NGOs Argue For Public CbC Reporting and Clearer Definition of Employee

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May 23, 2016

At an IRS hearing (transcript) on May 13, NGOs that advocate for tax transparency and financial fairness argued that the Treasury and the IRS should publish country-by-country (CbC) reports.  In December 2015, the Treasury and the IRS issued proposed regulations  (see previous coverage) requiring CbC reporting by a U.S. parent entity of a multinational enterprise (MNE) group with annual revenue of $850 million or more.  These reports contain information on a CbC basis of a MNE group’s income and taxes paid, and certain indicators of economic activity (e.g., the number of employees, the size of investments in the subsidiaries, the profits and losses), to help the tax authorities combat tax base erosion and profit shifting.

The reports would be protected from disclosure and could be only used by the IRS, other U.S. governmental agencies in specific circumstances, and competent authorities of treaty partners who also adhere to strict confidentiality rules.  However, representatives from several NGOs requested the CbC reports be made public.  The groups argued that base erosion and profit shifting are problems too complex and burdensome for U.S. tax authorities to handle on their own, and that publishing the reports would “crowd source” the work.  These NGOs suggested that even if the Treasury and the IRS do not publish CbC reports, they should at least (a) deem the CbC reports Treasury reports that other federal law enforcement and senior policy makers can use and not tax returns subject to the confidentiality rules under Section 6103 or (b) provide aggregate data on CbC reporting if the reports are considered tax returns.

Heather Lowe, representing Global Financial Integrity, pointed out that the proposed regulations treat employees and independent contractors ambiguously.  The proposed regulations would require a reporting entity to count the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) employees, which are determined by reference to “employees that perform their activities for the U.S. MNE group within [the] tax jurisdiction of residence.”  For this purpose, a reporting entity “may” count as employees “independent contractors that participate in the ordinary operating activities of a constituent entity.”  But the proposed regulations do not further define “independent contractors” and “ordinary operating activities.”   Lowe suggested that employees should include (a) people for whom the subsidiary pays payroll, Social Security, and other employment taxes, and (b) people for whom those taxes would be paid were they employed by the parent entity in the U.S.

Some NGOs also argued for expanding the scope of CbC reports to include information on deferred taxes and uncertain tax positions—two potential indicators of profit shifting and tax avoidance.  Currently, the IRS requires corporations with $10 million or more in assets to report uncertain tax, but the proposed regulations do not require CbC reporting of this information.