Tax Battles: The dangerous global race to the bottom on corporate tax | Taxes

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Collecting tax is one of the key means by which governments are able to address poverty and inequality. But big business is dodging tax on an industrial scale, depriving governments across the globe of the money they need to address poverty and invest in healthcare, education and jobs. This report exposes the world’s worst corporate tax havens – extreme examples of a destructive race to the bottom on corporate tax which has seen governments across the globe slash corporate tax bills in an attempt to attract business. It calls on governments to work together to put a stop to this before it is too late.
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  OXFAM POLICY PAPER 12 DECEMBER 2016 The skyline of Singapore, which Oxfam has found to be the fifth worst corporate tax haven in the world. Photo: Singapore Travel Guide. TAX BATTLES The dangerous global Race to the Bottom on Corporate Tax Collecting tax is one of the key means by which governments are able to address poverty and inequality. But big business is dodging tax on an industrial scale, depriving governments across the globe of the money they need to address poverty and invest in healthcare, education and jobs. This report exposes the world’s worst corporate tax havens – extreme examples of a destructive race to the bottom on corporate tax which has seen governments across the globe slash corporate tax bills in an attempt to attract business. It calls on governments to work together to put a stop to this before it is too late. www.oxfam.org   SUMMARY: TAX BATTLES CORPORATE TAX DODGING IS DRIVING THE INEQUALITY CRISIS This year, Oxfam revealed that just 62 people own the same wealth as the bottom 3.6 billion people. 1  This stark statistic illustrates the scale of an inequality crisis that is undermining economic growth and the fight against poverty, and destabilizing societies across the globe. This report examines one of the key drivers fuelling this inequality crisis: tax competition, and the resultant race to the bottom  in the taxation of global corporations. Using new research, this report exposes the world’s worst corporate tax havens – the 15 countries which facilitate the most extreme forms of tax dodging. The report looks at the harm caused by falling corporate tax rates and tax giveaways in countries across the world. Finally, the report identifies clear actions governments can take to act in the interest of their citizens and put an end to tax havens and the race to the bottom. Well-designed tax systems that redistribute wealth and provide spending on public goods are one of the most effective ways for governments to reduce inequality and poverty, while sustaining growth. 2  Taxing profits of companies, particularly large, successful corporations, is one of the most progressive forms of taxation. It raises more income for national budgets, and when this revenue is invested in public services, it reduces inequality because it redistributes the income by putting ‘virtual income’ in the pockets of poor people. This equips people with the essential tools and skills to escape poverty, such as good health care and education. Conversely, when governments reduce the tax burden for large corporations, they tend towards two options: to cut back on the essential spending needed to reduce inequality and poverty; or to make up the shortfall by levying higher taxes, such as value-added tax (VAT), on other, less wealthy sections of society. Indirect taxes such as VAT, which fall disproportionately on poor people, make up on average 67 percent of tax revenues in sub-Saharan Africa, impacting women most. 3  At the same time, increased profits as a result of lower corporate taxation benefit the shareholders and owners of corporations who are predominantly wealthy, further increasing the gap between rich and poor. Low corporate tax rates or further tax giveaways are promoted because they are supposed to attract investment. Yet evidence shows that corporate tax rates are not the main consideration for companies when seeking where to invest. There are 12 reasons why companies choose to invest in a country, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness report. 4  The most important are the quality of the country’s infrastructure, the availability of an educated, healthy workforce, and social stability. Corporate tax contributions are vital to ensuring the revenue for these investments. 2  CORPORATE TAX RECEIPTS ARE FALLING ACROSS THE WORLD Over the last few decades, however, figures show that the tax contributions of large corporations are diminishing as governments compete in a race to the bottom on corporate taxation. Over the last thirty years, net profits posted by the world’s largest companies more than tripled in real terms, from $2 trillion in 1980 to $7.2 trillion by 2013. 5  This increase has not been matched by a rising trend in corporate income tax contributions, partially because of tax havens. Ending the corporate tax race to the bottom and protecting corporate tax revenues is particularly important to developing countries. In poor countries, corporate tax revenues as a proportion of total tax revenues are twice as important as they are for rich countries. 6  In 2014, IMF research showed that developing countries are up to three times more vulnerable to negative effects of other countries’ tax rules and practices than rich countries. Research by the United Nations University recently suggested that the poorer a country is, the more likely it is that corporations will shift their profits out of the country in response to incentives (e.g. lower rates) offered by other countries. 7  Developing countries lose around $100bn annually as a result of corporate tax avoidance schemes. This amount is more than enough to provide an education for all of the 124 million children currently out of school, and to pay for health interventions that could save the lives of six million children. 8  Action Aid has estimated that developing countries lose a further $138bn due to tax incentives offered by developing countries to large businesses. 9  This report looks at two core elements of the race to the bottom on corporate tax. Firstly, using new research carried out by Oxfam, the report examines the corporate tax havens that are undermining the whole system of effective corporate tax, naming the worst 15 in the world. Secondly, the report analyses the way the rest of the world is engaging in a dangerous and ultimately self-defeating competition on corporate tax rates and tax exemptions. Finally, it sets out what must be done now by governments to stop this before we see the end of corporate tax altogether. 3  THE WORLD’S WORST CORPORATE TAX HAVENS Tax havens are the ultimate expression of the global corporate tax race to the bottom, and they can be found in every region of the world. For this paper, Oxfam has conducted new research that identifies the world’s worst corporate tax havens. Table 1: Oxfam’s ranking of the top 15 corporate tax havens 1 Bermuda 2 Cayman Islands 3 Netherlands 4 Switzerland 5 Singapore 6 Ireland 7 Luxembourg 8 Curaçao 9 Hong Kong 10 Cyprus 11 Bahamas 12 Jersey 13 Barbados 14 Mauritius 15 British Virgin Islands These countries 10  earned their place on Oxfam’s ‘world’s worst’ list because they facilitate the most extreme forms of corporate tax avoidance, driving the race to the bottom in corporate taxation. To create the list, Oxfam researchers assessed countries against a set of criteria that measured the extent to which countries used three types of harmful tax policies: corporate tax rates, the tax incentives offered, and lack of cooperation with international efforts against tax avoidance. 11  Corporate tax havens are causing the loss of huge amounts of valuable tax revenue and their use is becoming standard business practice for many companies. Oxfam analysis found that 90 percent of the world’s biggest companies had a presence in at least one tax haven. 12  According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), large multinationals own, on average, almost 70 affiliates each in tax havens, and this enables them to pay a lower effective corporate tax rate at the group level compared to multinationals without affiliates in tax havens. 13  Both the European Union and the G20 have committed to producing a blacklist of tax havens in order to clamp down on corporate tax dodging. However, a failure to use objective and comprehensive criteria for assessing countries means many tax havens – including those identified by Oxfam as being among the world’s worst offenders – will not appear on their lists. Criteria for the EU blacklist, may not, for example, include 4
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