Skip to main content

Boycott Amazon

We have called a boycott of Amazon over its outrageous tax avoidance since 2012.

The list of accusations against Amazon is long, from offering its services to fossil fuel giants to firing activist workers. Since 2012, Ethical Consumer has been calling for a boycott of the company over its tax avoidance which costs the UK millions in public funds every year.

Our featured guides such as bookshops and online retailers are focused on helping you avoid Amazon, and to take pleasure in supporting the good guys – the ethical alternatives that are challenging its online monopoly.

Below we outline three of the main reasons why we are calling for a boycott of Amazon.

1. Tax avoidance

In September 2021, Amazon – which has a market value of £1.5 trillion – released its tax figures for the previous year. Its key arm in the UK, Amazon UK Services, paid just £3.8 million more in corporation tax than in 2019 despite sales rising by £1.9 billion. Profits increased to £128 million.

Over the years, we have repeatedly told the same story, with headlines like ‘Amazon’s UK tax up just 3% despite surge in profits’ in October 2020 to ‘Amazon’s tax bill falls despite tripling profits’ in September 2018. In 2019, Fair Tax Mark named Amazon as having “the poorest tax conduct” of the six major tech companies – a sector known for its tax avoidance.

Amazon has been criticised for its tax practices in many parts of world, from the EU to the US. In 2018, for example, the company helped kill a new tax law in Seattle aimed at tackling homelessness – which had reached a ‘state of emergency’ in the city – after it threatened to pause local investment if the law went ahead.

Globally, the tax avoidance of Amazon and other companies costs US $245 billion a year. The impact is disproportionately felt by poorer countries.

As Athena Coalition – a US organisation of local and national groups opposing the online giant – writes:

“It’s we who should decide what is best for us in our communities — not big corporations. We can stop Amazon’s sweetheart tax deals from local governments, draining of public resources, and big-footing into our neighborhoods with no regard for the rest of us.”

So how is it avoiding so much tax?

Amazon has shunted much of its UK income to its subsidiary in Luxembourg, “where there is a ‘loss-making’ subsidiary that is not only not paying tax, but is generating enormous tax reliefs that can be used in the future to ensure that little or no tax continues to be paid,” according to Paul Monaghan from the Fair Tax Mark.

In fact, a report by Unite the Union in August 2021 found that the company may have shifted as much as £8.2 billion from the UK to Luxembourg in 2019. In 2017, the company registered almost 75% of its UK sales through the subsidiary.

The company has also sometimes shunted its remaining profits through time: Amazon has invested in dominating the market, thereby monopolising industries while keeping its profits low. This way, it can defer paying taxes until another time.

2. Building a monopoly

By investing so heavily, Amazon has also come to dominate many online markets globally.

During the first lockdown in the UK, 35% of all purchases made online were through the company.

As of 2019, almost 40% of UK shoppers had access to Amazon’s Prime subscription service. The company is the top fashion retailer in the USA.

Amazon’s monopoly supports staggering inequalities: between March and September 2020, at a time when most businesses were struggling, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos saw his personal wealth increase so much that he could have given all 876,000 Amazon employees a bonus of $105,000 and be as wealthy as he was pre-pandemic.

Cartoon drawing of workers in Amazon warehouse
Cartoon by Andy Vine

3. Denying workers’ rights

Behind this monopoly are thousands of Amazon workers. Yet, the company has in many instances refused to respect their basic rights.

We are familiar with reports of impossible nine-second-per-package targets; pervasive worker surveillance in warehouses; pregnant employees having to stand for 10 hours at a time; repeated worker injuries; and employees having to urinate in bottles for fear of taking breaks.

An Amazon delivery driver wrote in 2020, “I pee in a coffee cup every day, I have had termination or write up threats weekly. I go home in pain every day.”

When workers organise for change they face serious retaliation. After Amazon worker Chris Smalls led a walk out at a New York facility over unsafe working conditions at the start of Covid-19 he was quickly fired. A week later, Amazon’s General Counsel was accused of using racist tropes to smear Smalls, a Black employee. In fact, campaigners say that the company has fired at least six workers for speaking out since the start of the pandemic.

In early 2021, workers in Bessemer, Alabama voted on whether to unionise. In the weeks beforehand, Amazon sent an army of anti-union consultants to the city, where they held intimidating and mandatory meetings – including threatening to close the facility down if unionisation was voted for – spread antiunion propaganda, and even changed the schedule of the traffic lights to sway the vote, according to campaigners.

“Amazon has been virulently antiunion everywhere it operates,”

Christy Hoffman, General Secretary of UNI Global Union and Sharon Graham, Unite Executive Officer, wrote in Ethical Consumer in May 2021.

Is it possible to boycott Amazon?

“For years, Amazon’s expanding empire has undermined workers’ rights, environmental standards, and the public institutions underpinning our democracies,” says Casper Gelderblom from Progressive International.

But is it possible to boycott the company?

Amazon’s tentacles stretch far and wide. From its ownership of the movie database IMDb to its partnership with communication platform Slack, Amazon is hidden in many places. For small sellers, a boycott may also not be possible, with some saying they rely on the website to reach their market. That is why we never mark small companies down for selling through the platform.

However, in many markets there are wonderful alternatives – we take you through them in our guides.

Why bother?

Since we launched the boycott campaign ten years ago, we’ve seen resistance to Amazon grow. Not only have we been joined by Fair Tax Mark, Tax Justice Network and others in condemning the company’s tax record; we’ve seen workers, unions, anti-racism organisations, anti-gentrification movements and others raise voices against Amazon globally.

In November 2020, a global coalition launched demanding that the company address its workers’, environmental and political abuses.

#MakeAmazonPay has brought together unions, campaigners, and civil society organisations, including Ethical Consumer.

Some of these movements have seen major success. In 2019, New York activists successfully drove Amazon away from the city where it had planned to build an HQ2 in return for almost $3 million in tax deals. In 2017, Amazon was ordered to repay €250 million in tax by the EU – although it successfully appealed the fine earlier in 2021. In May 2021, the European Parliament challenged Jeff Bezos over Amazon’s union-busting and spying on workers. In March 2021, Bezos confessed, "we need to do a better job for Amazon employees.”

By boycotting the company, we are taking part in this global movement and building the pressure for Amazon – or the legislation that allows its abuses – to change.

Alternatives to Amazon

The time is right to focus on a company whose whole business model appears to be based on not paying its fair share of tax. And an action of this kind will also be food for thought for the many other consumer-facing brands whose tax minimisation strategies have strayed into plainly unreasonable territory.

Either way, next time you’re about to click ‘buy now’ on the Amazon website, just think about the nurse that will be sacked or the school roof that won’t be fixed with the few pence you’re about to save.

Alternative to Amazon series

What can consumers do?

Tax avoidance needs to be addressed at a global level; but consumers can also have a huge influence on companies not paying their fair share.

You can use your spending power to send Amazon a clear message.

Support for the Amazon Boycott

Thousands of people have joined our campaign against Amazon. We even took our campaign to parliament and found an array of support from MPs passionate about tackling tax avoidance

Mark Constantine, Lush co-founder: 

“The internet is a freedom tool which we all like to use. But Amazon have diminished it through their dominance and tax avoidance. They have taken a good thing and made it ugly.”

Call for a windfall tax on big tech companies

As citizens, we can also push for much needed reform of the tax system.

Coronavirus has shown the vital need for regulatory reform: tech companies have raked in enormous profits, while continuing to refuse to pay their fair share.

We are calling on the UK government to increase digital sales taxes to 10% as a post-COVID emergency action until international agreement on curbing tax avoidance has been reached. This means charging tech companies a 10% tax on sales in a country rather than profits - meaning they can’t shift their taxed income elsewhere.

We’re asking consumers:

The cost of tackling the pandemic in the UK alone will be somewhere in the region of £300 billion. Silicon Valley mega-corporations, from Facebook and Google to Amazon and Netflix, are amongst the most high-profile avoiders of corporation tax.

The digital sales tax would ensure that they help support the rebuilding of our public services - on which they also rely - while making UK sales.