THE BLOG
19/03/2015 06:31 GMT | Updated 18/05/2015 06:59 BST

A Source of Injustice: Why Students Should Campaign Against Tax Dodging

Every year I (well, my parents) pay £9,000 in tuition fees, plus a few thousand more for accommodation.

Every year this money goes towards a big pot that helps the University of Essex purchase all the services and materials it needs, through its Procurement Office.

Every year developing countries lose an estimated $160bn as a result of tax dodging by some unscrupulous multinational corporations.

Most students are aware of at least two of these three facts, but do not connect the dots. I know this because I used to be one of those students.

That was until I found out about the Sourced campaign launched by the Christian Aid Collective, a social justice movement for young people. This campaign is mobilising UK students to join the dots.

Let me explain: since 2013 all UK central government departments that source services or materials from external companies are required to take into account whether these companies comply with tax rules (in the UK and overseas), if they're considering procurement contracts worth over £5m.

Public authorities, universities included, don't have to do this. So although the UK's higher education sector spends $7bn a year on goods and services such as building maintenance, energy, food and IT systems, as it stands they're not obliged to ask these suppliers about their tax practices.

Christian Aid Collective wants this to change.

Why? Because tax is one of the most powerful tools developing countries can use to lift themselves out of poverty. Because companies who dodge their taxes in the UK and abroad shouldn't be allowed to profit from our tuition fees. Because tax justice matters.

The Sourced campaign recognises that students have a say in how universities spend their money, and so it's inviting students to write to their university Procurement departments to encourage them to "opt in" to the government policy and start questioning potential service providers about their tax practices.

Once I'd joined the dots, there was no question of me getting behind the campaign: that's why I decided to run the Sourced campaign at Essex University with other members of the faith-based society that I lead there.

When we first started planning our campus campaign, we weren't sure we'd be able to put enough pressure on the university to act. So we started collecting signatures and collaborating with other student societies on campus, both political and faith-based.

Before we knew it, other groups were asking to join in, as did some university staff. Fast forward a few months and countless flyers and posters later, and we'd collected enough signatures, so we sent our Procurement Office a letter outlining our argument.

A week later we had made history: the university agreed to our suggested changes. Ours was the first Sourced campaign success in the country. I was never more proud.

But why does it matter? By taking away resources that governments in poor countries need in order to invest in essential services like healthcare, schools and sanitation, tax dodging robs people of the chance at a better life.

Tax injustice is not just greed: it's a bad investment.

The University of Essex is on the right side of history, along with all the people across the country who are campaigning for tax justice.

Every university has a choice: they can keep shouting about their social justice record, or they can actually do something about it. They can train nurses from overseas, or they can make sure that when these nurses return to home, they'll have decent hospitals to work in. All it takes is a change of policy.

We have a chance to make a tangible difference in the lives of people across the globe: people we might never meet, but who are as real as we are. After all, who wouldn't want all human beings to be able to thrive, study and become economically independent?

As I look back at what we managed to achieve in Essex, I can't help but wonder what will come next. There's still a long way to go before tax justice moves from being an abstract concept to becoming reality.

That's why a group of UK organisations, including Christian Aid, ActionAid and the National Union of Students, are calling on all political parties to pledge to introduce a Tax Dodging Bill in the first 100 days after the General Election. And it's why I want students across the country to take up the Sourced campaign. It's vital that we win this battle, and I know we can.

As my favourite activist Martin Luther King once said: "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice."

To find out about Christian Aid Collective's Sourced campaign, see here.