Research Shows Big Tech Avoided $2.8 Billion in Tax to Developing Countries

Published: 26 October 2020

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Twenty countries across Asia, Africa, and South America are missing out on as much as US$2.8 billion in tax revenue from Facebook, Apple, and Google alone. (Photo: iPhone Digital, Flickr, License)

By Eli Moskowitz

Twenty countries across Asia, Africa, and South America are missing out on as much as US$2.8 billion in tax revenue from Facebook, Apple, and Google alone, new research by the organization ActionAid revealed on Monday. 

The organization, which focuses on issues related to social justice and inequality, referred to its findings as “just the tip of the iceberg” within the larger issue of how multinationals rely on tax havens to lower their tax bills – depriving countries of desperately needed revenue amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. 

According to its findings, if these three ‘Big Tech’ companies had been fairly taxed, the governments could save enough in just three years to employ nearly 2 million nurses throughout the 20 countries it studied, meeting the World Health Organization (WHO) 2030 benchmark of 40 nurses per 10,000 people.  

“The Covid-19 pandemic has confirmed the urgent need to reprogram our tax systems,” said Alex Cobham, CEO of the Tax Justice Network in response to Monday’s findings. While local businesses have closed due to lockdowns, tech companies – which continue to book record profits – are not making a fair tax contribution, he noted. 

ActionAid acknowledges that little is known about how much Facebook, Apple, and Google actually pay in taxes to developing countries, as that information is not a matter of public record. The organization said that it calculated the multi-billion dollar “tax gap” by taking the estimated number of tech users in each of the 20 countries in relation to their GDP per capita in order to approximate the true level of profits booked by the three tech firms. 

“If all governments compelled all companies to publicly report their financials in each country where they have a presence, a clear route to fair taxation would be possible,” the organization said, arguing that the global community should push for country-by-country reporting where companies are required to declare where their true profits are booked. 

The organization also advocates establishing a global minimum rate of corporate tax so that multinationals can not shop for tax havens to deny revenue to countries and individuals that are most in need.  

“Governments urgently need this money to fund public services such as healthcare and social protection for the billions of people affected by the Covid-19 pandemic,” the report said. 

“Women and young people are paying the price for an outdated system that has allowed big tech companies, including giants like Facebook, Alphabet [Google] and Microsoft, to rack up huge profits during the pandemic, while contributing little or nothing towards public services in countries in the global south,” said David Archer, global taxation spokesperson for ActionAid.