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PhD Studentship: Historical Tensions between International Business and National Taxation: the case of BP in the Twentieth Century

Coventry University - Centre for Arts, Memory and Communities

Qualification Type: PhD
Location: Coventry
Funding for: UK Students, EU Students, International Students
Funding amount: 31,034 Euros pa pro rata to cover fees/stipend. Archival and project travel funds available
Hours: Full Time
Placed On: 16th December 2021
Closes: 24th January 2022

Coventry University (CU) invites applications from suitably-qualified graduates with familiarity with the use of statistical material and, if possible, knowledge of another European language, for a fully-funded PhD studentship to work on the project Historical Tensions between International Business and National Taxation: A Challenge for Europe Today. Funded by VolkswagenStiftung the student will join a team of business and economic historians and PhD students from University of Bayreuth (Germany), Erasmus University (Rotterdam), Charles University (Prague), and CU. The project aims to analyse the historical dynamic of the conflict of interest between nation states and multi-national-enterprises.

The CU PhD project comprises a case study of BP (Anglo-Persian/Anglo-Iranian Oil Co., then British Petroleum) in the course of the twentieth century. In examining historical tensions between international business and national taxation, the historical cases examined in the project as a whole aim to reveal the complexity of multi-layered interaction between states and MNE, and the long historical path-dependence of MNE and their global network of specialists.  

Against a background of international ideological ruptures (First World War, 1930s Great Depression, Second World War, de-colonisation, the coming of the Iron Curtain and fall of the Berlin Wall), the CU project will also focus on the nationalisation policies of the post-war Labour government, and the progressive privatization of BP from 1979 under Thatcher.

Taxation is a research field usually left to legal and economists contending with an increasingly complex jungle of national jurisdictions and exemptions. Focusing on current regulatory deficiencies, they often miss the powerful influence of historical tradition in MNE-taxation, both in the sense of accumulated legal conventions as well as institutional settings. Historical research, with cognate disciplinary collaboration, is required to add knowledge about the dynamics and path-dependencies of taxation. In economic and business history fields, interest in the history of (corporate) taxation emerged from studying economic inequality - millionaires hiding their fortunes in international ‘tax havens’.

In contrast to this often politically-motivated scholarship, business history emphasises the complexity of business, political and cultural aspects. As business and economic historians, we aim to analyse the historical dynamic of this conflict of interest in all its complexity. Our methodological strategy is to analyse the problem of corporate taxation and its possible avoidance not on a macro-level of state statistics and finances, but to break the topic down into case studies. Only the study of historical cases can reveal the complexity of multi-layered interaction between states and MNE and the long historical path-dependence of MNE and their global network of specialists. By focussing on specific, highly relevant European MNEs over the course of the 20th century we will analyse:

  • What factors influenced the dynamic nature of relationships between governments’ at- tempt to maximise state revenues and efforts by MNE to minimise taxation?
  • What were the main strategies, practices, laws, and forms of cooperation between MNE and states that shaped this dynamic relationship, how did they change, and what (trans- national) networks did both sides create in order to foster relationships?
  • How did geopolitical, economic, institutional, and ideological changes influence relations, and with what consequences? How did this dynamic relationship affect the flow of capital in Europe?
  • To which extent has MNE contributed to the creation of low tax environments and tax havens and how did this affect international and European cooperation at the state level? 
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