As I type, highly paid executives are in front of a Select Committee justifying why paying national insurance and business rates absolves them from feeling any shame about their egregious avoidance of taxes.
Let’s name a few of them – Starbucks, Amazon, Apple, Boots the Chemist, Vodaphone. The list goes on.
The real problem, though, is that unless they are going to change the law our doughty MPs are whistling in the wind. What the companies are doing isn’t illegal and the MPs are naive if they think they can appeal to a corporation’s conscience: they don’t have one. They are designed to subordinate morality (within the law) to shareholder benefits. It’s why they have been called licensed psychotics.
The only thing we can do is to show them that bad behaviour costs money and will affect their shareholders interests adversely – boycotts, naming and shaming, loss of sales, brand damage.
It’s harder of course for those ugly behemoths of the Internet – but there was a piece in the Guardian on Saturday that made some good points about why we should start to tackle our Amazon addictions:
“Amazon is an extraordinary phenomenon. It is ruthlessly efficient, has low prices and excellent delivery (or “shipping” as it says, in distressing Americanese). It is renowned for economies of scale and tight cost control – and now for aggressive tax avoidance. The UK’s biggest online retailer has avoided paying corporation tax on profits it makes from billions in sales here.
If I ran a toy shop, and the toy shop next door was undercutting me because it didn’t pay tax, I’d be pretty angry. It’s a mystery that businesses up and down the UK are not complaining loudly about a situation where some firms pay tax, but others don’t.
Until it changes its position on tax, Amazon will no longer be getting my cash. But I doubt Jeff Bezos, Amazon boss, is shaking at the loss of my £1,000 or so a year. As Richard Murphy at Tax Research points out (he’s one of the few accountants willing to speak out about corporate tax avoidance), consumer boycotts work best when they are highly visible. Protestors outside Barclays during the apartheid era helped to change the world. Not clicking on a computer changes little. Still, I’m beginning to see it as a citizen’s duty to avoid the tax avoiders.”
So am I. Time to kick the Amazon habit.
You can read the rest of the article here.