Last updated: May 2013
Petition against Amazon
Frances and Keith Smith run the Kenilworth and Warwick independent bookshops which have been part of their local high streets for many years. But for them, like many of our independent booksellers, times are tough and getting tougher.
Late last year in response to the revelations about Amazon’s tax dodging the couple set up a Change.org petition asking Amazon to pay their tax. This has gone from strength to strength and now has over 150,000 signatures. We interview Frances about the campaign.
How did the petition come about?
Soon after Margaret Hodge and the Public Accounts Committee had asked to speak to Starbucks, Google and Amazon I was interviewed by “The Bookseller” magazine. The Guardian newspaper picked up the story and then I was asked by change.org if I would be interested in starting a petition. I agreed to do so, and things have developed from there.
Why do you think it grabbed people’s attention?
Margaret Hodge’s interrogation [of those companies mentioned above] received a lot of coverage. The Managing Director of John Lewis, Andy Street has also been quoted several times in the press, so the topic was already in the news. We have had coverage locally and in the trade and national press and on local ITV news. Everyone feels strongly about tax avoidance and wonders how big corporations “get away with it.”Smaller businesses and individuals cannot get away with tax avoidance and cannot afford super-expensive financial advisors to seek legal loopholes to “minimise” their tax.
What other actions are you taking?
We have lobbied MPs including Margaret Hodge and our local MPs. Our next step is to contact authors and media personnel asking them to come with us when we present the petition to No 10. Margaret Hodge has already promised her support. So our short-term aim is to keep the pressure up on Amazon but we also need to put pressure on HMRC to investigate what exactly is legal and which loopholes can be closed.
You mentioned meeting Margaret Hodge – what did you ask her?
I asked her if my petition would help her with her campaign to get these big corporations to pay tax in the countries where they trade rather than where they are based. This is the long term aim, and it is not just the UK where this is a problem. Germany, France and Sweden have all expressed concern about how much the revenue from these companies has shrunk over the past few years.
We also discussed the High Street. My major concern is that the High Street is being squeezed by on-line retailers such as Amazon. We need to convince MPs that maintaining a healthy High Street is in Amazon’s interest as we are the “shop window” for their goods.
Do you think that Amazon’s near monopoly on internet sales is also a problem?
Yes, I do. I admire Amazon as an innovative organisation even if I disagree with much of the way they trade. I am surprised that young enterprising IT specialists have not, so far, created anything to compete. I trust that the competition in this area will soon develop. It is not healthy to have one company dominating the market in this way.
What is your assessment for the future – do you think that independents such as yourself can survive?
I feel very positive. Shopping is one of our number one pastimes, and the High Street does have a future. We will have to change and embrace new technologies, but perusing real books, having personal contact with knowledgeable and interested staff who can give sound advice remains a very important part of the shopping experience. I think companies such as Amazon will soon realise the importance of a healthy High Street to them.
Keith and I are due to retire soon, but I am sure the people who take over the shops from us will have a secure future. Things do change, new ideas and new ways of trading will emerge, but people do love bricks-and-mortar shops and will not let them disappear. The industry has to move forward, adapt and respond to consumer demand. This is both a challenge and an opportunity.
Do you think you can win the campaign?
I think in a way we already have. We have demonstrated that there are thousands of people who are very angry about the way Amazon and other big corporations are denying our government the opportunity for collecting revenues that the country badly needs.
They rely on the infrastructure built up over generations, a legal system which allows companies to trade with trust, knowing they will be paid, that goods will be delivered using our systems, our roads etc. and yet without paying as much as they should towards maintaining all this. We have won the moral argument, but obviously there is much more to do.
Go to change.org and sign our petition! and support your local independent shops.
Update: The petition was recently handed into the PM at 10 Downing Street. Read more...
You can also take action against Amazon and join our boycott campaign.