There’s an old joke that every year Skat tells the citizens how much to pay, and Maersk tells Skat how much it wants to pay. It’s not that far from the truth.

Photo: Conrad Molden

There’s an old joke that every year Skat tells the citizens how much to pay, and Maersk tells Skat how much it wants to pay. It’s not that far from the truth.

In 2021 Maersk paid just 0.27 percent tax to the Danish state, because since 2001 shipping companies in Denmark pay a special tonnageskat (tonnage tax), only paying a set amount per ship.

This cost is not affected by the company’s profits. In 2021 Maersk also recorded its largest ever profits in Denmark; and in 2023 it smashed that record with a net profit of 203 billion kroner.

Der er noget råddent i Danmarks rige.

A.P. Møller – Mærsk A/S has always seemed strangely mysterious. Its iconic containers scatter across virtually every port in the world; and whenever on holiday it’s always obligatory to point one out and say “you know it’s Danish, right?”

But for something founded, maintained and headquartered in Denmark, it just doesn’t jump to mind in the same way as Lego, Carlsberg or even Novo Nordisk.

It’s mysterious, elusive and feels as Danish as Scarlett Johansson (she does in fact have a Danish father).

In the sleepy town of Svendborg in 1904 captain Peter Mærsk Møller and his son Arnold founded a company which would revolutionise shipping and the world.

What started as a one-ship family business 120 years ago now has over 100,000 employees in 130 countries, over 700 container ships and 7 million square meters of warehouse space.

By many measures it’s one of the largest companies in the world and easily the world’s largest shipping company. They move a lot of stuff, pretty much everything; the device you’re reading this on has most likely been inside a Maersk container and your clothes too.

Maersk’s commitment to paying low taxes in Denmark (paying between 0.2 and 0.7 percent in 2022) makes a lot of sense.

We all shudder when our årsopgørelse comes around, terrified that this lottery will have us paying yet more skat – and are all thrilled when we get money back.

No one wants to pay more tax than they should, it’s just Maersk apparently shouldn’t pay much.

They aren’t breaking any laws when they pay less than their own employees. The reason for this is understandable: the government must vælge mellem pest og kolera.

Keep it low or ask for more money and risk them floating away.

Maersk Group has grown into a 170 billion kroner company, making up more than 15 percent of the country’s GDP. They have enough weight to dictate their own terms.

The tonnageskat is an EU recommendation and probably is the best way to get something from a company which could decided to literally sail away to a skattely somewhere tropical.

Given the 61cm of rain which falls on Maersk’s København hovedkvarter every year, they probably don’t need any more reasons to move their operations overseas.

It’s a shock to think that in a land so notorious for its high-taxes and pursuit of equality that its very biggest company pays a lower rate than those loading the ships.

It must be awkward every year when Maersk submits their tax forms with a rate under 1 percent and Birgitte from Selskabsskat has to look over the numbers: “Nå, record profits again?…”