As part of our Boycott Amazon campaign, we look at how we can challenge the retail Goliath when buying books. There are plenty of ethical choices in the market, from secondhand charity shops to online booksellers doing things differently.
Shopping without Amazon
We introduce our Amazon alternatives series, designed to provide consumers with ethical alternatives. We also explain the background to our Amazon boycott, why we launched it.
As part of our Boycott Amazon campaign, we look at 24 ethical online retailers. This report, and the companies featured in it, were chosen by our readers.
Finding alternatives to Amazon in the markets it dominates, such as e-readers, can be tough. But other brands are out there. For e-readers, we found the Bookeen and the Kobo e-reader, which both scored middle ratings whilst the Amazon Kindle scored 0.
When it comes to tablets, the iPad dominates with over half of all sales of tablets in the UK. The iPad scores a whole 7 points more than Amazon's kindle fire.
Amazon sells a range of clothing on its website. Amazon has only signed up to a few initiatives designed to improve workers' rights and was rated to be the 'least engaged' in sustainable fashion and labour market initiatives in a 2019 UK Government report.
Background to the Amazon Boycott
We began our boycott campaign against Amazon in December 2012. The call was made as part of our wider campaign to tackle tax avoidance, which also included work on procurement and a fledgeling 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.
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.
Breaking up tech monopolies
While its flagrant tax avoidance is, in part, responsible for its seemingly inexorable rise, one can’t help but feel that our collective lack of digital literacy is also to blame. Alarm bells would have been ringing much earlier than 2012 if 50% of the shops on our high streets carried the black and orange Amazon branding, or if half the stores in your local shopping centre were owned by Amazon. Its gathering power and influence would have been altogether more obvious if it dominated our physical geography rather than just the first page of our Google searches.
So, as well as our boycott, we have now added a clause to our manifesto that is asking governments to tackle the problem in a far more direct way. We are asking that technology monopolies be broken up and given over to democratic ownership. From here it looks like a lofty ambition, but there are lessons from history with US oil companies at the turn of the last century, and it is also grounded in recent discussions around democratic ownership generally.
Amazon Web Services
Amazon’s dominance is not just in consumer product sales. It has also seen strong growth in Amazon Web Services, its cloud computing services, which are used by organisations as varied as Netflix and the Guardian.
A second demand from our manifesto asks that government and local councils take tax avoidance into account when awarding contracts and making purchasing decisions. This could affect Amazon Web Services, which are currently used by some government agencies like Companies House. The Amazon Business Account is also used by some large public institutions to make everyday office purchases.
With the Amazon boycott campaign entering its 8th year, it’s vital that we try and use as many levers as possible in our efforts to tackle Amazon’s tax avoidance, and we hope that you’ll share our alternatives guides to help friends and family avoid the behemoth over the coming Christmas period.
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