Tax havens have quietly taken the world by storm. More than half of world trade now passes through these places. They are in the news every day, and are fast becoming a constant fixture of the political debate.
The growing flow of articles and reports on this poorly understood subject are usually illustrated with images of palm-fringed tropical beaches.
Is that what tax havens really look like? From Delaware to Jersey; from Singapore to Panama; from the British Virgin Islands to the City of London, passing through Cayman, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, photographers Paolo Woods and Gabriele Galimberti take us on a tour into a rarely seen, secretive world that is quite different from what we imagine.
For over two years they have travelled to the offshore centers that embody tax avoidance, secrecy, offshore banking and extreme wealth, driven by a constant obsession with translating this rather immaterial subject into images. They have produced a body of work that shows what these places look like, but, even more importantly, what they mean.
It has been estimated that as much as $32 trillion are sheltered in tax havens worldwide, largely out of sight. That is 13 times the GDP of the United Kingdom. Much of this money is stashed offshore by very wealthy individuals. But a growing share is owned by companies that use tax havens, often legally, to escape financial regulations or to reduce their taxes, draining the resources countries can spend on education, health care and security.
Tax havens are not an exotic tropical eccentricity, but have become a structural instrument of the globalized economy. They confront us with fundamental moral issues, involving the relationships between public and private; between companies and states; and between the haves and the have-nots.
Writer Nicholas Shaxson, one of the most recognized experts in the field, provides the text that runs parallel to the images, helping the reader decode the workings of tax havens and shows why we are all deeply affected.
Woods and Galimberti have conceived the book as the slick annual report of a successful company, borrowing the photographic tropes and language of the world they have investigated. The company, aptly named “The Heavens”, actually exists and has been created by the authors in Delaware, where for a small fee – with no documents required or questions asked – an LLC can be formed in less then 20 minutes. “The Heavens” is now based in the same Delaware office as Apple, Bank of America, Coca-Cola, General Electric, Google, Wal-Mart and 285,000 other businesses.