Apple does so many amazing things - paying tax isn't one of them
There is so much to admire about Apple, including its initiatives on the environment, its stand against religious freedom laws that harm gay rights, and the continued fight with the FBI over the right to privacy. Yet its tax arrangements bother me, too. If, as Mitt Romney famously declared, "Corporations are people too, my friend," then they ought to be taxed the same as people. I have no means to syphon off my money in Ireland to avoid paying tax. I don't have recourse to an army of accountants. It harms Apple's brand amongst its staunchest supporters, yours truly included, when the company utilises its wealth and power to pay less tax, as a proportion of its income, than me, a teacher in a state-funded college.
Companies like Apple, that stash their money overseas to avoid paying Obama-era taxes, have suddenly saw fit to wrap themselves in the Stars and Stripes once more, and repatriate their money following the singing into law of Trump’s tax plan. They shout about creating American jobs for American workers, but only after holding the government to ransom, and when the corporate tax rate is lowered to suit them.
Apple defenders, and there are plenty on this issue, argue that it is a company acting as companies do. Their goal is to maximise value for their shareholders. Thus, Apple and other corporations cannot be held responsible for the problems facing the world, including gaping holes in the public finances brought on by a low tax base. Politicians, not companies, so the argument concludes, are the ones who must fix this problem. Yet there are two problems with this argument. The first is that Apple’s own co-founder, Steve Wozniak, has questioned the company’s the tax arrangements.
"I look back at any company that is a public company, its shareholders are going to force it to be as profitable as possible and that means financial people studying all the laws of the world and figuring out all the schemes that work that are technically legal. They're technically legal and it bothers me and I would not live my life that way."
The second problem is with Apple’s own claim to be the fixer, committed to leaving the world “better than how we found it”. It is therefore right to test that commitment by asking what they have done to fix the leaky roofs of American public schools. Or the crumbling infrastructure crying out for federal funds. Or what they have done about a Congress more interested in tax cuts for companies generating $20 billion in profits over the last quarter alone, than in fixing American healthcare.
You can’t expect to make money off socially conscious branding without being called out on how far that social conscience extends. It is easy for the company to go along with the crowd when Trump tweets something racist. But it has also been a easy, a little too easy, to cosy up to the same person, when he offers massive corporate giveaways.
Apple shouldn’t claim to be whiter than white when it is not.