Archbishop Says Corporations That Avoid Paying Taxes Are ‘Robbing God’

Archbishop John Sentamu (Credit: BBC)

On Monday, the Archbishop Bishop of York charged that individuals and corporations that avoid paying taxes are robbing God, just days before the G8 nations announced a plan to crackdown on global tax evasion. Companies “should have a conscience which says that a child is dying tonight because of some of their actions,” John Sentamu said: “It is sinful, simply because Jesus was very clear; pay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”

Sentamu’s comments are a veiled reference to companies like Apple, Starbucks, and Google, which use complicated webs of foreign tax shelters and other gimmicks to lower their tax bills at home and abroad.

A recent report found that 30 of the largest American multinationals with more than $160 billion in profits paid zero in U.S. income taxes over a three-year period, while revelations of low rates overseas paid overseas sparked outrage in Great Britain and raised concerns across Europe.

Leaders of the G8 nations agreed on Tuesday to institute changes that will require shell companies to be more transparent about the “beneficial ownership” of businesses and share information about “who benefits from the operations of shell companies, special purpose companies and trust arrangements often employed by tax evaders.” Countries are also encouraged to close loopholes that allow for tax avoidance.

Experts see “Ireland, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg as the worst actors on corporate tax avoidance, but larger European players including the U.K. have reduced various rates in ways that encourage tax avoidance.” The policies perpetuate a race to the bottom “in taxing many of the world’s richest companies, chased by regressive sales tax hikes and public service cuts to maintain some fiscal balance.”

Apple, which uses a system of subsidiaries to avoid taxes, claims that it “has conducted all of its business with the highest of ethical standards.” But Sentamu warned that companies avoiding taxes are “not only robbing the poor of what they could be getting, they are actually robbing God, because God says ‘bring into my store house all the tithes.'”

“So if God has told us to be just, to walk humbly and to be merciful and then we behave in a very strange way – God is being robbed, the world is being robbed, your neighbour is being robbed,” he said.