Naomi Fowler ■ My billionaire bosses funnelled money offshore for years. Now they want a bailout
We’re sharing this personal story from an anonymous writer who has been made redundant in the past month. The consequences of a world where we tolerated the excesses of so-called ‘wealth creators’ are becoming starkly clear as their lack of responsibility or loyalty to employees and to the society that has enriched them is hitting us hard. The wealth they extracted has flowed almost entirely one way – into their pockets via tax havens and through bending and breaking rules with impunity, leaving societies thoroughly weakened and less able to cope with the pandemic than they would otherwise have been. Now read on. [Photo by Anders Nord on Unsplash]
If you’re not careful, you’ll be next: How offshore finance has managed to make the coronavirus crisis even more unpleasant
You love your job. You’re doing good work, providing a vital service that’s making the world a better place. You work in a beautiful office, with free fitness classes, healthy snacks, social events, all the resources you need to do your job. You even get monthly emails from HR telling you how much of a valued team member you are. It’s a far cry from the drab and depressing places you worked at for years, gaining valuable experience but horrifically underpaid and making do with only just enough resources. There’s just one thing not quite right. You report to a head office based in a tax haven, and the finance department have some very specific rules around contracting and invoicing, as if they really do want to keep the operations in the ‘high-tax’ location very separate from those in the ‘low-tax’ location.
Until recently, this was my life, and I’ll admit that I thought it was brilliant. I turned a blind eye to the tax avoidance and the company’s conspicuous wealth. We were being provided for, so who minds if the family that owns the business has a couple of private jets and a bunch of multi-million pound mansions? There’s enough money to go around for everyone.
Then coronavirus happened. Demand took a huge downturn and the company’s revenue dropped close to zero. Within weeks entire departments were being cut. Years of work and experience was being lost, and people were being made unemployed just in time for the biggest recession in a generation. The founder, who before the crisis had always made a point of developing a cult of personality around himself suddenly disappeared from sight. Redundancies were handled by managers, who would in many cases soon be laid-off themselves. Not a word of apology or even acknowledgement from the owners that people were being let go. We were even told to tell suppliers that we weren’t going to pay them the money they were owed for work done. A global company, owned by billionaires, deliberately pushes small business owners and their families into destitution, simply because the cost of enforcing the contract would be too high for a small trader.
But how has offshore finance made this worse? Put simply, for years I worked to help funnel money offshore, into a place that’s only accessible to a chosen few. I skirted the very edges of the law because I had no choice, but when the going suddenly got tough, we were told that there’s no money in the business and that we have to be let go. That may be true, but since the company is privately held offshore, there’s no way at all of knowing.
We were offered the bare minimum in terms of redundancy, but as far as I know, the owner still has his private jets. The company even offered to furlough staff on the understanding that they’ll be laid off once the furlough period ends. We’ll make a few hundred pounds more but the company is going to save hundreds of thousands by reducing redundancy payouts, letting the state make up the difference through furlough payments. This company, which spent years (legally?) cheating the taxpayer out of the funds it needs, now dips into the public pocket when things turn bad, just so it can protect the offshore wealth of a family of billionaires. They’re ripping off the state, which is currently engaged in its biggest and most deadly battle since the Second World War to keep the rich in the lifestyle that they’re accustomed to. All while National Health Service workers struggle to get the equipment they need.
The coronavirus doesn’t discriminate based on how rich you are, and I hope this realisation sinks in with the people remaining at the company, especially those protecting the offshore assets. When your grandchildren ask you what you did during this crisis, do you really want to tell them that you helped swindle the same public sector that kept you and your family alive? If now isn’t the time to finally recognise that for a healthy world, we need properly funded government, then that time will never come. To all those who are working for companies that abuse the tax system, I say this: The offshore world has no loyalty to anyone. Blow the whistle, expose the fraud, let’s build a better system. Do it now, before it’s too late. Last month, I lost everything after years of defending this system. It could be you next.