THE BLOG

Barclays Needs to Clean Up Its Shameful Act

21/03/2014 16:08 GMT | Updated 21/05/2014 10:59 BST

When Antony Jenkins took the helm at Barclays he promised to clean up a bank that had been badly scarred by a seemingly relentless stream of scandals. To re-enforce the point he sent an email to his 140,000 staff saying that he wanted to bring new ethical standards to Barclays. Those who didn't want to sign up to them were told they should leave.

A year on though, it's starting to feel like an empty promise. He's made an embarrassing U-turn on large bonuses - having pledged to cut them he now says that bumper pay-outs to staff are vital to the health of the bank. And the bank has still not taken action to stop promoting tax havens to large businesses in Africa.

Despite strong rhetoric and a charm offensive in Parliament, many of the questionable practices that concern Barclays' customers continue, including the bank's role in propping up the global tax avoidance machine. Practices that for some of the world's poorest countries make the difference between receiving proper healthcare or not.

ActionAid has been shining a light on the bank's Offshore Corporate business which has been actively promoting the tax advantages of known tax havens to big businesses that want to set up shop in African countries. Offshore Corporate exists, in its own words, to "maximise the advantage offered by offshore jurisdictions", singling out Mauritius as the "offshore centre of choice for India and the Sub-Saharan region".

Thousands of ActionAid supporters in the UK and around the world have called on Barclay's to clean up its act and stop positioning itself as the go-to bank for tax-dodgers - those companies that profit from the resources and infrastructure of developing countries but refuse to share the spoils. Just because it's legal, doesn't make tax dodging right, especially in some of the poorest countries in the world where tax revenues could be used to build schools and hospitals.

If Antony Jenkins really wants to achieve higher standards on tax and become a "force for good" in Africa- as he has very publicly said he does- he could start by shutting down the shameful work of Offshore Corporate. To be taken seriously as a responsible business leader takes real vision and decisive action, not empty promises.

As he sits down to write his speech for Barclays' AGM next month, Antony Jenkins needs to weigh up how compatible the current practices of Offshore Corporate are with his vision for an ethical bank. Perhaps enough of us can persuade him that no matter where you are in the world, tax justice matters.