How Shell avoids paying tax

Switzerland – not known for its oil production. Photo: Artur Staszewski, Creative Commons License

If you’re asked to name oil-producing countries, Switzerland probably doesn’t spring to mind. Swiss oil production stands at zero barrels per year – and yet Shell has eight subsidiaries in the country, set up between 2001 and 2005.

According to a 2014 report by the Centre for Research on Multinational Companies (SOMO) and Friends of the Earth Europe, Shell uses Switzerland mainly for ‘tax planning purposes’. Running trademark services, financial planning, internal insurance and trading activities through its Swiss subsidiaries ‘potentially allows the company to avoid paying a significant amount of taxes where its actual economic activities take place, including in developing countries’.

Thanks to its Swiss subsidiaries and its use of tax havens such as Bermuda, Shell managed to pay no corporation tax in the UK in 2014, despite making a global profit of £19.87 billion. In 2016, the oil company did even better – it received a £112 million tax rebate from the UK government, again despite making billions in global profits.

In 2018, Shell has come under fire again for its tax affairs – this time for routing its dividend payments through an offshore trust in Jersey, allowing it to dodge £6.1 billion in tax to the Dutch government.