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Corporate Social Responsibility, Taxation and Aggressive Tax Planning


Society expects companies to take into account the economic, environmental, and social effects of their operations and activities. The concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR) refers to the operations or actions of companies that are above or independent of the limits or minimum requirements set by legislation.

The economic purpose of a company and its responsibilities towards shareholders and debtors, first and foremost, is a natural starting point in reviewing the responsibilities. Also other stakeholders such as employers or public entities as tax collectors have economic requirements and expectations. Responsibility in the context of tax issues has become the topic of greater attention, with a number of stakeholder groups actively reviewing the approaches that companies take to their tax strategies and tax planning activities.

In this article CSR is reviewed especially in the context of taxation. Does CSR have any significance and importance in the context of tax law and especially income taxation? Does CSR set limits on the tax planning of companies, or is there an obligation to pay any more taxes than what has to be paid according to the law and the tax treaties? While the concept of CSR is not a legal one, neither is the approach for these questions in this article only a legal one.

Attitudes towards taxes are often contradictory. On the one hand, taxes are like any other costs for a company, but on the other hand, they are an economic contribution to the society in which the business is conducted.

The phrase “aggressive tax planning”, as opposed to regular or “acceptable” tax planning, has been used on several occasions recently. Taking a purely technical approach to tax planning is unlikely to protect companies from charges of irresponsibility and associated reputational damage. Aggressive tax planning can be characterized, for instance, by an intensive use of legal and financial tools, establishments in foreign tax havens, unbalanced capital structures and transfer prices, or a disingenuous use of tax treaties.

Still, aggressive tax planning is not a legal concept so there is no legal definition for it. Instead, the question is more or less about where to draw the line of moral acceptability, which runs on the inside of the tax planning area. From the CSR point of view, aggressive tax planning can be defined as actions taken by taxpayers which are in the line of requirements of tax law, but which do not meet the reasonable and justified expectations and requirements of the stakeholders.

Open access
Hypercompetition & Fiscal Attractiveness


Hypercompetition is at the very center of modern economies. As a consequence, both states and enterprises have been heavily engaged in an amoral power game (Colonomos, 2005) based exclusively on strength where tax systems have a prominent role. An obscure fiscal war takes place firstly between states seeking to increase their attractiveness. On the other hand, firms fight against states to optimize their revenues. Therefore, the aim of this paper is to discuss the components and the implications of the competition between states expressed through the establishment of tax havens and the launch of merciless fiscal policies. At the same time, enterprises try to shape the existing laws in a manner that favors their interests, using also aggressive fiscal strategies.

Open access
Good Tax Governance: A Matter of Moral Responsibility and Transparency


Multinational corporations’ tax practices are hotly debated nowadays. Multinationals are accused of not paying their fair share of taxes. Apparently, acting within the limits set by law is not sufficient to qualify as morally responsible behavior anymore.

This article offers ethical reflection on the current debate. The general public typically evaluates (aggressive) tax planning in moral terms rather than legal terms. Therefore, multinationals need to reflect on their tax planning strategy next to economic and legal terms also in ethical terms. This article addresses the relationship between society, morality and taxes. The concepts of tax planning, “aggressive tax planning”, “tax evasion” and “tax avoidance” are elaborated on to exemplify the difference between a purely legal and broader approach. In moral terms, aggressive tax planning may imply loss of integrity and trust which may entail certain costs for businesses, such as reputation damage. It will be argued that in order to improve corporate reputation and (moral) leadership, corporate social responsibility (CSR), endorsed by many corporations around the globe, is a helpful tool. Reflection on tax planning in the context of CSR - good tax governance - should foster a moral mind set and enhance accountability and transparency.

Open access
Responsible Investment: Taxes and Paradoxes


Taxes have become an issue of corporate social responsibility (CSR), but the role of taxation is to some extent an ambiguous and controversial issue in the CSR framework. Similarly, another unclear question is what role investors who are committed to sustainable and responsible investment (SRI) see taxes as having on their environmental, social, and governance (ESG) agenda. Corporate taxes have an inverse relationship with the return of the investors: taxes paid directly affect what is left on the bottom line, reducing the return of investors. However, investors are now more aware of tax-related risks, which can include different forms of reputation risk. Corporate tax planning may increase the returns, but those increased returns are riskier. This study focuses particularly on the relationship between SRI and taxation. We find that tax matters are considered to be on the ESG agenda, but their role and significance in the ESG analysis is unclear.

Open access