Tag Archives: #transparency

Investigating Emerging Responsible Corporate Tax Practice

By Sara Jespersen.

  • In the absence of an over-arching world tax authority, much agency and power remains in the hands of the corporations operating the system.
  • Much of the discussion on responsible corporate tax practice is focused on those corporations that maximize the use of the rules to minimize their tax payments
  • But what about those corporations that do not participate in the race to the bottom on tax practices –  can we see emerging trends of responsible corporate tax practice and where?

Approximate reading time: 2-3 minutes.

The issue – corporate tax and globalization
Corporate tax planning is high on the political agenda in Denmark and, indeed, internationally since the revelations of how corporations minimize their tax bills through the use of tax havens have started rolling. Several corporations have been exposed for their aggressive practices by the European Commission, NGOs, journalists – to the great outrage of the public and politicians.

Valuable work is being undertaken to understand the depth of the crisis for society, the seriousness of the problem – its persistence and scale, and the dynamics of the politics of solving it. Much of which is focused on those corporations that maximize the use of the rules to minimize their tax payments.

But what about those corporations that already pay their so-called fair share and do not participate in the race to the bottom on tax practices? In particular, those who are not afraid to show it?

The governance challenge – tax competition among sovereign states and the offshore world
The challenge of all this arises because of the way in which the governance of the tax affairs of multinational enterprises (MNEs) is set up. MNEs that operate in several countries from the North to the South of the world operate in various judicial systems. Many of them also have mobile assets that can be moved from one jurisdiction to another through the click of a mouse and has little to do with the physical world. Some jurisdictions have set themselves up to attract the location of this type of intangible assets and will give favourable tax conditions in return. Judging where corporate assets should be taxed and what the market value is of intangible assets is no easy task for any one country in the world. With no over-arching world tax authority the outlook for permanent solutions to some of these fundamental challenges to the taxation of MNEs corporate profits is looking somewhat long-term.

What role for business and for responsible corporate tax practices?
So it looks that much agency and power remains in the hands of the corporations operating the system. In a society where the focus on corporate tax payments remains one of the hottest topics and trust in corporate tax affairs is dwindling for years on end conditions are perfect for encouraging greater responsibility in corporate tax matters. But what responses are we seeing from the business world of their own initiative if any? How are they responding to this mounting distrust in corporate taxation practices from “society”?

There are signals that somethings are brewing. The fair tax mark in the UK have taken off, CSR Europe have included the issue of corporate tax in their work, as has the network of responsible investors the Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) and the European Commission is not shy to be clear about their vision of tax as a part of CSR (speech by Margrethe Vestager, EU trade commissioner.

My research going forward will focus on investigating this emerging trend of responsible corporate tax practice. It will investigate to what degree it is already taking place and what it might consists of, as well as its meaning and potential in an international political economy with a great focus on corporate tax payments and MNE’s role in supporting the achievement of the sustainable development goals around the world.


Sara is PhD Fellow at Copenhagen Business School and her research is focused on the emerging relationship between responsible business conduct and corporate tax planning of multinational enterprises. Building on several years of experience from working with international development NGOs, Sara is particularly interested in how this affects developing countries’ financing challenges and the focus on the role of the private sector in achieving the sustainable development goals (SDGs).  

You can contact Sara via email and follow her on Twitter.

Pic by Madison Kaminski (Unsplash), edited by BOS.

The Dark Side of Transparency

By Lars Thøger Christensen.

Transparency is essentially about creating insight into organizational and institutional practices in order to allow for critique, stimulate improvement and hold politicians and decision makers accountable. As such, transparency is an essential dimension of a rational, open and democratic society. Without transparency, there is great potential for manipulation, negligence and fraud. Yet, transparency may itself be manipulative. Even when the intention is to disclose and stimulate insight, the results may be less benign. Whenever something is illuminated and pulled out for further inspection, something else remains in the dark.

Any serious pursuit of transparency needs to consider what the pursuit itself is doing to public insight, what it “hides” so to speak and what remains out of view.

Part of this problem resides in the way we understand transparency. While openness and insight may be the ultimate goals, it is commonplace to define transparency in more prosaic terms, for example as information provision. With oceans of information available at our fingertips, the world certainly appears far more transparent than ever before. Yet, accurate information about complex issues, such as sustainability or social responsibility, is usually not easy to digest. Most information about such matters, thus, is often accessible only to experts. And whenever it is made accessible to lay people, it has been subjected to multiple processes of editing and simplification.

No information speaks for itself and attempts to make it “speak” hide as much as it disclose.

Another problem concerns the organizational behavior we hope to see and understand better through practices of transparency. If we think that organizations and decision makers continue to conduct business as usual when subjected to increased transparency, we are utterly wrong. Transparency is not a neutral tool that simply illuminates a preexisting world. When people in organizations know that their talk, decisions and actions are publicly accessible, they are less inclined to experiment, take chances, share ideas, or talk freely about their accomplishments, ideals, assessments and aspirations. This is the case in numerous organizational processes, including meetings, bargaining games, conflict resolutions, idea generation, etc. where the need to withhold some information and protect identities or strategic positions are often important concerns. In such cases, the willingness to share complete and accurate information may be limited and replaced by a desire to “send the right signals” or make the right impressions.

Transparency may cause organizational members to hold back or otherwise adjust behavior.

As a result, we may see less than we think. Even when transparency is enforced by rules and regulations, like for example social responsibility reporting in some countries, participants have a tendency to alter and edit their behaviours in ways that conform to social norms and expectations (i.e. by creating a “front”). Organizational behaviour is certainly not unaffected by increased transparency demands. Thus, we know that organisations carefully select, simplify, and summarize data before they are revealed, that they selectively disclose or leak information, for example through competitive signalling and they shrewdly manage the timing of disclosure, sometimes with the intention of deflecting critique or handling potential issues. Moreover, producers and custodians of data often shift the medium, the classification scheme, or the level of comparisons when forced to share information that used to be confidential.

Demands for more transparency are likely to be handled strategically by organizations.

None of this is to suggest that transparency should be avoided or reduced. Quite the contrary. But it is a reminder that transparency ideals and practices are shaping organizations in dramatic ways and that our desire for more transparency needs to include a desire to know its limitations.


Lars Thøger Christensen is Professor of Communication and Organization at the Department of Intercultural Communication and Management at Copenhagen Business School.

Pics by Roland Molnár and I Want a Poster, Flickr