As we marched in the hot December sun on the streets of Lusaka to tell Barclays to clean up their act on tax havens, I thought about the bad behaviour of multinational companies operating in developing countries like Zambia.
I keep thinking whether people like Anthony Jenkins, CEO of Barclays, can ever imagine the pain of a mother having to send her 6 year old daughter to walk 12kms every day to a community school so that she could have a free meal, sometimes the only meal of the day for her child.
Anthony Jenkins and Barclays CEO executives live in a country where freedom of assembly is almost guaranteed. We have struggled today to get a 'permit' to have our march. We were determined to proceed even without a permit. We would have been beaten and jailed if we had proceeded without this permit! So as we march, I wonder if people like Anthony Jenkins even think about the risks that people like the team here at AA Zambia and the vibrant Activista movement are confronted with even when all we want to do is to stop corporations like Barclays from depriving people living in poverty in Zambia of basic social services.
When Barclays encourages its corporate clients to use tax havens that inevitably leads to tax avoidance in many cases, countries like Zambia lose vital funds that would otherwise be used to meet basic social services for the people.
We are undertaking this march at a time that the Zambian government has fired over 200 nurses for going on an 'illegal' strike - demanding correction of salary anomalies and better conditions of service which includes lower nurse/patient ratios. So I still wonder whether companies like Barclays even think that they are part of problems like this in Zambia, because with more revenue Zambia would be able to employ and retain adequate health personnel.
The amount of money that developing countries lose due to tax avoidance is phenomenal and this is now well known. We don’t need to march to remind corporates like Barclays to do the right thing. They have themselves indicated that they want to be a 'force for good' in Africa. This must start with them leading the way in the banking sector to end the use of tax havens and support developing countries like Zambia get the most from their resources, by ensuring transparency in financial transactions.
What corporates like Barclays need to understand is that the movement against bad corporate behaviour like tax avoidance is growing - and we as ActionAid intend to continue to push this as far and as hard as we can. I believe that this is a campaign that Zambians are eager to win and as we march I know that we do this on behalf of millions of Zambians who are tired of not getting any benefit from investments in their country.
I want to ask Barclays to think again about what their actions mean for poor women and children in Zambia. Zambia is an extremely wealthy country but with extremely poor people simply because corporates like Barclays make it possible for this wealth to be taken out of the country. It is time for Barclays to act so that Zambia can retain a fair share of its wealth for the benefit of the people of Zambia.