge International hope that MEPs will back these open data amendments to help unlock the value of this key information.

Image: Financial Transparency Coalition

So what is country-by-country reporting and why should it be public rather than being privately reported to tax authorities? Country-by-country reporting is a transparency requirement which forces large multinational corporations to publish information about their economic activities in all of the countries where they operate. This includes information on the taxes they pay, the number of people they employ and the profits they report. By legislating greater transparency around tax affairs via mechanisms like country-by-country reporting, the international community wants to tackle tax avoidance and ensure that companies pay the correct amount of tax in line with their activities in any given country. These efforts – spearheaded by the ongoing OECD Base Erosion and Project Shifting (BEPS) project – are focused on helping countries grow their tax bases and benefit more from economic activity carried out in their jurisdictions. But the BEPS project mandates that corporations’ country-by-country reporting information should be kept private, shared only with the tax authority in the country where they are headquartered and other countries which have tax information-sharing deals in place. The public would have no right to access this information. We believe that a lack of transparency in current country-by-country reporting standards will fail to build confidence in the fair tax treatment of high-profile taxpayers, missing an important opportunity to build tax morale and wider public support for tax compliance. Research has shown how restricting access to country-by-country reporting exacerbates global inequalities in taxing rights while a recent joint briefing by 14 civil society organisations set out why public country-by-country reporting is a must for large multinationals to create an “effective deterrent of aggressive tax avoidance and profit shifting”. For the Open Data for Tax Justice project, Open Knowledge International partnered with the Tax Justice Network and the Financial Transparency Coalition to create a global network of people using open data to improve advocacy and public policy around tax justice issues such as public CBCR. In February 2017, our white paper – What Do They Pay? – laid out how to create a public database of country-by-country reporting information to account for the economic activities and tax contributions of multinational corporations. And to demonstrate how public country-by-country reporting released as open data can be of great value to a wide range of actors, Open Knowledge International is currently planning work over the next couple of months to take solid steps towards the creation of this database. We hope that MEPs vote in favour of the public country-by-country reporting open data amendments next week and look forwards to bringing our expertise with open fiscal data to bear to help people make use of this data in future.   Find out more about our Open Data for Tax Justice project at datafortaxjustice.net where you can also read our white paper on laying out a roadmap towards a public database to account for the economic activities and tax contributions of multinational corporations. Email contact@datafortaxjustice.net if you’d like to be added to our project mailing list or follow the #OD4TJ hashtag on Twitter.

Spotlight on tax evasion: Connecting with citizens and activists working on tax justice campaigns across Africa

- September 22, 2016 in OD4TJ

Open Knowledge International is coordinating the Open Data for Tax Justice project in partnership with the Tax Justice Network to create a global network of people and organisations using open data to inform local and global efforts around tax justice. Tax evasion, corruption and illicit financial flows rob countries around the world of billions in revenue which could be spent on improving life for citizens. That much can be agreed. But how many billions are lost, who is responsible and which countries are worst affected? Those are difficult questions to answer given the lack of transparency and public disclosure in many tax jurisdictions. The consensus is that it is the economies of the world’s poorest countries which are proportionally most affected by this revenue loss, with African governments estimated to be losing between $30 billion and $60 billion a year to tax evasion or illicit financial flows, according to a 2015 report commissioned by the African Union and United Nations. International bodies have been slow to produce solutions which fight for the equitable sharing of tax revenues with lobbying leading to a retrenchment of proposed transparency measures and scuppering efforts to create a global tax body under the auspices of the UN. tax-justice-pablo More transparency and public information is needed to understand the true extent of these issues. To that end, Open Knowledge International is coordinating the Open Data for Tax Justice project with the Tax Justice Network to create a global network of people and organisations using open data to improve advocacy, journalism and public policy around tax justice. And last week, I joined the third iteration of the International Tax Justice Academy, organised by the Tax Justice Network – Africa, to connect with advocates working to shed light on these issues across Africa. The picture they painted over three days was bleak: Dr Dereje Alemayehu laid out how the views of African countries had been marginalised or ignored in international tax negotiations due in part to a lack of strong regional power blocs; Jane Nalunga of SEATINI-Uganda bemoaned politicians who continue to “talk left, walk right” when it comes to taking action on cracking down on corrupt or illicit practices; and Professor Patrick Bond of South Africa’s Witwatersrand School of Governance foresaw a rise in violent economic protests across Africa as people become more and more aware of how their natural capital is being eroded. Several speakers said that an absence of data, low public awareness, lack of political will and poor national or regional coordination all hampered efforts to generate action on illicit financial flows in countries across Africa. Everyone agreed that these debates are not helped by the opacity of key tax terms like transfer pricing, country-by-country reporting and beneficial ownership.

“…an absence of data, low public awareness, lack of political will and poor national or regional coordination all hampered efforts to generate action on illicit financial flows”

The governments of South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya and Tanzania may have all publicly pledged measures like creating beneficial ownership registers to stop individuals hiding their wealth or activities behind anonymous company structures. But at the same time a key concern of those attending the academy was the closing of civic space in many countries across the continent making it harder for them to carry out their work and investigate such activities. Michael Otieno of the Tax Justice Network – Africa told delegates that they should set the advocacy agenda around tax to ensure that human rights and development issues could be understood by the public in the context of how taxes are collected, allocated and spent. He encouraged all those present to combine forces by adding their voices to the Stop the Bleeding campaign to end illicit financial flows from Africa. Through our Open Data for Tax Justice project, Open Knowledge International will be looking to incorporate the views of more civil society groups, advocates and public policy makers like those at the tax justice academy into our work. If you would like to join us or learn more about the project, please email contact@datafortaxjustice.net.