In April 2019 Ethical Consumer viewed a story on BBC website titled, 'Boots rolls out cheaper morning-after pill across UK'.

It stated: "Boots says it now stocks a cheaper morning-after pill in all of its UK pharmacies, three months after failing to meet its initial target of doing so.

"A group of Labour MPs had criticised the company for not keeping its promise to stock a generic brand in all 2,400 Boots pharmacies by October.

"The chain said supply issues caused the delay in the full rollout.

Boots said it had wanted there to be a "sufficient and sustainable supply" across the UK."

As the company had rolled out the cheaper morning-after-pill across the country Ethical Consumer considered the proposed boycott to be lifted. Boots therefore was not marked down for this story.

Reference:

www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-42860914 (29 January 2018)

In February 2020 Ethical Consumer searched the Boots website. The company produced sunscreen, which was an area in which nanotechnology was very common. No policy regarding nanotechnology could be found. Ethical Consumer considered nanotechnology to be a technology that carried potential environmental and health risks, and had not yet been
sufficiently established as safe. The company was thus marked down in the Controversial Technologies category.

Reference:

boots.com (2020)

In February 2020, Ethical Consumer searched the Walgreens Boots Alliance website for a cotton sourcing policy. Although the company sold a range of products which included cotton, such as cotton wool and cotton buds, no policy could be found.

According to Anti-Slavery international (ASI) website viewed by Ethical Consumer in August 2018, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan were two of the world’s largest exporters of cotton, and every year their governments forcibly mobilised over one million citizens to grow and harvest cotton. Due to the high proportion of cotton likely to have come from Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan and the prevalence of forced labour in its production, the company lost half a mark in the Workers Rights category.

The Organic Trade Association website, www.ota.com, stated in July 2018 that cotton covered roughly 2.78% of global arable land, but accounted for 12.34% of all insecticide sales and 3.94% of herbicide sales. Due to the impacts of the widespread use of pesticides in cotton production worldwide the company also lost half a mark in the Pollution & Toxics category.

According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA), a non-profit pro biotech organisation, genetically modified cotton accounted for 80% of cotton grown in 2017.

Due to the prevalence of GM cotton in cotton supply chains and the lack of any evidence that the company avoided it, it was assumed that some of the company's cotton products contained some GM material. As a result it lost half a mark under the Controversial Technology category.

Overall the company received Ethical Consumer's worst rating for its cotton sourcing policy.

Reference:

walgreensbootsalliance.com (2020)

In March 2020, Ethical Consumer viewed the entry for Walgreens Boots Alliance, Inc. on the Opensecrets.org website, which was published in the USA by the Centre for Responsive Politics. This stated that in the 2018 election cycle, the company had spent $6,130,000 on lobbying and made $497,365 in political donations. Of this, 27% was donated to Republican candidates and 73% to Democrats. NOTE: OpenSecrets states: “The organization itself did not donate, rather the money came from the organization's PACs, their individual members or employees or owners, and those individuals' immediate family members. Organizations themselves cannot contribute to candidates and party committees. Totals include subsidiaries and affiliates.”

In 2016-2018, 38 out of 45 Walgreens Boots Alliance, Inc. lobbyists were said to have previously held government jobs.

The company lost a whole mark under Politcal Activities.

Reference:

Open Secrets generic ref 2020 (2020)

In February 2015 Corporate Europe Observatory published a stakeholder map put together by the UK government, released under Freedom of Information rules. The stakeholder map listed businesses, civil society groups and corporate lobby groups position on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

Boots was listed as being supportive of TTIP. It was listed as having an interest in the pharmaceutical sector chapter and regulatory coherence.

TTIP was set to become the biggest trade deal in the world if it was to succeed. The deal aimed to remove ‘non-tariff barriers to trade’ which would benefit big business, but threatens to undermine safety regulations, workers’ rights, environmental protection rules and food standard regulations.

Companies supporting TTIP therefore lost a mark under Ethical Consumer's political activities category.

Reference:

TTIP Stakeholder Grid (February 2015)

According to the organisation's website www.eurocommerce.eu, viewed by Ethical Consumer in December 2019, Walgreens Boots Alliance, Inc. was a member of Eurocommerce. This was regarded by Ethical Consumer as an international corporate lobby group which exerted undue corporate influence on policy-makers in favour of market solutions that were potentially detrimental to the environment and human rights.

The company was therefore marked down under the Political Activities category.

Reference:

Ethical Consumer Lobby Group member list (19 February 2020)

In February 2020, Ethical Consumer viewed the 2019 Proxy Statement from the Walgreens Boots Alliance SEC filings. It listed six executives who received over £1 million in 2019. These were:

Stefano Pessina: $19,156,202
James Kehoe: $6,684,715
Ornella Barra: $7,134,542
Alexander W. Gourlay: $8,225,495
James A. Skinner: $9,398,557

Ethical Consumer considers any remuneration over £1 million to be excessive. The company lost half a mark under Anti-Social Finance.

Reference:

DEF 14A Proxy Statement (2019)

In April 2019 Ethical Consumer viewed a story on the Reuters website, entitled 'Walgreens pays $269.2 million to settle U.S. civil fraud lawsuits', dated 22nd January 2019.

The article stated: "The pharmacy chain will pay $209.2 million to resolve claims it improperly billed Medicare, Medicaid and other federal programs from 2006 to 2017 for hundreds of thousands of insulin pens it dispensed to patients it knew did not need them.

Walgreens will also pay $60 million to resolve claims it overcharged Medicaid from 2008 to 2017 by failing to disclose and charge the discount drug prices it offered the public through its Prescription Savings Club program.

The Deerfield, Illinois-based company said it “admits, acknowledges, and accepts responsibility” for conduct alleged by the federal government, according to the settlement agreements."

The company lost half a mark under the Anti-Social Finance category.

Reference:

www.reuters.com/article/us-walgreens-boots-settlement/walgreens-pays-269-2-million-to-settle (22 Jan

An article in The Independent newspaper on 12 August 2015 reported that treasury ministers had demanded an end to rip-off VAT charges by some airport stores. The Financial Secretary to the Treasury told The Independent he was concerned and disappointed that some of Britain’s top retailers were pocketing millions of pounds in VAT discounts without passing the savings to customers.

Passengers’ boarding passes were required to be shown in some cases, and the information was used by stores to avoid paying 20 per cent VAT on everything they sold to customers who were travelling outside the European Union. Most of these stores, including Boots, did not pass on the savings to passengers.

The Treasury Secretary said the intention behind VAT relief at airports was to help passengers and not to line the pockets of retailers – and called for the practice to stop. “The VAT relief at airports is intended to reduce prices for travellers not as a windfall gain for shops,” he said.

Many passengers claimed to have been misled by airport shop staff who told them presenting a boarding card was obligatory – and even required for security purposes.

Reference:

Airport VAT scam: Treasury ministers demand end to rip-off charges and to pass savings on to passeng

In February 2020, Ethical Consumer viewed Walgreen Boots Alliance’s list of subsidiaries in its 2019 10-K filing with SEC (Exhibit 21). This showed that the company had several subsidiaries in jurisdictions considered by Ethical Consumer to be tax havens at the time of writing. Of these, at least four appeared to be holdings and finance type companies, were considered to be high-risk for the likely use of tax avoidance strategies:

Walgreens Boots Alliance Holdings LLC Delaware
WBA Investments, Inc. Delaware
Walgreens Boots Alliance (Hong Kong) Investments Limited Hong Kong
Walgreen Investments Luxembourg S.à r.l. Luxembourg

An internet search using the search terms “Walgreens Boots Alliance tax policy statement country” found no country-by-country financial information or reporting (CBCR), nor clear public tax statement confirming that it was this company’s policy not to engage in tax avoidance activity or to use tax havens for tax avoidance purposes.

Given that Walgreens Boots Alliance had two or more high risk subsidiaries in jurisdictions on Ethical Consumer's tax haven list and no country-by-country financial information, nor adequate policy statement and narrative explanation, the company received Ethical Consumer's worst rating for likely use of tax avoidance strategies and lost a full mark under the anti-social finance category.

Reference:

SEC 10-K Exhibit 21 (2019)

The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) published a report in March 2017: The 35 Percent Corporate Tax Myth; Corporate Tax Avoidance by Fortune 500 Companies, 2008 to 2015.

The report documented just how successful many Fortune 500 corporations had been at using loopholes and special breaks over the past eight years, in order to have paid less than the 35% federal income tax on their U.S. profits - with many having paid nothing at all.

ITEP stated: "As lawmakers look to reform the corporate tax code, this report shows that the focus of any overhaul should be on closing loopholes rather than on cutting tax rates."

The report included only corporations which had been consistently profitable every year between 2008 to 2015. By leaving out corporations that had losses in any one year (which means they wouldn’t have paid any tax), the report provides a straightforward picture of average effective tax rates paid by the 258 biggest and most consistently profitable U.S. companies.

The report found that one hundred of the 258 companies (39 percent of them) paid zero or less in federal income taxes in at least one year from 2008 to 2015.

The sectors with the lowest effective corporate tax rates over the eight-year period were Utilities, Gas and Electric (3.1%), Industrial Machinery (11.4%), Telecommunications (11.5%), Oil, Gas, and Pipelines (11.6%), and Internet Services and Retailing (15.6%). Each of these industries paid, as a group, less than half the statutory 35 percent tax rate over this eight-year period.

Walgreen was one of the companies in the report. Over the eight year period covered by the report, the company was found to have made US$26,280.0 million profit, on which it paid US$8,503.0m tax. This worked out at a rate of 32.4%.

Reference:

The 35 Percent Corporate Tax Myth; Corporate Tax (March 2017)

A report published by Citizens for Tax Justice on 6 October 2015 criticized US tax policy on large multinational corporations. Many multinational corporations used accounting tricks to pretend for that a substantial portion of their profits were generated in offshore tax havens, countries with minimal or no taxes where a company’s presence could be as little as a mailbox.

The study examined the use of tax havens by Fortune 500 companies in 2014. It revealed that tax haven use was ubiquitous among America’s largest companies and that a narrow set of companies benefited disproportionately.

Amongst these companies Walgreens was found to maintain 14 subsidiaries in tax havens: Bermuda(1), Cayman Islands(1), Hong Kong(1), Luxembourg(6), Mauritius(1), Switzerland(3) and
U.S. Virgin Islands(1).
However the amount held offshore was not disclosed. Neither were the overall rate of the tax paid on the overseas cash, nor any estimate of the US tax avoided.

Reference:

Offshore Shell Games 2015 (5 October 2015)