The Atlas of the Offshore World is a result of research efforts of the EU Tax Observatory, in association with the Skatteforsk – Centre for Tax Research, and research funding from the Norwegian Agency for Development (Norad). The overall objective of the grant is to support countries in mobilizing domestic resources to finance their national development priorities and SDGs in a fairer way by reducing tax evasion and illicit financial flows.
The structures enabling illicit financial flows and profit shifting are global and cannot be studied in isolation. Therefore, as a first step the project has focused on the creation and dissemination of public, up-to-date, and user-friendly data on existing statistics on taxation in developing countries, together with the production of new insights on the extent and characteristics of hidden offshore wealth and illicit financial flows.
The fruits of these efforts have resulted in the publication of the Global Tax Evasion Report 2024 and the Atlas of the Offshore World. By using these, advocates and governments will have a better knowledge base to further strengthen their work towards reforming the existing and complex cross-border secrecy enabled by offshore financial centers.
Norad’s Support and historical developments
The Director General of Norad, Bård Vegar Solhjell, has expressed that he feels proud of supporting the important work being carried at the EU Tax Observatory and the Skatteforsk Centre. The Atlas, he said, “…will make an invaluable contribution to making research on tax evasion and avoidance available and understandable for broader audiences. Interactive tools like this portal can greatly contribute to informing policymakers, journalists, and civil society organizations, as well as spur public debate to pressure for effective solutions to counter illicit financial flows.”
In the last decade, there has been a revolution when it comes to access to information about activities in offshore financial centers and tax havens. In part, this has been facilitated through journalistic collaborations on huge data leaks, together with researchers and members of civil society as shown in the Dubai Uncovered project.
Increased international cooperation on taxation and the exchange of information led by the OECD has also played a crucial role. Governments rely on this information to counter the secrecy of tax havens, which facilitates everything from corruption to money laundering and tax evasion. But information also needs to be filtered, processed and brought into context in a systematic and accessible way in order to effectively bring transparency to the broader public. The Atlas of the Offshore World targets precisely those dissemination needs.
The nexus between tax and development
When asked about the importance of this project in connection with Norad’s broader development work, Director Bård Vegar pointed out the lack of resources mobilized to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030:
“It is becoming increasingly clear that countries, in both the developed world and especially in developing economies, will need massive public investments to reach the sustainable development goals, to curb climate emission, and to fund climate mitigation in the next decade. International development assistance and private sector finance have important roles to play here, but it is no doubt that the mobilization of domestic resources through national tax administrations will have to do the heavy lifting to provide the funding needed.”
It is precisely due to this need for public investment that countries are in desperate need of solutions to stop the draining of resources through tax avoidance and evasion. Better knowledge on these phenomena is essential, as stated by Norad’s director:
“We need to strengthen our efforts on targeted solutions based on the best knowledge and research available. Here, institutions such as the EU Tax Observatory and the Skatteforsk – Centre for Tax Research are key to enabling better analysis and diagnosis of what remedies are needed to strengthen tax revenues.”