Growing public disquiet about the exceptionally low levels of tax being paid by powerful multinationals and indications that politicians are prepared to take action on the issue has resulted in taxation being identified as the highest risk facing business, according to a global survey by Lloyd’s insurance group.
Significantly, the overall result was heavily influenced by the response in North America and Europe, where executives rated it number one. In Latin America and Asia-Pacific, high taxation was ranked as the second most serious risk.
However, in South Africa, high taxation did not register as one of the top five concerns. Loss of customers and cancelled orders was deemed the greatest risk, followed by fraud and corruption, with currency fluctuation ranked third, strikes and industrial action ranked fourth and inflation fifth.
In 2011, when the survey was last done, taxation was ranked 13th in the list of risks facing global business. In that year loss of customers and cancelled orders was perceived as the highest risk facing business. This reflected business concerns about the continuing effects of the global economic slump.
This year, although the prospects for the global economy have deteriorated, the fear of losing customers has dropped to number two in the global list of risks.
Lloyd’s chief executive Richard Ward noted that not only was much of Europe still at a very low economic ebb but previously buoyant projections for economies including China and India had been revised downwards.
On the issue of high taxation risk, Ward referred to the intense public scrutiny given to corporate taxation over the past two years “with governments and taxpayers alike demanding greater transparency and changes to legislation”. Ward said this pressure had clearly been felt by business.
Mike Lewis, a tax expert at ActionAid, which has done extensive research on tax avoidance across the globe, said: “It’s clear from our work around the world that political concern about corporate taxation is no longer confined to Europe and North America.”
However, Lewis said recent data from the International Monetary Fund showed the tax burden on big business in the developing world had been declining for over a decade and in some African and Asian countries effective tax rates on many multinationals’ profits had fallen to almost zero by the late 2000s.
The risk of cybercrime has shot up to number three in the latest Lloyd’s survey from number 12 in the 2011 survey. Ward believed that a series of high-profile cybersecurity incidents since 2011 had increased executives’ awareness of this risk.
Risk related to the price of material inputs is number four this year, up from seventh position in 2011. Excessively strict regulation is the fifth most significant risk in 2013, up from 10th position previously.
A shortage of talent and skills, which was often used to justify excessive levels of executive remuneration, dropped out of the top five risks in 2013 from second place in 2011.