(With apologies to Leona Helmsley, your favourite late billionairess and mine.) As we emerge from the annual season of excess and wait with terror for our January credit card bills, thoughts will inevitably turn to self-denial, austerity and belt-tightening (both literal and metaphorical). In recent weeks (as I mentioned in an earlier post), tax avoidance (or planning, or efficiency, or whatever you want to call it) has been much on my mind. My rage was further outed when I watched this new “Panorama” piece; called rather provocatively “The Tax Haven Twins”, it exposes the interesting tax arrangements of David and Frederick Barclay. Watching my words carefully (they are very litigious), I will say simply that they are a rum pair – and proof positive of my pet theory that for some people, enough is never enough. Quite why such rich people would waste their time on insignificant law suits is a mystery: surely one of the benefits of having bucket-loads of money is that you can afford to ignore the rest of the world?
Anyway, the Barclays own the Ritz Hotel, the Daily Telegraph and Littlewoods – all of which have interesting tax structures. And all of which rely on customers. Surely one of the smartest ways to get our own back on these arrangements, if we disapprove of them, is simply to withdraw our custom. Read another newspaper, buy your clothes elsewhere, and kip at the Dorchester. Just look at the success we had with Starbucks! (Well, I say we, but I don’t drink coffee – but I boycotted them in spirit.)
If you feel that this is all a bit negative, you can do the opposite, as recommended by an organisation called Carrotmob. Carrotmob encourages us to vote with our money – to buy-cott rather than boy-cott. The theory is that people organise campaigns to encourage businesses to improve, and then reward them with their custom when they do. We’re familiar with the concept of companies whose USP is their ethical credentials – look at the success of Innocent drinks. But perhaps we could apply the same principle to their principals, and start actively supporting companies that do more than just obey the taxation law: express our approval of those who do what is right rather than simply what is legal. Although if anyone ever suggests tax irregularities at Cadbury, I may have to think again…
I always have believed in voting with our money / buying power. If the customer buys from ethical companies, business that do fair trade, businesses that are not out to screw everyone whilst filling up their pockets, the customer will ultimately benefit from it too. More local jobs. Better food / clothes and other products (do we really know what happens to products Made in China???) A good business should give back to the community… It’s not always easy to think about it when you are spending your money. But if everyone did a small effort, it would make a huge difference for these businesses.
I read an article that Costa Coffee sales soared due to the Starbucks boycott. I have no idea how tax-clean Costa is now, but the sale of Costa Coffee somewhere mid-nineties definitely was not not a good deal for the taxman. Someone “fled” the UK before selling as to avoid paying taxes on the deal… (guess who took care of that?) I buy fair trade coffee.
And happy new year to you – good to hear from you.
I am 100% with you on this – my personal bugbear is the very cheap clothing stores we have here in the UK (naming no names….). There is only one way they can sell five t-shirts for £3, and that’s by cutting corners on factory safety, worker conditions and supplier fair prices. I’m lucky in that I can choose to spend more at a more ethical store, I suppose, but perhaps if people bought fewer (but better) things less often….
Over Christmas I re-watched an old (2004) BBC documentary on the Indian railways, and was again impressed with how the senior workers in the company believed that it was their duty to spend their time and money on helping with good causes – such as teaching “railway kids” to read and write. To a man, they all said “I’ve done well out of my job, and I should put something back”.
Best wishes from Susan