At a time when years of austerity have slammed households who are struggling to make ends meet, a new analysis has shown large multinational companies are paying substantially less tax since the financial crisis in 2008.
Over the last decade, corporate tax rates in OECD countries which includes the UK have fallen by about 5 per cent on average — while personal taxes on individuals have jumped 6 per cent, according to accountancy firm KPMG.
The Financial Times (FT) analysis found that since 2008, multinational companies’ effective tax rates, which are the rate the firms say they expect to pay, has fallen by 9 per cent. Their examination of all tax rate measures whether the headline rate — what the government states as the corporate tax rate — effective rate or tax actually paid to governments has shown the same picture of substantial falls.
Governments cutting corporate tax rates only explains part of the picture — the FT has found that the fall in headline rates only accounts for about half of the overall fall in corporate tax. This, the paper has said, means that government measures to curb tax avoidance are not working.
The analysis drew on tax information from ten of the biggest public companies in nine different sectors, as well as from ten companies with the largest amounts of money in offshore accounts. While companies in health, consumer goods and materials sectors reported essentially flat effective tax rates since the financial crisis, companies in the technology sector — think Amazon and Apple — reported a 13 per cent fall over the last decade.
The gap between the last three years of companies’ effective tax rate — what companies say they expect to pay — and what they actually ended up paying in 2017 was highest among major tech companies such as Facebook, Amazon, and Google but also included household names in other sectors such as General Electric.
Tax haven crackdown?
The FT analysis comes as it was revealed late last year that multinational companies avoided paying nearly £6bn in UK tax in 2016 by transferring profits to overseas entities. This was 50 per cent more than previous government estimates.
The £5.8bn was avoided by some of the same corporate giants such as Amazon and Facebook by funneling their European sales through countries such as Ireland and Luxembourg which have lower corporate tax rates.
In an effort to tackle the most aggressive tax-dodging practices globally, the European Union drew up a blacklist of 17 countries in December which it put on notice for its operation of tax havens, including South Korea, Mongolia, Namibia, Panama, Trinidad & Tobago, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, among others.
But in January, EU finance ministers removed 8 of the jurisdictions — including Panama, which came under fire after the notorious Panama Papers leak — without making public the measures the countries said they would take to remedy EU concerns. The EU was also criticised for not including jurisdictions within the bloc such as Ireland and Luxembourg which have previously come under fire from the EU Commission for its tax-avoidance practices.
The decision prompted a backlash from tax reform campaigners. Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said the latest FT analysis and recent EU blacklist debacle showed that governments have not taken their role in curbing tax-avoidance seriously.
“Tax-dodging is not simply restricted to the domain of a few corporate baddies,” he said. “It’s a pervasive practice that’s so entrenched among the elite and many of the profit-crazed global multinationals they run, that within their ranks, it’s seen as normal.
“Corporate theft through tax avoidance continues on the massive, global scale and it will require not only close international cooperation but more importantly, steadfast political will to take on massive corporations that at this point in history wield formidable influence on all our public institutions,” he added.
“The key thing that the UK government can do now is fund the HMRC properly — under this and the previous Tory-led governments, the department responsible for policing tax avoidance and evasion has suffered eye-watering cuts.
“It is no coincidence that massive multinational companies are paying substantially less in tax just as individuals — workers who produce these companies’ profits — are facing higher tax bills,” Turner went on to say. “It is a shameful raiding of wealth from hard-working families by corporate conglomerates. This will only end once governments take the initiative to stop it.”