Apple wants us to think of our friendly local Apple Store as a “community hub” or “town square,” but that apparently doesn’t include being a space for public protests.
According to a new report, Apple has gone to court in Paris to try and prevent French tax campaigners from pulling stunts inside its local retail stores. Specifically, it wants to ban the French NGO Attac from entering its premises.
Attac has staged what it refers to as “good-natured” stunts in Apple Stores as a way of drawing attention to Apple’s controversial tax practices.
In December, around 100 volunteers danced a conga in Apple’s Paris store at Place de l’Opéra, while displaying a large banner reading, “We’ll stop when Apple pays.” Attac activists in Aix-en-Provence also whitewashed the windows of an Apple Store at the time of the iPhone X launch as a reference to Apple’s “opaque” tax affairs.
The activists do not cover their faces, and claim that their stunts resulted in a “party” atmosphere, rather than a threatening one.
In documents filed on Monday, Apple lawyers argued that the company has a, “long tradition of supporting individuals and groups that peacefully express their opinions,” but accuses Attac activists of “vandalizing [its] shops and endangering the security of staff and customers.”
Attac’s lawyer Julien Pignon says that Apple’s “demands are totally out of proportion with regard to the superior principle of freedom of expression and freedom to demonstrate which is guaranteed by French law and the European convention on human rights.”
A court verdict is set to be announced on February 23.
Apple’s tax battles in Europe
The European Union handed Apple an enormous tax bill of 13 billion euros ($15.5 billion) in August 2016, claiming that the company took advantage of illegal state aid that allowed it to route profits through Ireland. The investigation alleged that Apple paid the equivalent of as little as 0.005 percent on all European profits in 2014. Apple will start paying the bill next month.
Tim Cook met with French President Emmanuel Macron on a visit to Europe at the end of 2017. Macron is one one of many European leaders wanting to reform tax structures to make it more difficult for companies, including Apple, to avoid taxes by using complex shell company structures. He has previously accused tech giants of failing to contribute to a common good.
Apple has always argued that it pays every cent that it owes, and reminded critics that it is the world’s largest tax payer. (Which, as the world’s most valuable company, is to be expected!)