On September 22-23, 2016, the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice (CHRGJ) at NYU School of Law will host an international conference entitled Human Rights and Tax in an Unequal World. The conference is the centerpiece of CHRGJ’s broader initiative to promote scholarship and public debate on the relationship between inequality, the global economy, and human rights. It will bring together an interdisciplinary group of leading practitioners and scholars, international officials and activists to discuss the ways in which tax policy can be viewed as a form of human rights policy, and to consider how the international human rights framework might contribute to bringing greater equity and justice to the global tax regime. The conference is particularly timely given mounting public concern that tax abuses are widening the gap between the rich and the poor and broad recognition that growing economic inequality threatens the human rights of all. Corporate tax scandals and tax avoidance schemes, such as those revealed by the Panama Papers, have fueled demands that the wealthiest pay their fair share and that States play their part in tackling abuses both domestically and transnationally. Public budget shortfalls, which result in part from these tax abuses, weigh disproportionately on the poorest and most vulnerable populations. Globally, developing countries lose more public revenues through tax loopholes and outflows to financial secrecy jurisdictions each year than they earn in aid and foreign investment. Moreover, when corporations and wealthy individuals skirt tax payments, they shift the tax burden onto lower-income taxpayers who cannot engage in sophisticated tax avoidance schemes, entrenching inequalities within a given State and across the global North-South divide. Studies have shown that taxation can be an important tool for redressing inequality and reducing poverty. But if poorly designed or implemented, tax laws can entrench disparity and exacerbate discrimination. When States seek to fill resource gaps by adopting easily administered but regressive tax measures, the disadvantaged suffer even more. Rectifying the unequal distribution of income and wealth is thus both a tax problem and a human rights imperative.
For years, resource constraints have been cited as the principal limitation on the ability of States to fulfill their human rights obligations, particularly when it comes to economic, social and cultural rights. Yet with few exceptions, human rights scholars and practitioners have shied away from core economic and financial debates, leaving the policies that shape resource availability and allocation largely in the hands of economists, tax and investment lawyers, and development experts. Those technocrats, in turn, have rarely paid heed to the expanding corpus of human rights law and its implications for State and non-State actors. There has been very little dialogue between tax and human rights experts, and even less scholarship on the intersection of these fields. This conference aims to help fill that gap, asking whether the disciplines of tax law and human rights law— unlikely bedfellows—can learn from and inform one another, particularly as they confront common challenges.
Conference Program and Schedule can be found here.