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Behind the chainmail curtains: Wacky interiors, tax breaks and big profits at Dublin headquarters of tech giant

The Google headquarters complex in Dublin is home to 6,000 employees, complete with a conference room set inside a giant fake tree, curtains made of chainmail, and an entire floor carpeted in a layer of fake grass. (Photo courtesy of Google)
The headquarters for Google in Europe, the Middle East and Africa is something else. A multi-hued complex with themed floors and wacky spaces – there is even a 25-meter swimming pool. That alone is enough to make you question previous career choices.
Home to 6,000 employees, the Dublin offices don’t look like a working environment at all. There’s a tiny conference room set inside a giant fake tree, curtains made of chainmail, and an entire floor carpeted in a layer of fake grass.
There are swings and reclining chairs, informal meeting rooms and alternative working zones. They have names such as The Forge and The Lab, and there’s even The Store, which sells everything from Google stationery to the latest merchandise. Here and there are communication hubs with micro-kitchens and gaming zones. Oh, and don’t forget the Soda Lab and the five restaurants, the largest of which can fit 1,000 people.
Traveling between the three main buildings (Gasworks House, Gordon House and the newly constructed Google Docks) involves walking across a glass hyperlink bridge, with Google Docks — at 14 storys — the tallest commercial building in Dublin. With panoramic views of the city below, you can see all of Dublin’s “Silicon Docks”, which are also home to the European headquarters of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
None of them would arguably be here, of course, if it weren’t for Ireland’s favorable tax laws, which have helped attract the world’s largest tech companies to Dublin.
The country’s low corporate tax rate (12.5 percent), which can be lowered even further by financial engineering, has fueled this tech and social media invasion. But not without controversy.
In January last year, Google agreed to pay £130 million in back taxes to the UK government following an open audit of its accounts. It stood accused, along with other multinational companies, of avoiding paying tax via complex international tax structures, in spite of making billions of pounds of sales in the UK.
Then there’s the EU. According to a report released in September by EU lawmaker Paul Tang, the bloc lost €5.4 billion in tax revenues from Google and Facebook between 2013 and 2015.
“Large digital platforms operate as a single unit in the EU internal market, but face a patchwork of tax jurisdictions competing for profits,” wrote Tang in the report, EU Tax Revenue Loss from Google and Facebook. “This enables them to minimize the overall tax burden in the EU by routing all revenues to low-tax member states such as Ireland and Luxembourg. Hence, the other member states are very likely being deprived of billions of euros of tax revenues.”
It’s a situation the EU is determined to counter. In September the European Commission said it was looking at ways to gather a larger amount of tax from companies such as Google and Facebook, which capitalize on their lack of office space in European countries to book their profits in low-tax states.
It is a strategy that could backfire, with the American Chamber of Commerce stating that plans to raise more tax revenue from the likes of Google, Facebook and Amazon would make Europe less attractive to investors.
What this would mean for Google’s Irish dream, remains to be seen.