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Boycott Black Friday and Cyber Monday 2021

There are many reasons to boycott Black Friday and Cyber Monday - from the climate impacts of excessive consumerism to the profits amassed by tax avoiding companies.

Here we look at why you should avoid Black Friday, spotlight some of the tax avoiding companies that will profit, and look at alternative ethical events.

Boycott Black Friday - a consumer frenzy

Black Friday lands on 26 November 2021 and over the course of the weekend UK shoppers are expected to spend a total of £9.4bn - a record high.

Finder research however suggests that the Brits who do participate will on average be spending £20 less on the sales this year (£275 compared to £295). The highest spenders live in London - average Black Friday sales planned spend in London in 2021 is £468, according to Statista.

Why should you avoid Black Friday?

There are many reasons to avoid the consumer frenzy that stretches from Black Friday to Cyber Monday.

Black Friday is bad for the environment

While thousands hit the streets or the web in pursuit of a bargain, it’s the planet that picks up the tab. The type of unsustainable consumption promoted on Black Friday puts a strain on resources and is devastating for our planet. The cheap goods peddled end up in landfill, often only a few months later.

Clothing and electronics will once again be among the most popular of the Black Friday purchases.

According to a 2019 Green Alliance report, 80% of electronics and clothing, plus the plastic packaging they are wrapped in, end up in landfill, incineration, or at best low-quality recycling sometimes after a very short life. (Read more on Amazon and their environmental impacts below).

Carbon emissions from UK online Black Friday sales are also estimated to be equivalent to 215 return flights between London and Sydney. According to a new report by money.co.uk, online shopping this Black Friday could release up to 386,243 tonnes of carbon through deliveries alone.

The 2021 Dirty Delivery report also found that while 17% of UK shoppers say they are unwilling to pay any additional money towards offsetting the carbon produced, Gen Z (18-23 year olds) are willing to pay more than any other age group to offset the carbon produced by their online purchases.

If it weren't for mega sales like Black Friday, companies might even come up with other solutions for stock that doesn't sell - including making less stock to begin with. Ethical Consumer Best Buy THTC (clothing company) says:

"We don't use Black Friday as an excuse to make a load of money by burning through dead stock. If something's not selling well, we carry it onto the following seasons. We try to only print what we know we're going to sell."

Are things actually cheaper on Black Friday?

What’s more, there is reason to believe that the sales aren’t as significant as the marketing frenzy would have us believe. 

According to Which?, 98% of the discounts advertised on Black Friday were available for the same price or cheaper in the six months following the sales. Only 3 of the 119 products Which? tracked over the course of a year were at their cheapest price on Black Friday. 

It can be harder for small companies to compete with the messaging

Most smaller companies can’t compete with the price gouging and marketing that bigger companies indulge in on Black Friday and Cyber Monday.  

According to the British Independent Retailers Association (Bira), 85% of independent retailers are refusing to participate in the Black Friday sales this year. Some of the independent retailers will be shutting down their websites for the day, or donating some profits from sales to tree planting - one thing they won't be doing is cutting prices.

The companies that are most likely to profit from slashed prices are giant corporations - often ones which have poor tax conduct such as those we discuss below. 

Boycott Black Friday

Tax-avoiding companies profiting from Black Friday

As more consumers shop online, it is the online giants that are benefiting the most from Black Friday sales. Amazon, Ebay and Apple, which all score worst in our Tax Conduct category for likely use of tax avoidance strategies, will rake in huge revenues that in the past have often flowed into offshore tax havens.

Here we look closer at the tax conduct of several of the companies that will be slashing prices during Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Amazon

The big winner from Black Friday is likely to be arch tax avoider Amazon.

Prolific tax avoider Amazon is largely credited for Black Friday’s rise in the UK over the past decade. Last year Amazon launched Black Friday sales a whole month early, with new deals every day, but this year it’s waited until the second week of November to launch its sales.

Amazon released its tax figures for the previous year in September 2021 revealing that despite revenue increasing by £1.9 billion since 2019, it paid just £3.8 million more in corporation tax. Profits exceeded £128 million.

Fair Tax Mark named Amazon as having “the poorest tax conduct” of the six major tech companies in 2019 - a big deal in a sector known for tax avoidance.

Much of Amazon’s UK income has been shifted to its Luxembourg subsidiary. Paul Monaghan from Fair Tax Mark says the Luxembourg subsidiary is ‘loss-making’ and 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”.

Unite the Union’s August 2021 report found that in 2019 Amazon may have shifted up to £8.2 billion from the UK to Luxembourg. In 2017, almost 75% of Amazon’s UK sales were registered through the Luxembourg subsidiary.

Since launching our boycott of Amazon a decade ago several organisations, from Fair Tax Mark and the Tax Justice Network to unions and anti-racist organications, have come together to condemn Amazon’s tax avoidance. 

The company scores 0 in our shopping guides.

Transcontinental strikes against Amazon Black Friday 2021 #MakeAmazonPay

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.

Black Friday 2021 will witness strikes, protests and solidarity actions across Amazon’s transcontinental supply chain, with workers in multiple countries striking in large numbers at the same time for the first time. Visit the Make Amazon Pay website to watch it happen. These resources available in Dropbox can be used if you want to promote the strike actions. 

Everyone is invited to do banner drops, social media shares, leafleting, street protests, or any other methods to put pressure on Amazon and draw attention to the Make Amazon Pay demands.

You can also let the company know you're boycotting it by cancelling your Amazon Prime subscription on Black Friday or Cyber Monday.

The climate impact of Amazon’s Black Friday sales

If Amazon's disdain for the tax systems of the countries it operates in is not enough to persuade everyone to join a boycott, perhaps recent revelations about how damaging its business model is for the climate crisis might encourage some more to join in.

In June, an undercover investigation by ITN in Scotland found that Amazon had a policy of routinely destroying millions of pounds worth of either returned or unsold items every year, often in their original packaging.

This is not a problem confined to Amazon in the UK, in fact it is a global phenomenon. A Marketplace investigation in Canada uncovered that at least half of all Amazon returns are sent to be ‘liquidated,’ in other words they are destroyed. The sheer volume of returns, with 30%-40% of all online shopping sent back (compared with 10% for brick and mortar shops), means the amount of returns is so vast it is very costly to recycle, and the easiest option is to landfill.

The US website Ifixit has explained how "creating waste is a necessary, even vital, part of Amazon’s business model. It’s cheaper for Amazon, and the companies leasing space in Amazon hubs, to simply destroy old inventory to make room for new items, rather than deal with the messy business of reselling, redistributing, or refurbishing them."

If returns are 30-40% of all sales, and half of these are not resold, then 15-20% of all its sales may end up in landfill. This means that a product bought on Amazon could be said to have a 15-20% higher impact than one bought from a seller which takes more trouble over its returns.

Ethical Consumer's own Closing the Climate Gap Report, released in October 2021, shows how carbon impacts from the manufacture of consumer products need to fall by 40% by 2030 to keep the economy on track to meet only 1.5 degrees of warming. Repairing and re-using is likely to form a big part of this. Throwing away perfectly good stuff in such huge quantities is taking us all in the wrong direction fast.

Amazon "committed to building a sustainable business"

Strangely enough, all this is happening whilst Amazon is pitching itself as a company that cares about green issues.

Its sustainability reports say "Amazon is minimizing waste, increasing recycling, and providing options for our customers to reuse, repair, and recycle their products. We are working to send less material to the landfill and more back into the circular economy loop."

It doesn't however seem to publish any indicators which show whether these volumes are genuinely decreasing.

It has also pledged to spend €20m (£17.2m) on nature-based projects across Europe. It has a €100m ‘Right Now Climate Fund,’ from which the €20m came from. This fund is to take “immediate action” to combat both the climate and nature crises. It could spend some of this fund on its own operations, making sure that every item in its warehouses is re-sold or given to charity rather than just some of them.

Take action on Amazon

1. Boycott Amazon. Use our guides to shopping without Amazon to help you. 

2. Join our campaign calling for windfall tax on big technology companies to help cover the social costs of the pandemic's impact.

3. You might want to share our 2021 Black Friday Boycott image with the text "I'm cutting my consumer goods carbon footprint by joining the Amazon boycott!" and tagging @EC_Magazine

Red and black square with text Boycott Black Friday and Make Amazon Pay

Other companies due to cash in on Black Friday

eBay

eBay fares better on our rankings than Amazon, receiving an Ethiscore of 5.5. 

However it too receives a worst Ethical Consumer rating for the likely use of tax avoidance strategies, as it has several holding companies in jurisdictions considered to be tax havens by Ethical Consumer.

In 2020 seven of eBay’s executives received over £1m in compensation - one lucky executive received a total of £30,871,000.

Read more about eBay.

Apple

Apple scores our worst rating for Tax Conduct, with subsidiaries in the following tax havens: Hong Kong, Ireland, Jersey, Netherlands, Nevada (US), Singapore, Switzerland and Taiwan. 

According to its latest SEC Filings (2021), five of its directors received over £1m in compensation in 2018.

Read more about Apple.

Sony

Sony Corporation scored a worst Tax Conduct rating due to having high risk holding companies in Hong Kong, Ireland, Netherlands and Singapore. Its director received £3m in compensation in 2018. 

Read more about Sony Corporation.

Boohoo

Yet another worst rating for Tax Conduct was received by Boohoo, owner of Burton, Coast, Debenhams, Dorothy Perkins, Maine New England, MissPap, Nasty Gal, Oasis, Pretty Little Thing, Wallis and Warehouse,

It’s incorporated in tax haven Jersey despite most of its operations being on the UK mainland. 

Boohoo claims it has no tax advantage from these arrangements telling us “Boohoo Group plc and all its UK subsidiaries are registered for UK tax and pay UK taxes on all profits. There is no tax benefit to the group or any individual company from being registered in Jersey.”

However, the company did not give a clear explanation of why its ultimate parent company was incorporated in Jersey.

This structure could facilitate tax avoidance in the future, so without any reason for its Jersey incorporation it scored a worst rating.

Four of Boohoo’s directors were paid over £1m for the year ended February 2021.

Read more about Boohoo.

Missguided

Missguided’s parent company Nakai Investments Ltd is incorporated in the British Virgin Islands, and its ultimate parent company R Holding Limited was also incorporated in Malta, another tax haven.

It’s another worst scorer in the Tax Conduct category.

Read more about Missguided.

How to protest against Black Friday

Boycott

It’s pretty easy to boycott Black Friday - just don’t buy anything from the sales. 

You could call on others to join the boycott by sharing our Boycott Black Friday 2021 image on Twitter or other social media with the hashtag #BoycottBlackFriday - and tag us in (@EC_Magazine). 

If you’re boycotting for the climate, you could use this text: “I'm cutting my consumer goods carbon footprint by 20% by joining the Amazon boycott! @EC_Magazine”.

Buy Nothing Day

You could make it more challenging by participating in Buy Nothing Day and trying to buy nothing at all for the Friday, or the weekend (make sure you’ve got your cupboard essentials stocked in advance!) 

Buy Nothing Day has run on the same day as Black Friday since 1997. According to its website Buy Nothing Day is “a 24 hour detox from consumerism and an opportunity for you to tune into the impact we have on the environment through shopping [...] and the best thing is - IT'S FREE!!!”

MAKE SMTHNG week

There is also MAKE SMTHNG Week, which coincides with Black Friday and holds a series of “fun, hands-on events that celebrate creativity and use a positive message to challenge consumerism and its impact on the climate.”

If you do plan to buy something over the weekend, consider smaller ethical businesses, like the ones featured in our ethical online retailers guide, which unlike Ebay, Amazon and Apple are more likely to be paying their fair share of tax.

Companies can also boycott Black Friday

Patagonia for example took its biggest stand against the shopping event in 2016 by donating 100% of sales on that day to grassroots environmental organisations. The feat went viral and Patagonia was able to make $10 million in sales. Donating all sales to charity appeared to be a one-off occasion, but sitting out the sales still marks Patagonia out as an ethical exception among the big brands. Read more about Patagonia in our high street clothes shops guide.

AllBirds is another company likely to sit the sales out. Its website’s Black Friday page currently states “Instead of cutting prices for Black Friday, we’re raising them by £1. That extra £1 will be donated to Mother Nature, and we’ll match it with a donation of our own, too.” Read more about AllBirds in our guide to ethical trainers.

Finisterre will be "turning Black Friday Blue by donating £2.50 from every purchase over Black Friday Weekend instead of offering discounts." The donations will go towards its own charitable foundation ’The Wetsuit Project’ which provides alterations on wetsuits to enable more people to get access to the ocean and benefit their physical and mental well being.

Clothing brand THTC also doesn't lowers its prices for Black Friday. In previous years it has doubled the price of its products with the extra money going towards charitable causes. This year it will be selling through partner Teemill, which will be planting a tree for every sale on Black Friday.

Karma Drinks, a Best Buy in our soft drinks guide, is raising its prices by £5 as a donation to its charity foundation. Its website states: "All Karma Drinks prices are temporarily raised by £5 to directly support the Karma Foundation this Anti-Black Friday Week. Do a whole lot by spending a little bit more. Prices below include the £5 donation."