Ben Chu: Sir Martin Sorrell's peculiar vision of social responsibility

Outlook Sir Martin Sorrell has expressed himself on the great corporation tax debate. What firms need to understand, the advertising magnate said today, is the imperative of corporate social responsibility.

"Doing good is good business," he told the likes of corporate black sheep such as Starbucks and Amazon, which have faced obloquy in recent months for paying less than their fair share of profit taxes in the UK. I'm afraid this is richer than the Christmas pudding that your grandmother oversoaked in alcohol. For Sir Martin's record on tax hardly resembles a model of virtuous corporate citizenship.

For several decades the British state has had a system whereby a UK-based multinational is required to pay corporation tax on its worldwide profits. In 2007 the Labour government proposed to move to a system where firms would only pay tax on their UK profits, a so-called territorial regime. This was good news for the multinationals, implying a smaller tax bill. But they didn't trust Labour to deliver.

So they upped sticks in a kind of pre-emptive protest. Pharmaceutical giant Shire shifted its headquarters to the Irish Republic. So did United Business Media. The exhibitions and magazines group Informa scurried off to Switzerland. The office accommodation provider Regus went to Luxembourg. And, making the biggest song and dance of all was Sir Martin, who shuffled his WPP advertising empire to the Emerald Isle.

Faced with this exodus the Labour Chancellor, Alistair Darling, redoubled his efforts to establish a territorial tax regime. And Sir Martin made it his business to seal the deal. He extracted a guarantee from Mr Darling's successor, George Osborne, that the new territorial regime would definitely come into force. And, in return, Sir Martin announced last year that WPP would be returning its HQ to London. The territorial corporation tax regime came into full force this week. And WPP is, as Sir Martin promised, on its way back.

The trouble is the new territorial tax regime looks even more open to corporate tax avoidance. Under the old system HMRC could, in theory, go after tax on profits anywhere in the world. It seldom did this effectively. But now, with its territorial remit in place, it is even less likely to do so. And there is still more room for clever accountants to register profits overseas by registering intellectual property rights in tax havens.

This compounds the advantage of multinationals in relation to smaller, domestic firms. We have long known that income tax tends to be for the little people. It increasingly looks like corporation tax is only for the little companies.

The only solution is harmonised international governmental agreement to prevent multinationals playing off national governments against each other on profit tax rates.

As for Sir Martin, he might like to consider whether quitting the country and promising to return only when a law you dislike is changed can be considered "doing good".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Neil Pavier: Management Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you looking for your next opportunity for ...

Sheridan Maine: Commercial Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified ACA/ACCA/ACMA qua...

Laura Norton: Project Accountant

£50,000 - £60,000: Laura Norton: Are you looking for an opportunity within a w...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?