Minister says Univ. Amsterdam deal with Netflix was unethical
The University of Amsterdam (UvA) has seemingly violated ethical boundaries in the negotiations about a funding deal with Netflix, said Education Minister Robbert Dijkgraaf. The minister was responding “at first glance” to a question raised by MP Pieter Omtzigt regarding an article published last month by Follow the Money.
A department of the university is said to have offered different fringe benefits during their negotiations over a contract of 550,000 euros to sponsor tax research. This included an offer by the institution for its researchers to help explain Netflix’s controversial tax policy to society.
Dijkgraaf confirmed the reporting by Follow the Money that stated the proposals were made by the Amsterdam Center for Tax Law - part of the UvA - in a memo written before the contract with Netflix was concluded. The contract itself makes no mention about this, the minister assured.
Nevertheless, the UvA has created the “appearance of a conflict of interest” here, according to the minister. “In my opinion, that memo should not have been presented in this way. This not only harms the reputation of that specific department, but actually that of the university as a whole.”
According to Follow the Money, the Amsterdam Center for Tax Law promised several companies benefits in exchange for sponsoring a research project. For example, consultancy firm EY was told they would be given the opportunity to conduct research. They were also told they would be put in contact with a professor from another department, who said they were unaware such a deal was made.
Dennis Weber founded the center and is its director. Nearly three years ago, he was reportedly trying to raise money to launch a new research project, entitled, “Designing the tax system for a Cashless, Platform-based and Technology-driven Society.” It’s goal was to research ideas for how governments could deal with taxing online platforms and marketplaces, such as Netflix, but also Airbnb, Amazon, Facebook, and Booking.com.
The minister wants to speak with the UvA about the matter this week, he said after a request from Omtzigt. The university has promised to investigate how this contract came about in the first place. Dijkgraaf also wants the university to check whether there are other contracts which may have breached ethical boundaries.
Reporting by ANP and NL Times