Tax Avoidance: A Threat to Corporate Legitimacy? An Examination of Companies’ Financial and CSR Reports

Kevin Holland, Sarah Lindop, F. Zainudin

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While there have been regular debates on corporate tax avoidance, a distinguishing feature of the current interest is the involvement of a wider audience which includes society in general. By analysing both tax related disclosures in company annual reports and corporate social responsibility reports the authors examine how managers of companies who have been subject to specific criticism of their alleged tax avoidance respond to such criticism. Using a legitimacy theory framework to identify four disclosure themes: explicit tax philosophy, implicit tax philosophy, tax conduct and tax contribution, companies’ reports for the 11 year period 2004–2005 to 2014–2015 have been analysed.

The authors have found what appears to be evidence of inconsistency on the part of managers in identifying appropriate responses which the authors attribute to uncertainty as to the status of tax avoidance. The uncertainty is apparent in variation over time both within companies and between companies and is reflected in the incidence of disclosures, their content, and in some cases the absence of a disclosure. This uncertainty is most probably part of a wider reluctance to respond directly to the criticism or to enter into debate and reflects societal ambiguity as regards the legitimacy of tax avoidance.

The authors conclude that governments cannot rely on managerial attitudes or voluntary frameworks if they wish to change the behaviour of managers in relation both to tax avoidance or to tax more widely.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)310-338
Number of pages29
JournalBritish Tax Review
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 15 Aug 2016


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