Tax, corporate responsibility and human rights: new paper

From the Boston University Law Review, a paper by Jasmine Fisher entitled Fairer Shores: tax havens, tax avoidance and corporate social responsibility. Its introduction contains this:

“The doctrine of corporate social responsibility provides a logical rationale for multinational corporations to adopt antiavoidance practices, in that the harm caused by tax avoidance outweighs any financial benefit that accrues from these practices.”

Quite so – as we’ve argued before, not least because corporate tax avoidance is like refined sugar in the human body: empty financial calories with adverse long term health effects. But it’s not just that. As Fisher continues:

“Some corporate leaders have demonstrated remarkable nonchalance toward or even expressed pride in their tax avoidance practices. For these corporate leaders, if national governments have not (yet) made it illegal, it is not wrong; in fact, in the view of some, fiduciary responsibilities toward shareholders may even require their corporations to engage in such activities. If this attitude prevailed in all areas of business, however, corporations would still engage in environmentally harmful activities, human rights abuses, and other forms of socially irresponsible activity for the sake of maximizing shareholder value.”

So: along with the clear links between tax abuses and issues of Corporate Responsibility, here is yet another linkage between tax abuses and human rights abuses – an area of fast-growing interest and engagement from academics, civil society and others.

Despite the gargantuan scale of the problem, there’s hope in all this, as the paper continues:

“Fortunately, the same mechanisms that helped environmental and human rights advocates convince corporations to engage in nontax socially responsible activity – that is, consumer activism, investor influence, and corporate leadership – have the potential to end the corporate tax avoidance culture and end (or at least mitigate) the harms of international corporate tax avoidance.”

So: let’s all get cracking. The new paper, as a reminder, is here.


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About The Author

Nicholas Shaxson is a journalist and writer on the staff of Tax Justice Network. He is author of the book Poisoned Wells about the oil industry in Africa, published in 2007, and the more recent Treasure Islands: Tax havens and the Men who Stole the World, published by Random House in January 2011. He lives in Berlin
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