Labour’s five steps to tackle tax avoidance

David Cameron has failed to bring forward the changes which are needed to bring transparency. Labour would develop a robust and effective corporation tax system.

In tough times it’s more important than ever that everyone plays their part and pays their fair share of tax.

People and businesses who pay their fair share have been shocked by how little tax some companies seem to pay in Britain. Sometimes there are good reasons why, such as because they are investing in research and development. But all too often companies that pay low taxes in Britain are doing so because they can bend the rules to their advantage.

As Ed Miliband says in his interview with today’s Observer, businesses need to act in a responsible way, but the government sets the rules of the game, so they too have a responsibility to act. David Cameron and George Osborne are not just cutting taxes for millionaires, they are also doing far too little to tackle tax avoidance. And they are pushing through deep cuts to HMRC, which risk being a false economy if they make it even harder to enforce the law. 

At the start of the year, we set down a challenge to the government: that they should end the era of tax secrecy. Some companies have not been paying their fair share of tax, hiding behind complex networks of companies and using tax havens to shift their profits out of tax. We said that the government needed to show leadership, bringing forward measures for the G8 that started with the requirement to publish a simple statement for the tax which companies pay in the UK.

But the government has failed to bring forward the changes which are needed to bring transparency. They have also failed to grasp the need to reform of the Corporate Tax system to close the loopholes which are being used by some companies.

This isn’t good enough. David Cameron must deliver real action at the G8 meeting next month, starting with Labour’s five steps to tackle tax avoidance:

i. Labour supports a form of country-by-country reporting. Agreed internationally it would mean large multinational companies should have to publish the key pieces of information which people need to properly assess the amount of tax they pay. This would cover their revenues, profits and taxes in each country that they operate. As well as meaning that multinational companies pay the right level of tax in the UK, this change would be a boost for developing countries. It would stop profits being stripped out from those countries, increasing their tax revenues and reducing their reliance on aid.

ii. Labour would extend the Disclosure of Tax Avoidance Schemes regime, which Labour introduced, to global transactions. The IF campaign have said this would be an effective way of tackling avoidance in developing countries.

iii. Labour would open up tax havens, with requirements to pass on information about money which is hidden behind front companies or trusts. Labour is backing the IF's campaign's calls for the UK to Launch a Convention on Tax Transparency at the G8 to deliver this.

iv. Labour will continue to challenge the government on the impact of their changes to Controlled Foreign Company Rules on the UK and developing countries. Labour has repeatedly tabled amendments in Parliament to introduce a proper assessment of the rules, which have been rejected by the government.

v. Labour also wants to see fundamental reform of the corporate tax system, because the shifting of profits and use of tax havens to avoid tax is also a symptom of a system which is failing to keep up with global economic developments.

That is why Labour is today publishing an update on its review into the full Corporation Tax system. The aim of Labour’s review is to develop a system which is robust and effective in the modern world; supports investment and job creation; deals effectively with the complexities of international business; is fair to all; and is transparent and can be better understood by the public.

Families and businesses who are paying their fair share want to see tax avoidance properly tackled. If David Cameron fails to deliver, then it will fall to the next Labour government to act.

Ed Balls MP is the shadow chancellor and Catherine McKinnell MP is the shadow exchequer secretary to the Treasury

A visitor passes the Google logo on September 26, 2012 at the official opening party of the Google offices in Berlin, Germany. Photograph: Getty Images.

Ed Balls is the shadow chancellor; Catherine McKinnell is the shadow exchequer secretary to the Treasury

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This Ada Lovelace Day, let’s celebrate women in tech while confronting its sexist culture

In an industry where men hold most of the jobs and write most of the code, celebrating women's contributions on one day a year isn't enough. 

Ada Lovelace wrote the world’s first computer program. In the 1840s Charles Babbage, now known as the “father of the computer”, designed (though never built) the “Analytical Engine”, a machine which could accurately and reproducibly calculate the answers to maths problems. While translating an article by an Italian mathematician about the machine, Lovelace included a written algorithm for which would allow the engine to calculate a sequence of Bernoulli numbers.

Around 170 years later, Whitney Wolfe, one of the founders of dating app Tinder, was allegedly forced to resign from the company. According to a lawsuit she later filed against the app and its parent company, she had her co-founder title removed because, the male founders argued, it would look “slutty”, and because “Facebook and Snapchat don’t have girl founders. It just makes it look like Tinder was some accident". (They settled out of court.)

Today, 13 October, is Ada Lovelace day – an international celebration of inspirational women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). It’s lucky we have this day of remembrance, because, as Wolfe’s story demonstrates, we also spend a lot of time forgetting and sidelining women in tech. In the wash of pale male founders of the tech giants that rule the industry,we don't often think about the women that shaped its foundations: Judith Estrin, one of the designers of TCP/IP, for example, or Radia Perlman, inventor of the spanning-tree protocol. Both inventions sound complicated, and they are – they’re some of the vital building blocks that allow the internet to function. 

And yet David Streitfield, a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, someow felt it accurate to write in 2012: “Men invented the internet. And not just any men. Men with pocket protectors. Men who idolised Mr Spock and cried when Steve Jobs died.”

Perhaps we forget about tech's founding women because the needle has swung so far into the other direction. A huge proportion – perhaps even 90 per cent - of the world’s code is written by men. At Google, women fill 17 per cent of technical roles. At Facebook, 15 per cent. Over 90 per cent of the code respositories on Github, an online service used throughout the industry, are owned by men. Yet it's also hard to believe that this erasure of women's role in tech is completely accidental. As Elissa Shevinsky writes in the introduction to a collection of essays on gender in tech, Lean Out: “This myth of the nerdy male founder has been perpetuated by men who found this story favourable."

Does it matter? It’s hard to believe that it doesn’t. Our society is increasingly defined and delineated by code and the things it builds. Small slip-ups, like the lack of a period tracker on the original Apple Watch, or fitness trackers too big for some women’s wrists, gesture to the fact that these technologies are built by male-dominated teams, for a male audience.

In Lean Out, one essay written by a Twitter-based “start-up dinosaur” (don’t ask) explains how dangerous it is to allow one small segment of society to built the future for the rest of us:

If you let someone else build tomorrow, tomorrow will belong to someone else. They will build a better tomorrow for everyone like them… For tomorrow to be for everyone, everyone needs to be the one [sic] that build it.

So where did all the women go? How did we get from a rash of female inventors to a situation where the major female presence at an Apple iPhone launch is a model’s face projected onto a screen and photoshopped into a smile by a male demonstrator? 

Photo: Apple.

The toxic culture of many tech workplaces could be a cause or an effect of the lack of women in the industry, but it certainly can’t make make it easy to stay. Behaviours range from the ignorant - Martha Lane-Fox, founder of, often asked “what happens if you get pregnant?” at investors' meetings - to the much more sinister. An essay in Lean Out by Katy Levinson details her experiences of sexual harassment while working in tech: 

I have had interviewers attempt to solicit sexual favors from me mid-interview and discuss in significant detail precisely what they would like to do. All of these things have happened either in Silicon Valley working in tech, in an educational institution to get me there, or in a technical internship.

Others featured in the book joined in with the low-level sexism and racism  of their male colleagues in order to "fit in" and deflect negative attention. Erica Joy writes that while working in IT at the University of Alaska as the only woman (and only black person) on her team, she laughed at colleagues' "terribly racist and sexist jokes" and "co-opted their negative attitudes”. 

The casual culture and allegedly meritocratic hierarchies of tech companies may actually be encouraging this discriminatory atmosphere. HR and the strict reporting procedures of large corporates at least give those suffering from discrimination a place to go. A casual office environment can discourage reporting or calling out prejudiced humour or remarks. Brook Shelley, a woman who transitioned while working in tech, notes: "No one wants to be the office mother". So instead, you join in and hope for the best. 

And, of course, there's no reason why people working in tech would have fewer issues with discrimination than those in other industries. A childhood spent as a "nerd" can also spawn its own brand of misogyny - Katherine Cross writes in Lean Out that “to many of these men [working in these fields] is all too easy to subconciously confound women who say ‘this is sexist’ with the young girls who said… ‘You’re gross and a creep and I’ll never date you'". During GamerGate, Anita Sarkeesian was often called a "prom queen" by trolls. 

When I spoke to Alexa Clay, entrepreneur and co-author of the Misfit Economy, she confirmed that there's a strange, low-lurking sexism in the start-up economy: “They have all very open and free, but underneath it there's still something really patriarchal.” Start-ups, after all, are a culture which celebrates risk-taking, something which women are societally discouraged from doing. As Clay says, 

“Men are allowed to fail in tech. You have these young guys who these old guys adopt and mentor. If his app doesn’t work, the mentor just shrugs it off. I would not be able ot get away with that, and I think women and minorities aren't allowed to take the same amount of risks, particularly in these communities. If you fail, no one's saying that's fine.

The conclusion of Lean Out, and of women in tech I have spoken to, isn’t that more women, over time, will enter these industries and seamlessly integrate – it’s that tech culture needs to change, or its lack of diversity will become even more severe. Shevinsky writes:

The reason why we don't have more women in tech is not because of a lack of STEM education. It's because too many high profile and influential individuals and subcultures within the tech industry have ignored or outright mistreated women applicants and employees. To be succinct—the problem isn't women, it's tech culture.

Software engineer Kate Heddleston has a wonderful and chilling metaphor about the way we treat women in STEM. Women are, she writes, the “canary in the coal mine”. If one dies, surely you should take that as a sign that the mine is uninhabitable – that there’s something toxic in the air. “Instead, the industry is looking at the canary, wondering why it can’t breathe, saying ‘Lean in, canary, lean in!’. When one canary dies they get a new one because getting more canaries is how you fix the lack of canaries, right? Except the problem is that there isn't enough oxygen in the coal mine, not that there are too few canaries.” We need more women in STEM, and, I’d argue, in tech in particular, but we need to make sure the air is breatheable first. 

Barbara Speed is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric.