Oil giants have faced repeated reprimands for dodging taxes
Oxfam filed shareholder resolutions today asking American companies ExxonMobil, Chevron, and ConocoPhillips to publish reports detailing their tax practices around the world. Their lack of transparency creates a material risk for long-term investors who want to safeguard against risks of reputational damage and the possibility of shelling out millions due to lawsuits, blocked projects, and renegotiation of fiscal terms.
Worse still, these secretive practices undermine the public’s interest in a fair tax system, especially in Global South countries with the greatest tax revenue needs.
“Exxon, Chevron, and ConocoPhillips’s threadbare tax disclosures leave investors, watchdog groups, and the general public in the dark about the companies’ secretive tax practices,” said Daniel Mulé, Policy Lead on Extractive Industries and Tax at Oxfam America.
Oxfam’s resolutions ask the companies to publish tax transparency reports in line with the tax standard of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), the world’s most utilized corporate reporting framework. The reports would include country-by-country reporting (CbCR) of certain company financial information, including revenues, profits and losses, and tax payments within each jurisdiction – critical information to understanding risks of profit shifting and tax avoidance.
A November 2022 report shows that public CbCR could reduce tax revenue losses due to cross-border profit shifting by $89 billion. The oil and gas sector is a particularly high-risk sector for corporate tax avoidance – and emissions from oil and gas are also fueling the climate crisis.
“Oil and gas companies frequently point to their contributions to the tax base in producer countries as a justification for their continued operations, particularly in poor countries, but secretive tax practices make it impossible to verify whether the companies actually contribute to shared prosperity,” said Mulé.
“If oil and gas projects are alleviating poverty, why hide the numbers?”
Public country-by-country reporting allows companies to get out ahead of potential impending regulatory changes and can help to show whether companies are paying taxes in line with their economic activity in every country where they operate. Nevertheless, despite repeated requests from Oxfam and others, Exxon, Chevron, and ConocoPhillips have declined to release a tax report in line with the GRI standard.
“US extractive companies Hess and Newmont publish GRI-aligned tax reports, as do international oil companies including Shell, BP, and Total,” said Ian Gary, Director of the Financial Accountability and Corporate Transparency (FACT) Coalition. “Exxon, Chevron, and ConocoPhillips are seriously lagging behind their peers.”
Oxfam’s resolutions would be put to shareholders at Exxon, Chevron, and ConocoPhillips’s annual general meetings in May 2023. Oxfam expects to attract co-filers on the resolutions prior to the filing deadlines.
As a shareholder that advocates for responsible corporate governance, Oxfam challenges companies for their lack of transparency and their broader lack of social responsibility – including promoting climate disinformation and lobbying against extractive industry transparency measures – and uses its shares in the companies to hold the company to account.
“Shareholders need a full understanding of potential risks,” said Jason Ward, Principal Analyst at the Centre for International Corporate Tax Accountability and Research (CICTAR). “Corporations should respect shareholders and lead the way to let the sunlight in.”
Notes to editors:
- The full text of the resolutions is viewable and downloadable here: ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips
- Oxfam’s shares in these companies are funded by a past donation dedicated specifically to the purpose of shareholder engagement – Oxfam did not purchase its holdings in Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and Exxon with money from public donations.
- See Tax Justice Network’s State of Tax Justice 2022 Report for a new estimate of the reduced tax avoidance that could be expected were public CBCR disclosures mandatory
- Criticism over a lack of transparency is not new for Chevron, Exxon, and ConocoPhillips, who have faced significant criticism for their role in promoting climate disinformation and lobbying against extractive industry transparency measures. Civil society has also repeatedly called the three oil majors out for undermining US transparency efforts, including fighting the implementation of the US law on payments-to-governments disclosure for the extractive sectors, and in July, ConocoPhillips left the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. The introduction of proposed windfall profit tax legislation in countries around the world has also put the companies’ tax payments and practices under greater scrutiny.
- Global and national initiatives demonstrate a growing focus on tax transparency, and consequences for companies that attempt to avoid taxes:
- Last year, 136 countries agreed to a global tax reform framework designed to prevent corporate profit shifting, which new research estimates to be costing governments up to $1 trillion in tax losses;
- The Australian government announced its intention to introduce legislation requiring public country-by-country reporting of tax information by large multinational corporations, a measure widely expected to pass;
- ConocoPhillips settled a $179 million tax bill with Vietnam in 2020;
- A US court denied Exxon’s claims to $1 billion in refunds related to its business in Qatar and Malaysia; and
- In 2017, an Australian court found that Chevron used offshore entities to underpay taxes and ordered Chevron to pay $268 million.