The International Ethics Standards Board for Accountants (IESBA) has announced the launch of the first comprehensive suite of global standards on ethical considerations in tax planning and related services, incorporated in the IESBA Code of Ethics.

Following certification by the Public Interest Oversight Board (PIOB), the standards establish a clear framework of expected behaviors and ethics provisions for use by all professional accountants, and respond to public interest concerns about tax avoidance and the role played by consultants in light of revelations in recent years such as the Paradise and Pandora Papers. 

Moving away from a purely mechanical and legalistic approach, the goal of the standards is to provide a principles-based framework and a global ethical benchmark applicable to tax planning services and activities. This will establish a consistent point of reference for all professional accountants, as well as other tax professionals who are strongly encouraged to use the standards, when dealing with tax planning, to ensure due consideration of public interest as well as potential reputational, commercial, and wider economic consequences for their clients or employing organisations.

These standards are especially relevant in the context of rising public scrutiny of tax avoidance schemes which can harm companies’ credibility and corporate reputation, as well as risking litigation and harming the public interest. Responding to increased public interest concerns, the fundamental goal of these standards is to ensure an ethical, credible basis for advising on tax planning arrangements, thereby restoring public and institutional trust on a topic that is core to the social contract between corporations and the market which supports them.

Commenting on this, IESBA chair, Gabriela Figueiredo Dias, said: “Professional accountants have an important duty to their clients but must not lose sight of their fundamental duty to the public interest. As scandals in recent years have shown, though some behaviors may be legal under the letter of the law in certain jurisdictions, the ‘grey area’ of tax is not always the ethical way forward. These standards provide a robust framework to help professional accountants, as well as all other tax advisers whom we strongly encourage to adopt or use the standards, navigate the ethical decisions in this complex area that are central to trust in the entire system.”

OECD Centre for Tax Policy and Administration former director, Pascal Saint-Amans, added: “I commend IESBA on the launch of the world’s first ethics standards on tax planning, which I’m sure will catalyse a much-needed change in mindset and behaviors.  As public scrutiny increases, tax avoidance becomes less tolerated. Ethics is a central tenet of good tax behavior and advice and IESBA’s work in this area not only generates important discussion on the topic, but also is central to restoring public trust more broadly.”

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These new standards are aimed at complementing and further strengthening the relevance of the existing IESBA Code addressing Tax Planning and Related Services. The standards become effective July 1, 2025.

The approval of the new standards was preceded by extensive outreach and public consultation which took place during 2021-2023, including three global roundtables involving over 150 senior-level representatives from stakeholders from very different jurisdictions and backgrounds.