I like to think Im a fairly realistic person and the trend of corporate tax avoidance has been much in the news recently, but I find myself shocked and deeply disappointed by the recent comments from Google boss Eric Schmidt who has baldly stated that he is proud of Google’s avoidance of a staggering £2.5 billion in tax.
Whilst Mr Schmidt’s honesty is at least admirable, reading this stung something in me – you may think me naivie, but as head of a hugely successful company operating in a progressive mileu, I believe he has rejected a chance, amidst the current atmosphere of tax avoidance revelations, to take an ethical stand, to admit the evident limitations of his policy and to put his error right. It was Google who made the famous commitment “Dont be evil” indicating that they were prepared to take a lead, but sadly, in this hugely important area, they have clearly failed to do so.
I believe we must reject the idea that just because something is legal, that makes it morally acceptable – it should no longer be the case that we allow the leaders of the business world to exist in some kind of ethical vacuum. We may expect no more of a naughty school child than to stick to the rules for fear of punishment, but in a grown adult, particularly someone in a highly esponsible position, we must press for and encourage a more morally mature and ambitious outlook if we are to progress socially at anything like the rate we’re capable of.
Significantly, the importance of acting ethically is not simply that is a nice, fully, preference, but that it to act otherwise is fly in the face of reality. Although we experience ourselves as individuals and groups, the truth is that are all mutually interdependent – we all rely on each other to survive, progress and flourish. If we let one person or group down, we let us all down. Ironically, the truth of this could hardly have been put better than by the Google founders themselves when they wrote “We believe strongly that in the long term, we will be better served — as shareholders and in all other ways — by a company that does good things for the world even if we forgo some short term gains.”
Hopefully the considerable response of the public and media to Google’s actions and Mr Schmidt’s remarks will prove part of an ongoing movement provoking a sea-change in the way the developed world does business as we move globally to a more compasionate, aware and realistic future. Meanwhile, Im going to look at some practical steps to take in my ongoing response to this challenge which I will report back on in a future blog post.