Business and Professional Ethics Journal

Volume 33, Issue 1, Spring 2014

Simone de Colle, Ann Marie Bennett
Pages 53-82

State-induced, Strategic, or Toxic?
An Ethical Analysis of Tax Avoidance Practices

Tax avoidance practices by Multinational Enterprises (MNEs) such as Google, Microsoft, Apple, Starbucks and others are increasingly under scrutiny both from a legal and an ethical perspective. In 2013, the OECD launched an ‘Action Plan’ to encourage the G20 countries to address Base Erosion and Profit Shifting through an internationally co-ordinated approach, arguing that tax avoidance represents a risk for tax revenues and tax fairness, potentially “undermining taxpayers voluntary compliance.” The analysis of tax avoidance in the existing business ethics literature suffers from a black-and-white approach, contending either that tax avoidance is unethical (e.g. Prebble & Prebble 2010) or that, being legal, tax avoidance is also ethical (e.g. Houghton 1979). However, we believe that within tax avoidance practices there are important distinctions to be made. In this paper, we analyze the ethics of tax avoidance by identifying three different forms of avoidance practices: state-induced, strategic, and toxic avoidance. We develop a more nuanced approach reviewing both the ethical arguments in defense and the ethical issues associated with each form of tax avoidance. Finally, we propose an ethical framework that could assist executives and policy-makers in their decision-making concerning tax avoidance.