Now it’s “Boycott Amazon” in the UK. And “the campaign to make Amazon pay a fair rate of tax,” steered by Ethical Consumer magazine, has been joined by a slew of British MPs, according to The Bookseller, including Public Accounts Committee chairman Margaret Hodge (already on record for her public complaints against Amazon), Austin Mitchell, Natascha Engel, Meg Hillier, Margaret Hodge, John McDonnell, Michael Meacher, Graham Morris and Dennis Skinner.
Ethical Consumer justifies its campaign – in appropriately brief, easy-to-understand terms – by claiming that “the UK’s number one tax avoider is Amazon.” Well, is it? Are they absolutely sure that no FMCG or other major industrial or commercial group does not have an offshore incorporation structure that ensures minimum corporation tax payments in the UK? Have they actually gone and checked against the accounts of other groups to confirm that the claimed 0.1 percent corporate sales tax paid by Amazon’s UK subsidiary in 2012 – £3.2 million ($5.2 million) on sales of £4.3 billion ($7 billion) – is actually the lowest differential going? Have they checked to make sure that no one operating from a similar non-UK domicile has sold more?
Maybe it’s so. Perhaps Amazon is indeed the UK’s worst tax dodger. Or perhaps it doesn’t even need to be the worst to have done wrong. But know what? Cross-border incorporation structures exist. Tax optimization exists. MNCs have been using them for as long as they have been around. Did it really take this long for the penny to drop? Isn’t there may be just a little bit of bias and bandwagon-jumping creeping in to this Amazon hate campaign?
I’ve a better suggestion: Why not boycott the UK’s politicians? After all, see where all this venom is coming from? “Amazon’s tax revenues could help fund the vital public services that are now being slashed,” remarks Ethical Consumer‘s Tim Hunt, as quoted in The Bookseller. And why are those public services – including libraries, by the way – being slashed? Macroeconomic mismanagement by the last Labour government and a ferocious austerity campaign by the current Conservative-led coalition. Now are the politicians going to try to figure out a way to blame Amazon for that too?