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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. Amazon's tax avoidance

We estimate that Amazon's tax avoidance could have cost the UK economy around half a billion pounds in 2021.

Ethical Consumer has calculated that, in 2021, up to half a billion pounds (£500,000,000) could have been lost to the UK public purse from the corporation tax avoidance of Amazon alone. This amount could have paid for:

  • a £500 payment to the poorest one million UK households to help with rising fuel bills, or
  • raising the much criticised 'up to' 3% proposed pay rises for health service staff in 2022 by an additional 1%, or
  • a £10,000 investment in insulating the homes of 50,000 pensioners in the worst fuel poverty, which could also reduce UK CO2 emissions by around 100,000 tonnes

Amazon is paying a fraction of what it owes

Amazon publishes limited information about its finances. Estimating the total amount of tax the company should have paid is therefore a difficult task. 

However our figures suggest that Amazon should have paid between £228m and £634m in 2021. According to the most recent figures, because of its aggressive tax avoidance strategies, Amazon is likely to pay around £22m - just 4.2% of the £500m that might be expected.

Amazon has recently been making a lot of noise about how much it raises in other taxes like VAT and National Insurance for the UK economy. Yet, in reality, any shop would have to pay these amounts: by replacing other independent stores (remember the high street?) Amazon is not increasing the overall amount paid to the public purse. It is instead taking business away from companies that would have paid some corporation tax on their profits as well.

Amazon is helping to build an economy where not everyone contributes to vital public services. Instead excess profits fund the laughable vanity projects of its billionaire owner in a time of crisis such as space rocket rides for celebrities…

The same old story

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.

In 2023, The Guardian stated that Amazon UK Services received tax credit of £7.7m for investment in infrastructure to year end 2022, and as a result, paid no corporation tax for the second year in a row, although other parts of the group’s UK business did pay an undisclosed amount. Amazon UK Services employs more than half of the group’s UK workers.

Also according to the Guardian, the profits and sales across Amazon's entire UK network rose to £24bn in 2022, making it bigger than Asda, the UK’s third-largest supermarket, and about twice the size of Marks & Spencer

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.

And Amazon is also moving in on university procurement. New research by Ethical Consumer found that higher education institutions in the UK have become more reliant on Amazon in the past three years, with 63% of universities increasing their purchasing with the company. The research calculated that Amazon secured more than £20 million of income from UK universities in 2021 alone.

It is also become more pervasive, as it buys up more brands or develops in other markets, such as Amazon Web Services, a cloud storage system.

Amazon's technology linked to Israeli military

According to a Guardian article, nearly 400 Google and Amazon employees have signed an open letter with their concerns about a new project selling technology to the Israeli military and government. 

The employees say that Project Nimbus is a $1.2bn contract to provide cloud services for the Israeli military and government and that this "technology allows for further surveillance of and unlawful data collection on Palestinians, and facilitates expansion of Israel’s illegal settlements on Palestinian land." The employees say the "contract was signed the same week that the Israeli military attacked Palestinians in the Gaza Strip."

An earlier Reuters' article says that Amazon is planning to invest $7.2 billion in Israel up to 2037, as it launches its Amazon Web Services (AWS) data centres in the country. The cloud service will allow the Israeli government to run applications and store data in data centres located in Israel.

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 time-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.

Spring 2022: Despite all the challenges, one union, led by Chris Smalls, has successfully formed a union of Amazon workers in a warehouse in the US.

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.

And Amazon's reach doesn't just extend to selling products. A number of readers have told us they've deliberately ordered from elsewhere but found the company uses Amazon's delivery services. A warning sign could be no delivery charge for a fairly low-cost item. You could contact the company in advance to see if they offer other options if you're concerned about this. We also have a guide to delivery companies.

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.”