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May 14, 2015

OECD condemns Silicon Valley for “extremely aggressive” tax planning

Head of forum's tax policy will push for reform to cut down on avoidance.

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The OECD has attacked the "extremely aggressive" tax planning of companies such as Google, Amazon and Apple as it pushes for reform of global tax rules to cut down on avoidance.

Pascal Saint-Amans, who heads up tax policy at the forum for democratic countries, told the BBC that standards being drawn would force multinationals to pay more tax in countries in which revenue was created.

"Most of these [large technology] companies have been extremely aggressive, pushing the boundaries of what is legal," he said.

"My advice would be instead of focusing on tax planning, please do the wonderful job you are doing on innovation and be much more conservative on tax planning."

Firms from Silicon Valley have been widely accused of large-scale tax avoidance, in which companies arrange their finances to pay the minimum amount of tax under the law.

Such schemes make copious use of loopholes, often diverting funds into tax havens such as Luxembourg or the Channel Islands, or countries which have low corporation tax such as Ireland.

Whilst Saint-Amans condemned tax avoidance, he also blamed governments which he claimed "over the past 20 years let the rules shift away from what should have been achieved".

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"We have moved from a world where we were so good at eliminating double taxation with tax treaties and transfer pricing rules that we have facilitated double non-taxation," he said.

"[But] we need to be balanced. Double taxation is bad [and] multiple taxation is worse because that will harm cross-border investment. And that is what we need, for growth and for employment."

Whilst companies such as Starbucks, Amazon and Apple have all been accused of not paying their fair share in taxes, Google has been at the centre of the controversy, with a proposed law in the UK to combat tax avoidance even being nicknamed the "Google tax".

In Australia, which is also creating legislation to combat the trend, the managing director of Google Australia Maile Carnegie recently defended her company’s tax affairs, saying that the majority of risk and investment was in the US.

"The explanation for why an Australian multinational, whether they be in mining or in biotech, is able to generate the majority of their revenue outside of Australia but pay the majority of their taxes inside of Australia is that the Australian-based headquarters does most of the investment and carries most of the risk," she told the Senate, the upper house in the country’s legislature.

"That explanation is also why Google pays most of its taxes in our US headquarters, because the US headquarters is where the majority of our costs are borne."

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