Fighting inequality in Europe and beyond

An Oxfam stunt calling for action to tackle tax havens. Credit: Tineke D'haese/Oxfam

The increasing global gap between rich and poor and between women and men is generating and sustaining poverty. In Europe and beyond, extreme inequality is fomenting divided societies and stoking populist sentiment.

The coronavirus pandemic has exposed and exacerbated these inequalities further and risks pushing half a billion people more into poverty.

But inequality is not inevitable – it is a political choice and can be overcome by sensible and coherent policy making, not least on EU level.

EU must build a fairer and more progressive tax system

Part of this rising inequality stems from harmful economic practices like tax avoidance. Tax avoidance by multinational companies means developed and developing countries lose huge amounts of income every year that governments could spend on public services proven to lessen inequality and tackle the pandemic, such as healthcare and social protection.

The EU should work with its global partners to create a fair tax system that is essential to a green recovery from COVID-19, and eradicating poverty and inequality by 2030. This includes putting an end to tax dodging and tax havens both within and outside the EU, stopping the race to the bottom in corporate taxation, improving tax transparency, and promoting progressive taxation and universal, free and accountable public services in Europe and beyond.

A fairer tax system is critical to make sure that the cost of the COVID-19 recovery is not paid by the most vulnerable citizens, but by those long-undertaxed individuals and companies that have the capacity to contribute more.

Read our detailed briefing on the changes that the EU should introduce in its own, and the global, tax system.

Upholding human rights throughout European company supply chains

Inequality is also rampant in the supply chains of products sold in the EU. Big actors use their disproportionate power to pressure small suppliers in Europe and the developing world. They cause devastating environmental damage and deplorable labour conditions for the people who produce everything we buy, from our food to our clothes and our mobile phones.

These people often suffer from precarious work, low wages, poor working conditions, gender discrimination and human rights abuses. Now COVID-19 further destabilises already-fragile supply chains and the livelihoods of those who work in them. Women are disproportionately affected as they are overwhelmingly concentrated in the least secure and lowest paid positions in supply chains, and routinely denied a voice by those in positions of power.

Oxfam supports the EU’s plan to introduce new legislation that requires companies to respect human and labour rights throughout their global supply chains. Rules for mandatory human rights due diligence will mean that companies have to identify, prevent, mitigate and account for negative impacts of their business on the rights of people throughout their global supply chain.

Read our detailed briefing, which explains how the EU can contribute to rooting out abuse in our supply chains.