However, the band’s lead singer, Bono, 55, remains unrepentant, and has defended its convoluted financial arrangements as “just some smart people we have … trying to be sensible about the way we’re taxed”.
Bono, whose real name is Paul Hewson, was forced to respond on Friday to further questions about the band’s tax arrangements in an interview as U2’s latest world tour got under way.
A long-time campaigner for debt relief for developing nations and awareness of global poverty, he has courted controversy among activists by sharing a platform with divisive politicians including Tony Blair and George Bush.
Last year, Bono was excoriated by one of Ireland’s largest unions after he said the recession-battered country’s generous corporate tax regime had brought it “the only prosperity we’ve ever known”.
Asked about his position on tax, he told Sky News that just because he had campaigned for a fairer society it did not mean he had to be “stupid” in business.
Bono said: “It’s just some smart people we have working for us trying to be sensible about the way we’re taxed. And that’s just one of our companies, by the way. There’s loads of companies.”
U2’s lead guitarist, The Edge – real name David Evans – said: “So much of our business is outside Ireland. It’s ridiculous to sort of make a big deal about the fact that we operate outside of Ireland.”
Bono added: “And we pay a fortune in tax. Just so people know, we pay a fortune in tax; and we’re happy to pay a fortune in tax, people should.
But that doesn’t mean, because you’re good at philanthropy and because I’m an activist, people think you should be stupid in business and I don’t run with that.”
Nevertheless, U2, and Bono in particular, have faced trenchant criticism for what some see as hypocrisy in their approach to social issues.
The Irish scholar Harry Browne, in his book The Frontman: Bono (in the Name of Power), accuses the singer of “amplifying elite discourses, advocating ineffective solutions, patronising the poor and kissing the arses of the rich and powerful”.
Bono’s approach to Africa, writes Browne, is “a slick mix of traditional missionary and commercial colonialism, in which the poor world exists as a task for the rich world to complete”.
That critique was brought home hard last October, when Mike Taft, a researcher and economist for the Unite union, which represents 100,000 Irish workers, criticised Bono’s support for Ireland’s 12.5% corporation tax rate.
Taft said: “The one in four who suffer deprivation as well as the tens of thousands of others having to put up with six years of austerity will regard Bono’s remarks with total derision.”
U2 sparked a wave of criticism in 2006 by shifting parts of its business affairs from Ireland to the Netherlands in response to a cap on tax breaks for artists in the republic – the move that inspired the protest at the 2011 Glastonbury festival.
In the same interview in which Bono made his comments on corporation tax, The Edge said he understood the protesters’ motives but insisted they were wrong.
He said: “Was it totally fair? Probably not. The perception is a gross distortion. We do pay a lot of tax. But if I was them I probably would have done the same.”
This article was written by Damien Gayle, for theguardian.com on Friday 15th May 2015 11.53 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010