The Occupy camp close to the London Stock Exchange and even closer to St. Paul’s Cathedral is a powerful visual symbol of protest and resistance. This ‘cry of rage’ against corporate greed illustrates the breakdown in trust between those heading up the world’s finances and the rest.
St. Paul’s may have closed on health and safety grounds, but the Cathedral still has a unique opportunity to stand with a movement speaking out on an issue that resonates with Christian tradition. Jesus wasn’t too keen on what money lenders got up to either.
Most movements start as a reaction to something, but to be sustained they must be for something positive. To their credit many protestors realise this and are actively debating what’s next.
Protestor or not, we all need ideas that are radical, specific and rooted in fairness not revenge. So here’s my contribution: A (Very) Mini- Manifesto: Five steps to tackle corporate greed.
All ideas for development of this first draft appreciated.
1. Implement a Tobin Financial Tax – better known as a Robin Hood tax.
A tiny tax of about 0.05% on financial transactions in the city particularly on speculative areas that create only instability rather than real jobs and wealth. The G20 are meeting in France at the end of next week – an ideal opportunity for progress.
2. Cut income inequality
The top earner in an organisation should earn no more than 18 times the lowest earner. If a CEO wants to be paid through the nose – fine as long as s/he raises the earnings of those creating wealth at the bottom.
Bonus payments and share options would be taken into account as would people at the bottom end who are contracted out, but are fully reliant on the company for their income. In practice this would mean that if your lowest paid worker earned the minimum wage the highest earner would still be able to earn £225756. Raise the lowest earner to a Living wage of £7.60ph and the top earner could earn £284544 per annum.
This would be difficult to legislate for, particularly in the private sector so a carrot and stick approach would be needed. Tax breaks could be available for companies complying and government contracts not awarded to those not willing to share their wealth with some equity.
3. Head for a Fairtrade future
Fairtrade is now mainstream for many commodities, with most products from clothes to electronics having a fair-trade alternative. Fairtrade provides stability for producers – a bulwark against marketers speculating on people’s livelihoods and it allows them to invest in new products, machinery and education. Fairtrade rewards wealth creation, innovation and environmental sustainability. There’s a robust certification framework in place and the regulations would be achieved through the European Union over 10 years. In 3 years, all tea coffee and bananas imported would be fairly traded followed by chocolate two years later and then other products.
There’s no excuse to not trade commodities fairly. It’s time to kick the cowboys out of town.
4. Start a triple bottom line stock market
People, Planet and Profit. People and companies should be allowed to make healthy profits. They should be rewarded for risk taking, creativity, wealth and job creation. At the moment it is written into the very DNA of a public company that they have to make the maximum profit for their shareholders. Even if their shareholders would be happier with a lesser return if it meant treating People and Planet better it’s very difficult to express that as a shareholder. Efforts so far have been pathetic – it makes me shudder to see some of the companies that are part of the oddly named FTSE4Good.
We need a new type of legally incorporated company that is set up to make profits but will also be explicitly judged on how their intrinsic business processes (NOT their contributions to charity) match up. These companies would be floated on a different exchange which shareholders could go to to invest, where they would be provided with uniform legally required information on their performance in the areas of People, Planet and Profit.
The closest we have so far is a Community Interest Company.
5. Close down offshore tax havens
The Cayman Islands, The Channel Islands, Bermuda, The Isle of Man. The UK is in deep when it comes to tax haven. And there are an awful lot of powerful interests who don’t want us to talk about them, let alone change the regime.
But there is no excuse for allowing companies to squirrel away billions of pounds away from tax.
Talk of competitiveness is hogwash – the vast majority of companies that are big enough to do it hide money away – tougher regulation would still leave a fair playing field. The UK should work for international regulation (it’s not doing anywhere near what it could) but be prepared to take action itself.