Boycott news from Ethical Consumer magazine, Issue 154 May/Jun 2015.
Boycott Dolce & Gabbana over homophobic comments
Nearly 43,000 people have signed an online petition calling for Macy’s and Debenhams to stop stocking Dolce & Gabbana in their department stores, after the brand’s founders attacked same sex marriage and gay parents.
The petition started after an interview with the couple appeared in the Italian press during which they said children should be born to a mother and a father.
“You are born to a mother and a father, or at least that’s how it should be,” Dolce said. He went on to criticise IVF and surrogate parents: “I call children of chemistry synthetic children. Rented uterus, semen chosen from a catalogue.” Gabbana agreed and added: “The family is not a fad.”
Sixty protesters rallied outside Dolce & Gabbana’s flagship London store in Old Bond Street on Thursday 19 March 2015 - Photo: Peter Tatchell Foundation
Activist and campaigner Peter Tatchell said of the comments: “Dolce & Gabbana are echoing ill-informed, outdated and homophobic prejudices about gay parents. “Dolce & Gabbana’s statements add to the stigma, shame, prejudice, rejection and intolerance often suffered by same-sex parents and their children,” he said.
Sign the petition or contact Dolce & Gabbana direct
US campus Israeli boycott grows
The Associated Press (AP) has reported an upswing in the number of US university student bodies calling for their institutions to join the movement for Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel.
In just the first three months of this academic term, student bodies at five universities have taken successful divestment votes, with two more failing. In the 2013-14 academic year, fifteen campuses proposed joining BDS while in the 2012-13 academic year this figure was just eight.
Four of the resolutions were passed in 2012-13 (50%) while five were passed in 2013-14 (33%). However, as the AP points out, the student divestment votes are purely symbolic: university administrators, not students, oversee investments. Trustees have rejected divestment resolutions in the past for several reasons, including that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is too complex to single out one country.
Air Canada boycott
Activists from BDS Vancouver have started a campaign to boycott Air Canada, the country’s leading airline, reported the progressive Mondoweiss news website in March. The campaign started after reports that Sabra Hummus was being served on Air Canada flights.
Sabra Hummus is part owned by the Strauss Group, the second largest Israeli food and beverage company. In the past it has been the target for boycott campaigns after publicly supporting two Israeli military units implicated in human rights abuses, the Golani and Givati brigades (1).
However, once the campaign was launched, researchers discovered deeper links between the Canadian State, the airline and Israel. Air Canada recently signed a maintenance agreement for its B787 jets with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), a military defence company wholly owned by the government of Israel. IAI is the subject of boycotts across Europe and is well known for its drone technology and production.
Meanwhile Mondoweiss reports that Calin Rovinescu, Air Canada’s CEO, was part of a Canadian trade delegation, headed by Canadian PM Stephen Harper, which visited Israel last year (2).
Sign the petition at change.org or contact Air Canada direct
SOAS joins the academic boycott
The School of Oriental and Asian Studies (SOAS) has joined the academic boycott of Israel after a school-wide referendum.
Of the more than 2,000 students and staff who took part, 73% voted in favour of suspending all ties with Israeli universities (3). 75% of students who voted were in favour, as were 91% of contract staff, such as members of the cleaning and security staff. 60% of SOAS academic staff who participated also supported the call.
However, the result of the referendum is not binding and the Students’ Union has vowed to pressure university management into implementing the result. “We believe that SOAS should be governed in accordance with the values and ethics of the students and staff who make up the institution. We will be requesting that SOAS management uphold the will of its community by ending its links with Israeli universities and thereby ending its connections with human rights abuses committed by Israel,” the Students’ Union said in a statement.
SOAS currently has formal ties with the Jerusalem-based Hebrew University. New Internationalist magazine reports that “during last year’s attack on Gaza, the Hebrew University asked for donations earmarked for ‘Protective Edge’ scholarships, a reference to Operation Protective Edge, Israel’s name for the military operation against the Gaza Strip.” It quoted communications from the university which stated: “The university is joining the war effort to support its warrior students, in order to minimize the financial burden”.
Amazon boycott update
Exciting new directions
Thanks to all those who recently answered our survey “Where next for the Amazon boycott campaign?” Over 700 boycotters responded and we got some interesting results that we are now using to develop a coherent strategy for the next year and beyond.
In the survey our team provided a number of options which covered both strategy and tactics for future campaigning around Amazon. People were asked to choose their top three options to allow us to incorporate these into our campaigning.
1. The most popular option was to focus the campaign on a change in the law. As a result we have now joined the Tax Dodging Bill campaign, started by Oxfam, Christian Aid and Action Aid, which we featured in the last Issue of the magazine.
The campaign is focused on getting whichever party wins the next election to implement new tax avoidance legislation. You can find out more about the campaign on our website and find a link to email your MP about the issue.
We have also conducted an interview with MP Margaret Hodge . In it she backs our campaign, saying:
“What Amazon is doing is immoral and I’m not prepared to spend my pounds supporting companies that rip off the state.”
2. People also wanted us to look at other companies that avoid tax so we’ve put together a list of companies that score worst on our ranking system for using likely tax-avoidance strategies.
3. Finally people wanted us to continue to produce our unique Amazon Alternatives guides to help consumers avoid Amazon. In these guides we also flag up other tax avoiders so you don’t end up buying from them instead. You can view them here and we’ll be adding more to the list over the coming months.
The good news is that the vast majority of you (66%) found it either easy or very easy to boycott Amazon and we’d like to think our guides were a help.
For those who haven’t yet managed to kick the habit or are struggling to keep up the boycott, there are five suggestions from our readers below.
Data centres and tax
Amazon has stopped construction of a data centre in the US state of Oregon over worries that it may have to pay tax on the facility. It already operates four data centres in the Port of Morrow area and began construction of a fifth, but this has since been halted while Amazon evaluates the tax situation.
According to local paper, the Oregonian, the problem is due to a potential property tax known as "central assessment". It relates to how the state values a company's “intangibles” – non-physical assets such as the value of a brand. 
US media giant Comcast recently lost a battle to be exempt from the tax and now Amazon fear this precedent will mean they too will have to pay.
According to Mike Rogoway of the Oregonian “Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google have all been drawn to Oregon by a favorable tax climate. The state has no sales tax on the expensive computers that run server farms and it exempts data centers in "enterprise zones" from the property taxes that other businesses pay. That can save a large data center tens of millions of dollars annually.”
Last week, Amazon state public policy manager Eileen Sullivan testified before a Senate Committee on Finance and Revenue to encourage it to exempt data centres from the tax.
"Eliminating the threat of central assessment will permit Amazon to continue to invest in Oregon," she said.
Amazon investigated over child porn
Amazon's Japanese arm is under investigation for its role in the sale and distribution of child pornography. The company had been selling the material through the Amazon market place.
According to reports, police found photo books on Amazon Japan featuring fully nude pictures of under-age girls, during an online patrol last summer. 2
Campaigners say that Amazon has known about the problem since 2009 when the NGO Lighthouse targeted the company in an online campaign.
Jake Adelstein, writing on the Daily Beast website, said: “I know we petitioned Amazon by email and in telephone conversations to remove the materials clearly constituting child porn on its website back then.”
Lighthouse had been protesting the sale of child pornography since 2007. In 2009 it pointed out in emails and informal talks with Amazon Japan that it had found more than 136 photo books and DVDs featuring swimsuit-clad girls and half-naked boys. While the company gave no formal answer concerning the complaint, over 60 percent of the offensive goods were later removed from the website, according to the NGO.
Last year, the police searched a Japanese Amazon distribution centre, and in January this year, police reportedly searched Amazon Japan’s headquarters in Tokyo as well as a distribution centre belonging to Amazon Logistics. 3
According to the Daily Beast: “Police sources said they suspect that Amazon was aware that vendors dealing in illegal child porn had been selling their products on the website, but chose to ignore the fact despite the company’s guidelines clearly stating that illegal products are not allowed to be sold there.”
The dealers had tried to sell their "merchandise" through a variety of websites but had only been able to operate on Amazon, according to the Sankei newspaper.
Amazon Japan sent the following statement by email:
“We take this investigation seriously and we are cooperating fully with the authorities. We don’t permit illegal items on our site, and we have systems and processes designed to prevent and remove illegal items from being listed. We are committed to enforcing our policies and the law for items listed on our site.”
Amazon ups its lobbying clout
Amazon have employed Jay Carney, the former press spokesman to President Barack Obama, as vice president for global corporate affairs. The 49-year-old former White House press secretary now reports directly to CEO Jeff Bezos, according to Sky News.
This move follows the company's purchase of the Washington Post in 2013 as it looks to bolster its political influence.
According to Open Secrets, the company has also doubled its lobbying spend over the last four years from $2.2m in 2011 to nearly $5m in 2014 and now employs 71 lobbyists, up from 23 in 2011. Perhaps unsurprisingly the number one issue they have lobbied on is tax.