Taxation and human rights

As part of the Center’s new initiative on Inequality, the Global Economy, and Human Rights, the Center seeks to promote interdisciplinary dialogue and research on the linkages between taxation and human rights.  Taxation is critical to the realization of human rights in myriad ways, most notably through its impacts on the ability of states to mobilize resources, the distribution of resources within and among societies, and the relationship between governments and the governed.  Recognition of these linkages largely has been limited to the NGO community and to the few academics who have explored human rights-based approaches to budget analysis.  To date, there has been little sustained, scholarly work examining the relationship between the international human rights framework and fiscal policy, including taxation.  Similarly, although there is a sizable body of work on taxation and social justice, including issues of inequality and redistribution, there is little indication that the tax law literature has grappled with human rights law.

The recent surge in media attention to issues of taxation, inequality, and social justice makes it an opportune moment to deepen scholarly reflection on the human rights dimensions of current fiscal issues.  In the wake of the global financial crisis and the concurrent increase in economic inequality, debates over tax policies and abuses have gained public prominence, both domestically and internationally.  Corporate tax scandals, the tax avoidance strategies of wealthy elites, and the failure to harness the ballooning finance industry to boost the public fiscality, are issues of growing public concern.  Increasingly, analysts have established linkages between revenues lost through tax loopholes and budget austerity measures, and between tax secrecy jurisdictions and illicit financial flows out of the developing world.  Intergovernmental organizations, as well as prominent development and anti-poverty organizations, have expanded their research on corporate tax abuse and tax competition, and encouraged policy dialogues on international tax cooperation and fiscal policy in the global development agenda.  Some organizations have begun to frame their policy recommendations as human rights imperatives; others have launched programs focused on human rights in tax policy.  And, in June 2014, Philip Alston, in his role as UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, presented a report to the Human Rights Council outlining the ways in which domestic and international tax policies implicate states’ legal obligations under human rights law.

Notwithstanding recent initiatives, more critical analysis and cross-disciplinary exchange are necessary both to sensitize the human rights community about why tax policy is human rights policy and to broaden the range of legal considerations and principles that tax experts bring to bear in designing and evaluating tax policies, including human rights obligations and norms.  Likewise, cultivating dialogue between human rights and tax scholars may help strengthen the responsiveness of tax policy and analysis to growing social pressures, diversify the range of audiences to which tax scholarship speaks, and ultimately enhance the efficacy of proposed tax measures.

To that end, the Center organized an international conference on taxation and human rights that took place at the NYU School of Law on 22-23 September 2016.

Relevant Documents

ANNOUNCEMENT: CEDAW calls Switzerland to account for effects of its tax policies on women’s rights (November 2016)

FACT SHEET for CEDAW: State Responsibility for the Extraterritorial Impacts of Tax Abuse on Women’s Rights (November 2016)

FULL SUBMISSION to CEDAW: Swiss Responsibility for the Extraterritorial Impacts of Tax Abuse on Women’s Rights (November 2016)

ANNOUNCEMENT: Switzerland in CEDAW hot seat over negative effects of its tax policies on women’s rights (November 2016)

ANNOUNCEMENT: GJC Applauds UN Committee for Calling UK to Account Over Impact of Unjust Tax Laws (July 2016)

SUBMISSION to CESCR: UK Responsibility for the Impacts of Crossborder Tax Abuse on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (May 2016)

ANNOUNCEMENT: Global Justice Clinic Highlights UK Responsibility for Human Rights Impacts of Cross-Border Tax Abuse (May 2016)

ANNOUNCEMENT: Global Justice Clinic and Partners Convince Human Rights Body to Investigate Impacts of Swiss Tax Policies on Women’s Rights (April 2016)

ORAL STATEMENT to CEDAW: Oral Statement of the Center for Economic and Social Rights, the Tax Justice Network, the Berne Declaration, and the Global Justice Clinic to the CEDAW Committee at its 65th Pre-Sessional Working Group Meeting (March 2016)

ANNOUNCEMENT: Global Justice Clinic Successfully Urges CEDAW to Consider Gendered Impact of Swiss Tax Policies (March 9, 2016)

ANNOUNCEMENT: Switzerland’s Financial Secrecy Brought Under the Human Rights Spotlight (March 1, 2016)

SUBMISSION to CEDAW: State Responsibility for the Impacts of Cross-border Tax Abuse on Women’s Rights & Gender Equality (February 2016)