May 30 - As multinationals including Starbucks and Google are scrutinised over their taxes, another 12 countries have signed up to fight tax secrecy at an OECD conference in Paris. Axel Threlfall speaks to the head of the OECD's tax division who says it's not politically acceptable for corporates to pay less tax than individuals in times of austerity.
They're big, they're successful, and they make money -- but right now, they are also at the centre of some rather unwanted attention over their tax practices. Yup, it's those household names like Google, Amazon, Starbucks and Apple -- who have recently found themselves being quizzed by lawmakers around the world over their accounting which governments fear might have left the taxman a few dollars short. Worried about the public backlash, politicians are getting their act together...and fast. At an OECD get-together this week another 12 countries signed up to fight tax secrecy. That takes the total to more than 60. The plan is for a smoother exchange of information and better cooperation on tax collection. (SOUNDBITE)(ENGLISH) OECD TAX CHIEF PASCAL SAINT-AMANS SAYING: "We are in an environment where the people face increases in taxes, in VAT, in personal income taxes, at the same time they realise that big profitable companies don't pay much, if anything at all - and that creates a political problem. Governments cannot afford to tell their people you face an increase in VAT, but some others will not pay anything - even though it is legal, it is not politically acceptable." The sudden urgency comes ahead of a G20 meeting in July that'll also target tax avoidance. Even ministers from Austria and Luxembourg, long seen as the holdouts, were keen to be seen signing up this week. That said, those holdouts are still desperate to keep business from the likes of Amazon, which runs the bulk of its European operations out of Luxembourg. (SOUNDBITE)(ENGLISH) LUXEMBOURG FINANCE MINISTER LUC FRIEDEN SAYING: "We have very attractive tax regimes in the UK, in Ireland, in the Netherlands, and sometimes in Luxembourg. So this is a real issue that applies to all countries. What we want is a level playing field, and a fair competition." The OECD hasn't yet put a figure on what these changes could reap the taxman, but to give you an idea of the numbers, the OECD says around two trillion U.S. dollars of profits accumulated by U.S. firms alone are parked outside the country - staggering sums in times of austerity.