To read the full version of this content please select one of the options below:

The tax avoidance industry: accountancy firms on the make

Prem Sikka (Centre for Global Accountability, University of Essex, Colchester, UK)
Hugh Willmott (Cardiff Business School, Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK)

critical perspectives on international business

ISSN: 1742-2043

Article publication date: 21 October 2013




The paper aims to examine the involvement of global accountancy firms in devising and selling tax avoidance schemes euphemistically marketed as “tax planning”.


The study draws upon a range of secondary sources, including legal cases and government reports, to demonstrate how “tax planning” involves “wilful blindness” to complicity in dubious and sometimes fraudulent activity.


The study reveals in detail the construction and promotion of elaborate tax avoidance schemes by big accounting firms. It casts doubt upon the “business culture” that has become established in these firms.

Research limitations/implications

The study relies upon secondary sources. Subject to gaining adequate access to the big accounting firms, research based upon close-up investigation of “tax planning” would further illuminate such practices.

Practical implications

The study shows how normalised and institutionalised “tax planning” schemes have become in the big four accounting firms. It suggests that such schemes require closer scrutiny if payments of tax are to be made as intended, and thereby provide the revenues required to maintain public services such as education, health and pensions.

Social implications

The study informs a debate about the payment of taxes and the role of big accounting firms in creating aggressive tax avoidance schemes. It questions the appropriateness and adequacy of private regulation of these firms and so contributes to a public debate on the tax contribution of comparatively powerful and privileged parties.


The study “blows the whistle” on the role of big accounting firms in devising schemes that reduce the “tax take” on business and thereby reduces the revenues required to provide and maintain public services.



The authors are grateful to the Editors of the special edition for their patience, advice and support.


Sikka, P. and Willmott, H. (2013), "The tax avoidance industry: accountancy firms on the make", critical perspectives on international business, Vol. 9 No. 4, pp. 415-443.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2013, Emerald Group Publishing Limited