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

Video Debt-ridden Refugees Await Onslaught of Lebanese Winter

Aid agencies are attempting to reduce potentially devastating consequences of freezing conditions and snowstorms that killed eight last year, including three Syrian refugees

Photogallery Belgian Security Measures Foreshadow New Normal for Europe

Rising threat of terrorism, disaffected Muslim populations and open borders, along with refugee, migrant crisis, are creating perfect storm for Europe, which some analysts fear continent is ill-suited to weather

Americans Think About Strange Stuff at Thanksgiving

Tattoos, hookah bars and doughnuts? Google Maps lays out what people really have on their minds during the holiday

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against ISi
November 24, 2015 3:04 AM
The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs

World Currencies


Rates may not be current.