Protest at the Apple store in Paris on Saturday Credits: Christophe Archambault/AFP 

Published on 05/12/2017

Over the weekend, Apple was the target of a wide-spread protest-campaign. Groups of activists all over France protested against alleged tax-evasion by the US-based multinational technology company.  The occupation of the Apple store in Paris was the event that generated most media-coverage. About a hundred activists invaded and occupied the expansive two-level store near the Paris Opera for several hours. Activists demanded that the US technology giant pays billions of euros of overdue taxes.  

The actions came after the August 2016 reporting by the European Commission, in which it estimated that the company owed $14.5 billion in taxes after it negotiated highly favourable tax arrangements with the Irish government. Last month “Paradise Papers” shed light on Apple’s tax avoidance strategy, by which the company transferred funds to the small island of Jersey, which typically does not tax corporate income and is largely exempt from European Union tax regulations.  

The French protesters were a part of Attac, an international organizational network of activist groups that seeks alternatives to unbridled globalization, particularly opposing its neo-liberal aspects. The group held about 30 demonstrations across France on Saturday. “From Rennes to Marseille, from Dijon to Saint Brieuc, Lille or Velizy”, Attac was everywhere in France over the weekend. The direct actions were mostly directed at physical Apple-stores, ranging from public display of discontent to exchanging ideas and information with Apple customers.  

But how does one fight the big corporates of this world? What is the ‘Grand Strategy’ used to curb the power-structures on which their malpractices rely? These companies represent immense economic interests and their powerful leadership seems to have no direct interest in seeing the current power-structures to be altered. Despite the fact that Apple might know it does something which is morally questionable, the company supports its actions by structurally stating that it follows the law in each country it operates in.  

The second target for action, perpetrator if you will, are the governments which allow these companies to make use of beneficial tax-constructions. Their conviction is that, eventually, the country will benefit from the presence of these big companies in the country. But what can you do, if you feel that this rationale does not represent your idea of how things should be. And more important, when you feel that your government ignores the popular opinion about the issue?  

Erica Chenoweth and Tricia Olsen address this issue from a quantitative social science perspective. Their research teaches us about the conditions in which big companies are more likely to concede to civil resistance campaigns. First of all, they find that big corporates will be more likely to give in when campaigns are more durable over time. Then, their study concludes that concessions are more likely when civil resistance campaigns target a large company or a company that is undergoing a leadership change. Finally, companies operating in highly competitive markets in contexts of weak rule of law, and firms operating in industries upon which the state is heavily dependent are less likely to concede. 

However, as our very own Srdja Popovic once said, “these conditions are very important for planning, but what really makes a difference is skills.” What are the methods being used by Attac in this particular Apple-tax protest? First of all, we can see that Attac fights Apple in a campaign, instead of single-protests. Instead of a one-off protest, real change needs to see “a direct-action campaign that harnesses a series of actions into an escalating sequence.” Attac’s representatives stated that they received a formal commitment from an Apple manager that the organization would be granted a meeting with national leadership within 15 days. “If this meeting does not take place, we will come back before Christmas,” spokeswoman Aurelie Trouve said.  

The French Attac campaign seems to have invested a lot of time in building a nation-wide network of activists. Their plan to take on Apple then seems to look beyond direct protests, trying to negotiate the company’s position with the top-management. A meeting with that same management will at least prove a small victory. Building does small victories will deliver you the goods in the end. 

Read more about the work done by Attac in France here!