Debate

Time for the big companies to open up about the tax

The fact that the majority of Sweden's 61 largest companies withhold tax information that should actually be public means that we currently do not know whether companies hinder or contribute to development and justice in the countries in which they are active. As the responsibility for fair taxation lies not only with companies, but also with the Swedish government, Sweden within the OECD and at EU level should work to make it mandatory for companies to report tax at country level and account for actual ownership. That is the opinion of Christine von Sydow, Secretary General of ActionAid

Two thirds of the largest companies on the Stockholm Stock Exchange do not want to state what policy they have for tax planning. Other companies have given answers of different quality in one new survey which ActionAid has implemented. That's not enough.

Transparency is a prerequisite for credibility and accountability. Our survey shows that a large part of the Swedish large companies have a long way to go to reach a reasonable level of transparency when it comes to how they think and act around taxes.

The shortcomings make it difficult for investors to make informed decisions about the reasonableness of investing in a company or not.

At present, we simply do not know whether companies hinder or contribute to development and justice in the countries in which they are active.

We asked a number of questions to the 61 largest companies about how they handle the tax issue - at what level decisions concerning tax issues are made, how they report tax costs, if they use tax havens and more. 20 companies responded.

Some of the companies in the survey are role models. They have clearly shown how they work and in which direction they want to go. Good examples include H&M, Millicom and Tieto, which all have a tax policy that is discussed at board level and that works actively with it on a regular basis. They also show a greater degree of transparency in tax matters than most others who responded to the survey.

Some companies have responded that the information can be sensitive and affect the share price, which gives double signals. They show an ambition to want to share information, but still close the doors completely. If you left the requested information, it would actually affect the course and then you can not leave it selectively. Regardless of whether this price impact is positive or negative, this is serious. ActionAid believes that companies withhold price-affecting information that should be public.

One of the problems is that today it is difficult to demand more from the companies than that they follow the laws and regulations that exist.

ActionAid works for justice and development in the world and wants to arouse companies' commitment to the issue of fair taxes, the importance of a fair international tax system and the benefits of a transparent account of how taxes are paid.

At the same time, we also put pressure on governments in the countries we work to ensure that they do not offer, for example, tax relief or tax-free zones and that all agreements made are transparent and accessible for transparency. We also demand, through the citizens we work with, that the taxes be distributed in a fair and transparent way in the country so that the money is used for the community service that benefits everyone in the country.

All these parts are needed for a tax system to be sustainable.

Today, the system is faulty.

We have three requirements for entrepreneurs and government representatives:

* Stop aggressive tax planning
* Stop all harmful tax incentives
* Increase transparency about how taxes are handled in both companies and authorities

Our survey has examined the actions of companies. The result is therefore meager.

ActionAid believes that corporate social responsibility should also include fair tax behavior, as a state's revenue largely lays the foundation for social justice and development, leading to safer environments to invest in and increased growth. In the long run, it also benefits companies. Avoiding paying a fair tax is a short-term, risky and harmful way of doing business.

The Swedish government also has a responsibility. Sweden should push within the OECD and at EU level for it to be a requirement that each company publicly account for who is the owner and how they pay tax country by country.

Such changes would drastically increase transparency in how taxes are handled globally. It would make it possible to make better use of the tax systems created to finance public services and to support development and democratic structures.

We call on our government and entrepreneurs to take responsibility for creating growth that benefits everyone. There are some simple steps to take. And it's up to proof now. Can you afford not to?

Christine von Sydow
Secretary General of ActionAid

Read the report "Fair tax - a question for large companies?" on www.actionaid.se

This is a debate article. The author is responsible for analysis and opinions in the text.

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