tobyaw: (Frogmarch 2002 - Whitby)
The chair of the Public Accounts Committee has urged the British public to boycott a handful of large multinational companies that pay little or no corporation tax in Britain, despite being market leaders in their respective areas, and being profitable businesses in their home jurisdictions.

Starbucks has hundreds of coffee shops across the UK. I seldom go into one, and if I do, it is because somebody else has chosen it as a meeting place. I don’t like their tea (I might have mentioned that in a previous post), and find them to be overpriced. It is hard to boycott a business that doesn’t currently have any of my custom.

Google may not have a significant physical presence in the UK, but it has a sizeable chunk of website usage. The great majority of its users aren’t its customers (I might have mentioned that in a previous post); it’s income comes from advertisers. I suppose one could boycott Google by avoiding clicking on the ads it displays, but I never click on ads anyway. Better still, one could use its competitors. Nokia or Apple for maps! Vimeo for video! Bing for search! There are lots of alternatives to Google, and it would be relatively easy to avoid if one chose to do so.

Amazon, on the other hand, I would find harder to avoid. While I’ve pretty much given up buying physical media (books and Blurays), Amazon are still my go-to site for basic purchases. With an Amazon Prime subscription, their free next-day delivery makes them compelling for anything from a replacement battery to De Cecco pasta (two of the recent things I’ve ordered from Amazon). A lot of the other web services I use take advantage of Amazon’s web services — it would be hard to wholly avoid them. And I’m not sure that I’d want to. Amazon’s prices are low because they keep margins low; they can offer a decent service at a competitive price because they minimise all of their costs, and one of those costs is the tax that they pay.

There is no suggestion that any of these companies has broken the law with their tax arrangements, but some of them have certainly creatively used the differences between different countries’ tax regimes to their advantage. MPs have suggested that this is a moral failing. I don’t think that anyone or any company should feel a moral duty to pay any more tax than they are obliged to by law. And to turn that around, I would suggest that it is every taxpayers’s responsibility to take advantage of whatever legal avenues are provided to reduce the tax that they pay. After all, paying less tax keeps more money in the economy.

But if you do choose to boycott any of the above, good luck to you. And I’d like to hear how successfully you manage to avoid their products.

(P.S. Boycott Starbucks! Their tea is overpriced and uninspiring, and I can’t fathom why anyone would choose to go to a chain coffee shop when there are independents on every street corner.)
location: St Andrews, Scotland

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