The Responsible Tax project is now four years old. Seventy of us came together in an Ideas Exchange this week to help identify the major issues and challenges ahead, as well as to discuss what to tax? – fresh thinking captured in a new publication, out in October. As ever, it was an energising and important series of conversations.
A full report and films will follow soon. In the meantime, Jane McCormick’s latest update on the project is available here and through the link below.
I feel both personal responsibility for – and pride in – the programme’s development. The tax project’s inception in 2013 coincided with the publication of Trust Me, PR is Dead, in which I argued against the pointless, sterile, soundbite-driven and ultimately adversarial non-debates around real issues of corporate responsibility and sustainable business.
PR and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), as I wrote at the time, had become part of the business problem and were never part of the future solution. A radically different approach was needed from corporate players, in which principles and purpose provided the start point, and which brought multiple voices together from business, politics and civil society, in wise crowds, to find a new consensus and social compact. #ResponsibleTax has broadly followed this model.
The tax project’s journey is well documented on the Jericho web site and the Responsible Tax platform itself. A community now several hundred strong and increasingly global spans the political and economic universe, left to right. It is rooted in a set of core beliefs in the participatory business operating model of the future: activist; co-produced; accountable; and welcoming both vulnerability and dissent. Indeed, those who have helped design, develop and guide the project have included – and still include – some of corporate world’s fiercest critics. But they, like we, acknowledge that no-one has all the answers. Hence the responsibility of us all.
None of what has been achieved to date – surfacing the challenges and exploring often radical possibilities and alternatives – would have been possible without the courage and leadership of KPMG’s Jane McCormick and Chris Morgan. I do not say this lightly, sentimentally or – as some cynics will no doubt quickly suggest – “just because they are clients”. That is not the Jericho way. The easy route, then and now, would have been to keep heads below the parapet and not engage. That is what generations of corporate advisers have invariably counselled. But that is the response of the 20th century, failed settlement and it hasn’t worked.
Instead, Jane and Chris, supported by Jericho and others, have pursued a thoughtful, principled and consistent path – exposing themselves to hurdles and hostility along the way. As we set out at the beginning, the only way to address fundamental issues of taxation – and therefore justice, fairness and equality – is to properly re-examine the very purpose of tax itself. And no purpose can ever be properly examined from within an echo chamber of opinion or a filter bubble of social media. Nor can it be bought from a fancy-pants marketing agency, in line with current corporate fashion.
Over four years, we have not shied from the burden of responsibility and have tackled issues of avoidance and evasion; transparency and international competition; the developing world; the digital economy and more. We have published extensively – always representing opinions across the debate. No-one said it would be easy and, at times, it really hasn’t been.
My personal message, supported by my Jericho colleagues, to those who chose not to participate this week because of the presence of organisations with whom they disagree is simple: none of us can learn if we do not listen. As someone noted in a Financial Times comment thread: “the fact that two random individuals refused to engage in the conversation is sad but not really newsworthy”.
As Jericho, we have always believed that we cannot resolve big issues – tax, housing, ageing, caring, transport, infrastructure among them – by living in our echo chambers; only talking to those with whom we violently agree; and trying to “no platform” those with different points of view. This is little more than the binary, tired ding-dong politics of the 1980s Student Union. Our threatened world deserves better – negotiating nuance and complexity, however painful, and making imaginative leaps towards a more optimistic, shared future.
To solve the critical problems and injustices that society faces, surely it is better to join the conversation and develop bigger and better ideas, rather than lob rocks and seek attention from the side-lines. This is the responsibility of us all.