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Last updated: 02 August 2019. sky thinking for an open and diverse left

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Amazon is a Thief - Boycott them this Christmas


It's time to boycott tax dodgers Amazon, argues Solidarity's Bill Mair


"It's a steal!" In a twist on the phrase often used to emphasise the perceived value of a supposed bargain, Solidarity, Scotland's Socialist Movement, has used it as an accusation against Amazon, and has called for a blanket boycott.

The online retailer is often used for Christmas shopping, as it promises a wide range of goods at cheap prices. However, research reveals the many tricks and ruses employed by the multinational company to avoid a level playing field when competing with more ethical organisations.

First up, tax avoidance: that murky, grey area at the fringes of legality. According to business watchdog Ethical Consumer, in 2014, Amazon's UK subsidiary paid £11.9m in corporate taxes on sales of £5.3bn - a rate of less than 0.3%(1). The company pledged in 2014 to voluntarily pay more tax, but the total amount paid since has been little better(2).

There have also been many stories(3,4) in the media recently about poor pay and dreadful working conditions at the company's UK distribution plants. Scotland's main distribution centre, in Dunfermline was itself the subject of a recent exposé of harsh working conditions, with allegations that staff, on zero-hour contracts and minimum wage, were "intimidated and treated like cattle"(5,6).

Amazon staff are non-unionised and the company strenuously resists efforts to introduce union recognition agreements.
So, while it may appear at first glance that goods are cheaper from Amazon, once you factor in that they are paying little to no tax on the billions they make, you realise the false economy. It's a wee bit like the story of the couple whose house is broken into and their television taken, only for them to spot it the following weekend at a street market, on sale for half the price they paid for it. That's not really a bargain if it was stolen from them in the first place. So it is with Amazon: if they are dodging tax, they are stealing from us with one hand and offering us cheap goods with the other.

Solidarity is urging consumers to find alternatives to Amazon for presents this Christmas. The Ethical Consumer website (1) displays lists of reputable online retailers to assist the shopper with a conscience.

Tommy Sheridan, co-convenor of Solidarity, and list candidate for Glasgow, said:

"We must boycott Amazon and other companies which don't pay their tax, but the government could make this problem go away overnight by closing loopholes in tax legislation. Why don't they? Because the big political parties are in the pockets of the big corporations. Solidarity is not funded by corporate donations so we are the independent voice of the working class. We have no impediment to speaking out against shady business practice.

"In an independent Socialist Scotland Amazon and the like could pay up or get out. For the moment we will name and shame them and keep our money out of their hands."
Of course, it is not just Amazon who are guilty of these ugly practices when filing their annual corporation tax returns. Big names such as Apple, Boots, Cadbury, Caffe Nero, Ebay, Google, Ikea, Johnnie Walker, Starbucks, TopShop, Vodafone and Zavvi are all exposed by 38 Degrees in their Guide for Spotting Tax Dodgers (7). It's a big problem."

According to Tax Research UK, which quotes a 2014 report by PCS, the union for most staff at HMRC, £19 billion is owed to HMRC (that is you and me and everyone in the country) in tax avoided(8). Worse, openly illegal tax evasion cost us £82.1bn in 2013/14 (8).

By comparison, the Department of Work and Pension's own official figures show that just 0.7% of total benefit expenditure was overpaid due to fraud(9). This totalled £1.2bn: 1/16th of the tax avoidance bill or 1/68th of tax evasion. Nevertheless, we are bombarded with television and radio adverts, bus-shelter adverts, billboards, letters and Facebook ads, urging us to snoop on our working-class comrades and shop them to the HMRC benefit fraud hotline.

We see very little evidence of the tax authorities cracking down on the more lucrative targets of multinational corporations.

What can we do, as individuals? This takes me back to my opening proposition: boycott Amazon. It's easier to do that than may at first appear. Consumers may choose to buy at local shops, which is an excellent way to support the local town centre economy. Determined cyber-shoppers could use the Ethical Consumer website, mentioned above, but there is an even more subversive option available. As a result of Amazon's shady reputation I rarely shop online at all nowadays but when I do, I browse Amazon for the products I want and then note the suppliers listed under "Other sellers on Amazon." I choose a supplier, note their name and then proceed direct to their website to buy. It gives me a quiet sense of satisfaction to think that I am using Amazon's system against them.

Whatever you do this Christmas for gifts, if indeed you submit to the pressure of buying any at all, please consider doing your bit for us all and avoid the tax avoiders.

Bill Mair is the parliamentary candidate for Solidarity, Scotland's Socialist Movement in the Mid-Scotland & Fife region, which takes in the main Scotland Amazon distribution centre, in Dunfermline.

External links:

Bella Caledonia

Bright Green

George Monbiot

Green Left


The Jimmy Reid Foundation

Laurie Penny

New Left Project

Newsnet Scotland

Richard Dawkins

Scottish Left Review

Socialist Unity

UK Uncut

Viridis Lumen

Wings Over Scotland

Word Power Books