Dear Tim, please explain how being a ‘responsible corporate citizen’ fits with paying <0.005% taxes…

Dear Tim Cook,

Today you wrote: ‘As responsible corporate citizens, we are also proud of our contributions to local economies across Europe, and to communities everywhere.’

That is a great statement. And you have made quite an impact in the past years to show that Apple is really serious about being a responsible corporate citizen. It is one of the reasons why I am a proud customer of the wonderful products that Apple creates. As your loyal customer, I trust Apple to do the right thing. To go beyond ‘Don’t be evil’, but to actually ‘do the right thing’.

Like making Apple the greenest computer and smartphone maker in the world. Something that was achieved under your leadership in an amazing short amount of time. By sourcing your materials as ethically as possible. By improving working conditions for workers of Chinese sub-contractors. I’m not saying it’s perfect, of course it’s not. But the progress has been undeniable, and I applaud Apple for it. And I applaud you personally, because your leadership in this has been an inspiration for many CEOs. It has made and is making a big difference.

However, in the case of today’s the EU commission ruling, you have published an open letter that is a very painful read. You claim that you are a responsible corporate citizen, while at the same time defending a complicated series of tax loopholes that makes your company pay <1% taxes on your profits. You are setting an extremely poor example by following the lead of your tax advisors, who are striving for the holy goal of zero taxes.

You also write that ‘taxes for multinational companies are complex’. I agree with that, and I’m not an expert. But there is something here at stake that is not complex, and for which you don’t have to be an expert to understand it. And that is the simple fact that a tax rate of <1% on all the profits Apple makes in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and India is truly ridiculous. Here we have the world’s richest company, with over € 200 billion in cash. But it’s not willing to pay the normal tax rate that SMEs are paying everywhere in the world.

In 2014, you payed <0.005% taxes. I know, you didn’t do anything illegal. But that doesn’t mean it’s right. I expect that kind of reasoning from Google, explaining away their continued inroads on our privacy with vague statements that in the end boil down to ‘nobody is stopping us, so what the hell are you complaining about?’. To me, that is textbook ‘evil’. I expect this kind of reasoning from Donald Trump, who loves to boast how he hires he smartest people and pays them as much money as they need to help him avoid paying taxes.

But I really don’t expect it from Apple. It’s not cool to avoid contributing your fair share to society. It’s not cool to avoid contributing to the societies that have so generously embraced the products that your company creates. A ‘responsible corporate citizen’ pays a decent amount of taxes. How high exactly? I don’t know. But it’s certainly a lot more than 0.005 or 1%. Please don’t say that as a citizen you don’t agree.

By the way, I don’t really care where you pay your taxes. Yes, I’m from Europe, so that €13 billion can be invested in our education, build better roads, improve our health care. It might even result in higher sales of Apple products, like iPads in schools. But it would be even cooler if you pay your taxes in countries that really need it. Like India, Kenya or Morocco. Think about how much they could improve their health care system with your taxes. Wouldn’t that be great?

So can we please make a deal, you and I? I’m happy to buy the new iPhone, or other i-products or a new Mac, and pay the almost 40% profit margin that Apple typically makes on it’s products. But I’d like you to start paying a fair percentage of taxes. That way you set an example.

Of all the CEOs in the world, you are in the best position to lead. Like you have with sustainability, with labour working conditions and ethical sourcing practices. Please stop parroting the tax advisers and their quest for zero taxes. Start leading.

Truly yours,

Frans Nauta

PS: Can you please please please hurry up with the launch of the next generation Macbook Air or Macbook Pro? I’m writing this on an old Macbook Air that is really really in need of a replacement….

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