This manuscript proposes that tax avoidance can be better understood and mitigated as a sustainability problem. Tax avoidance is not just a financial problem for tax authorities, but one that erodes critical common spaces necessary for the smooth functioning of regulatory compliance, organizational integrity, and society. Defining tax avoidance as a sustainability problem offers a broader and more holistic understanding of the organizational and societal consequences of tax avoidance behavior. Sustainability is also a mature and legitimized concept that can readily incorporate taxation. A variety of established sustainability metrics have the capacity to incorporate anti-tax avoidance measures or publicize firms that engage in fair tax practices. This manuscript concludes that integrating sustainability principles, in conjunction with important extant work on corporate social responsibility and taxation, can advance the goals of decreasing the occurrence and acceptability of tax avoidance.
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On April 6, 2016, the US Department of Treasury announced new regulations targeted at tax-driven corporate inversions, and shortly thereafter Pfizer and Allergan announced that the firms would not merge (Merle and Johnson 2016).
Tax avoidance is distinct from tax evasion, which is the willful and illegal circumvention or violation of tax laws in order to minimize tax liability. Tax avoidance is also different than tax mitigation, which arises from actions taken to reduce tax liability that are clearly and expressly stated or encouraged by legal rules (Prebble and Prebble 2010). While tax evasion is clearly illegal and tax mitigation relatively uncontroversial, our focus is primarily on the controversial and legal practice of tax avoidance.
This is a different definition of ‘regulatory commons’ than used by some authors, who define such a commons as when a social problem does not readily fall under the obligation of a single regulatory authority, and responsibility for that problem becomes diffused and ultimately breaks down (Buzbee 2003). Other authors use the term in a manner closer to our own, analogous to a tragedy of the commons problem whereby self-interested individuals in a regulatory space prevent other actors from implementing socially efficient bargains (Hazlett and Skorup 2014).
In 2011, AkzoNobel changed from the using the average ranking of the company within the DJSI to the average ranking within the Sustainable Asset Management (SAM) ranking (AkzoNobel 2012). [SAM is closely related to DJSI and I think the RobecoSAM we’ve discussed, but I can’t explain exactly how or why the shift was made].
As the report states “[t]his underlines how important sustainability is for AkzoNobel and how it has been fully integrated into the way we run our business.” (AkzoNobel 2014).
Two versions exist for assessment, one for UK-only businesses and the other for UK-owned multinationals.
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Bird, R., Davis-Nozemack, K. Tax Avoidance as a Sustainability Problem. J Bus Ethics 151, 1009–1025 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-016-3162-2
- Tax avoidance
- Corporate social responsibility
- Soft law