Can a “green” company engage in tax avoidance?

I keep rereading a blog by James Murray on the Business Green website .

James basically focuses on whether  a “Green” company can engage in tax avoidance without damaging its green credentials? He focuses on Google and Starbucks as he describes Amazon as “having one of the most widely criticised approaches to environmental issues and CSR of any major multnational”.

“Google is one of the world’s  leading investors in clean tech R&D and renewable energy deployment, and even boasts the unofficial motto “don’t  be evil””. “Starbucks has in recent years embarked on a widely praised sustainability programme”. ” And yet, despite these admirable characteristics, both companies have also used complex accounting techniques  to minimise their tax bill in the UK. These techniques are, of course, entirely legal, but given that good CSR is all about going above and beyond simple legal compliance ,it is hard to see how this avoidance is comparable with their erstwhile  position as green and ethical business pioneers.”

I think this line of thinking does pose some very interesting questions for tax professionals and for corporates generally. In particular, how joined up is a corporate in terms of the ethical stances which it takes? Can it pick and choose ethical positions to uphold and not uphold without  prejudicing the positions it does uphold and publicises? Now many would argue that one can’t take an ethical stance on tax as the law is complex and not clear. That often the “letter and spirit of the law” are difficult to decypher. This is true in many cases. But how does one reconcile taking actions beyond the law in some fields and not others?

James describes this as the “Bono paradigm” and gives an interesting example. I think we will see more focus on this by corporates and civil society.







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