News / Economy

EU, G20 Move to Crack Down on Corporate Tax Avoidance

The new iPhone 5C is seen on screen at Apple Inc's media event in Cupertino, California Sept 10, 2013.
The new iPhone 5C is seen on screen at Apple Inc's media event in Cupertino, California Sept 10, 2013.
Ana Hontz-Ward
— Every year, the eurozone loses an estimated one trillion euros in revenue from multinational companies that don’t pay taxes on their European profits. These companies, including tech giants like Apple, Amazon and Google, as well as coffee company Starbucks, take advantage of loopholes in the complicated international tax code system and move their profits around the world to dodge tax payments. But they are facing increasing scrutiny from cash-strapped European governments and criticism from consumers over their unfair practices and lost revenues.

Paying the bills every month is a challenge for businessman Jalil Kidder, the owner of a security company and small restaurant in a suburb of Frankfurt. Among his highest costs - the long list of German taxes.  In addition to other taxes, Jalil pays the German government on average 30 percent of his profits in income tax. 

In Frankfurt's financial district, a short drive from his restaurant, Starbucks's flagship store in the city has paid no profit tax since it opened its doors 10 years ago. This contradiction is at the heart of a recent debate in Germany and the European Union about tax avoidance by wealthy multinational corporations.

"There is a saying here that goes like this, the big ones are eating the small, he says. That’s exactly what we are experiencing in this situation in Germany: the big companies are getting richer and richer in this country while small businesses like mine are struggling, they’re going kaput," said Kidder.

Starbucks and Apple declined interview requests for this story.  But a recent investigation by the U.S. Senate shows that between 2009 and 2012, Apple paid no tax on its reported $74 billion in overseas income.  Apple achieved this by legally opening a subsidiary, or affiliate, in Ireland and exploiting a loophole in the Irish tax code. 

Companies like Facebook and Amazon employ similar tactics, using a complex network of affiliates in countries like Luxembourg, the Netherlands or Switzerland to dodge billions of euros in taxes.  Taxes that would otherwise go to Germany or France go instead to Luxembourg or Ireland, but at a discounted rate.

Hanno Kube, a professor of tax law at the University of Mainz, says these seemingly legal tactics are unethical and unfair to small local businesses.

"They have [a] competitive advantage which is not acceptable; [just[ because they use international structures is not a justification for not making them pay taxes. Also, they use infrastructure provided by the [German] states, they use the streets, our banking system, our laws, so it’s only fair that they also pay taxes for the profits they make," Kube said.

And European governments are hoping this happens sooner rather than later. The EU recently asked the governments of Ireland, the Netherlands and Luxembourg to disclose their corporate tax arrangements with U.S. tech giants, while the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, or OECD, presented the G20 in St. Petersburg earlier this month with a 15-step plan to tackle international tax avoidance. 

The OECD tax reform plan would require multinationals with overseas operations to pay taxes on any profits coming from sales in that particular country - basically, to play by the same rules that apply to local businesses. Consumers in Germany agree the change is long overdue.

"I think it’s kind of unfair because all the other companies in Germany have to pay taxes," said Viola Marienfeld, a college student in Frankfurt. "But it won’t change my opinion about Starbucks. I still like them."

The issue has also been getting attention in the United States, with Apple executives going in front of a U.S. Senate subcommittee in May to explain the company's tax practices in the U.S. and abroad. 

Hanno Kube of the University of Mainz says it’s no surprise many of the biggest tax avoiders in Europe are U.S. tech companies. The United States uses a tax law that subsidizes multinational companies and eventually leads to lost revenues for European countries. Resolving this issue, he says, will be hard, but the U.S. is part of the solution.

"It needs the consensus of many nations because corporations will always find a small country which will attract them, a country which doesn’t cooperate," he said. "That’s a big problem in international tax law, but, in general, I do see a trend towards stricter international tax law and also towards more exchange of information between states, including Luxembourg and Switzerland, an exchange of information which we haven’t seen years ago. So the political pressure is increasing."

If adopted, the 15-point plan released earlier this month by the OECD in St. Petersburg will overhaul the international tax system and eventually bring in billions of euros of much needed revenue to a region still grappling with debt and austerity measures. Most importantly, the plan will bring some relief to small businesses and ordinary taxpayers.

You May Like

At Khmer Rouge Court, Long-Awaited Verdict Approaches

First phase of trial, which is coming to an end, has focused on forced exodus of Phnom Penh in 1975 - and now many are hopeful justice will be served More

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities More

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

Downing of Malaysian airliner, allegations of cross-border shelling move information war in war-torn country to a new level More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
July 31, 2014 8:13 PM
The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelter

Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Rapid Spread of Ebola in West Africa Prompts Global Alert

Across West Africa, health officials are struggling to keep up with what the World Health Organization describes as the worst ebola outbreak on record. The virus has killed hundreds of people this year. U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders are watching the developments closely as they weigh what actions, if any, are needed to help contain the disease.
Video

Video Michelle Obama: Young Africans Need to Embrace Women's Rights

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama urged some of Africa's best and brightest to advocate for women's rights in their home countries. As VOA's Pam Dockins explains, Obama spoke to some 500 participants of the Young African Leaders Initiative, a six-week U.S.-based training and development program.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.
Video

Video Study: Latino Students Most Segregated in California

Even though legal school segregation ended in the United States 60 years ago, one study finds segregation still occurs in the U.S. based on income and race. The University of California Los Angeles Civil Rights Project finds that students in California are more segregated by race than ever before, especially Latinos. Elizabeth Lee reports for VOA from Los Angeles.

AppleAndroid

World Currencies

EUR
USD
0.7305
JPY
USD
101.53
GBP
USD
0.5830
CAD
USD
1.0656
INR
USD
60.075

Rates may not be current.