Index puts UK at heart of global tax avoidance

30 May 19

Tax havens luring companies engaged in cross-border trade with rock-bottom rates are destroying the century-old global corporate tax system, says an international network. 

Research behind the launch of a new ‘corporate tax haven index’ says 40% of cross-border direct investments reported by the IMF worth $18 trillion are being registered in just 10 countries.

The Tax Justice Network report lays the blame for the damage this is causing to government revenues across the world squarely on the UK and its “controlled network of satellite jurisdictions” as well as a handful of other OECD states.

“The hypocrisy revealed by the corporate tax haven index is sickening,” said Alex Cobham, the network’s chief executive.

“A handful of the richest countries have waged a world tax war so corrosive, they’ve broken down the global corporate tax system beyond repair.

“The UK, Netherlands, Switzerland and Luxembourg – the ‘axis of avoidance’  – line their own pockets at the expense of a crucial funding stream for sustainable human progress.”

The corporate tax haven index, published on Tuesday, indicates that just a few countries have aggressively undermined the ability of governments across the world to tax multinational corporations properly by offering corporate tax rates of 3% or less.

The Tax Justice Network says this is at the root of the $500bn in corporate tax dodged each year globally by multinationals.

Moreover, it places the lion’s share of responsibility on the UK, which has effectively outsourced corporate tax avoidance to a “spider’s web” of Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies.

The first such study of this scope, the corporate tax haven index ranks countries by their complicity in “havenry” based on scores reflecting the degree to which they enable avoidance.

It lists the top 10 offenders as: the Virgin Islands, Bermuda, and the Cayman Islands – all British territories – and Jersey, a British dependency; The Netherlands, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Singapore, the Bahamas and Hong Kong.

These jurisdictions alone are responsible for more than half (52%) of the world’s corporate tax avoidance risks, the index indicates.

In their competition to woo multinational corporations, they have triggered a “race to the bottom” across the globe that will further deplete tax revenues, says the Tax Justice Network.

Cobham added: “The ability of governments across the world to tax multinational corporations in order to pay teachers’ wages, build hospitals and ensure a level playing field for local businesses has been deliberately and ruthlessly undermined.

“When our laws for taxing global corporations stop working, the global economy stops working for the vast majority of us.”

  • Gavin O'Toole, expert on Latin America
    Gavin O'Toole

    A freelance journalist. He has written six books about Latin America and taught the politics of the region at Queen Mary, University of London.

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