iFail: How Apple tried to silence tax justice activists in France – and lost
20 March 2018
A few weeks ago, Apple tried and failed to obtain a court order banning the campaigning organisation Attac from its French stores. The group, which is Global Justice Now’s sister organisation in France, is campaigning against tax avoidance by the multinational. We spoke with Attac activist Raphael Pradeau about how they ended up in court and what happened as a result
What’s the background to Apple’s attempt to ban you from its stores?
In April 2017, during the international week of action against tax dodging held one year after the Panama Papers affair, Attac carried out a dozen actions in France to demand multinational corporations pay their fair share of tax where they operate. We targeted nine companies whose tax dodging practices have been proven: BNP Paribas, Société Générale, Apple, Ikea, McDonalds, Engie, Zara, Total and Starbucks.
Then we decided to focus on Apple on the occasion of the iPhone X’s launch in November 2017, because it is the biggest multinational corporation worldwide and because the launch of its new smartphone was a key event for the Apple brand. We set up an umbrella platform, #iPhoneRevolt, which allowed various organisations to denounce the hidden side of the iPhone, in particular its detrimental impacts on the environment.
Attac, for its part, focused on the company’s tax avoidance practices and we took several symbolic actions on the day the iPhone X was launched in front of Apple stores in Geneva, Paris and Aix-en-Provence. We put forward two main demands: that Apple commit to paying its taxes where it operates rather than artificially declaring business in tax havens; and, without delay, that it settle the €13 billion fine issued by the European Commission regarding its fiscal arrangements made with Ireland.
Coincidently, the Paradise Papers scandal broke out exactly at the same moment and showed how Apple kept dodging taxes via Jersey. Attac then released a report which detailed our demands and proposed, among other things, a global tax on multinationals, allowing for taxation in each country where they operate and in accordance with their real business. Building on the indignation generated by the Paradise Papers, we sent an ultimatum to Apple: if it didn’t pay the €13 billion before 1 December, we would take action all around France.
We kept our word: on Saturday 2 December, actions took place in 30 French cities. The most spectacular unfolded in Paris: 100 activists occupied the Apple store at Opéra for three hours and obtained an appointment with Apple France’s management. This meeting took place on 18 December but was a standoff: Apple refused to commit to concrete actions, the only issue they were interested in was whether we would continue our actions. Attac representatives stated our determination to pursue our actions as long as Apple would not pledge anything concrete. The answer was quick to be given: two days later, Apple had us summoned to court.
What did Apple accuse you of?
It is the occupation of the Opéra Apple store which was at the heart Apple’s case. It accused us of having endangered employees’ and customers’ security, and of having vandalised its stores. Our actions were deemed ‘irresponsible’ and ‘irrational’. Apple thus asked the courts to forbid us any further action inside its stores, on penalty of a €150,000 fine.
But you won the case, not Apple. Why?
Apple’s charges didn’t hold water: every journalist present on the day testified to the non-violent and peaceful character of our actions; it was Apple which blocked the doors of its store so as to prevent customers from coming in. The court made a judgement totally unfavourable to Apple, whose accusations were dismissed and which had to pay €2,000 costs to Attac. Indeed, the judgement of the court was that “the simple entry of activists within the boundaries of the Opéra Apple store, or in other stores located in France, without violence, without damage and without blocking customers’ entry, is not sufficient to speak of an impending damage which would justify a limitation of the freedom of expression and protest of Attac activists”.
What is more, the court even acknowledged that these actions were taken “as part of a public interest campaign about tax paying and dodging”. So it was a strong recognition of our action’s legitimacy!
What are you planning next?
We won an important judicial battle, but this is not a victory against Apple’s tax dodging. We will thus continue our actions this spring to keep the pressure on the biggest multinational corporation in the world and compel it to pay its taxes.
It is also about pressuring policymakers so as to win real taxation of the GAFA [Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon] at the European level. We will mobilise in support of one Attac activist who is being sued for having requisitioned chairs from a local BNP-Paribas branch in response to the bank’s tax avoidance. On 7 June, we will be in Carpentras to obtain her acquittal and claim that this civil disobedience was part of a public interest campaign. Those benefitting from tax dodging should be prosecuted, not those denouncing it!
Attac France and Global Justice Now are both members of the international Attac network, which campaigns against corporate power as part of the global justice movement. Find out more about Attac here.