We began our boycott campaign against Amazon six years ago. The call was made as part of our wider campaign to tackle tax avoidance, which also included work on procurement and a fledgling version of what would become the Fair Tax Mark.
At that time, the issue of tax avoidance was only just starting to filter into the public consciousness. But work from Richard Murphy, MP Margaret Hodge, the Tax Justice Network, Action Aid, Ethical Consumer and others helped propel the issue up the media agenda and into the mainstream. Now, tax avoidance has become the public’s number one corporate responsibility concern, consistently polling above issues traditionally provoking the public’s ire, like fat cat pay and equality.
Sadly, despite the public backlash, little has changed at Amazon over this period. In 2017, Amazon paid less tax in the UK than it did the previous year despite bumper profits. This comes just one year after promises to stop routing UK sales through their European holding company in Luxembourg. Either this hasn’t happened, or their accountants have found new ways to avoid tax. It seems HMRC will not be getting a bean more than Amazon wish to pay them anytime soon.
There have been various government-backed conferences on tax and some minor changes to legislation, notably around beneficial ownership and the way sales tax is collected in regard to Jersey and other British protectorates, but the facts speak for themselves. This year has again seen talk of new legislation to combat the issue – with Chancellor Philip Hammond promising a new ‘Amazon tax’ – but, if past form is anything to go by, one can’t imagine that this would be anything more than another empty promise.
Around the globe it is a similar story. In the US, almost all states now collect sales taxes from consumers despite Amazon’s best efforts to avoid them, and Germany is bringing in new laws on the same issue. However, the task of strengthening corporation tax rules remains incomplete the world over.