This is what the Guardian‘s poll claims about Starbucks’ UK operation:
The coffee chain company has used legal tax-avoidance tactics to pay as little as possible, paying £8.6m in taxes on a reported £3bn in UK sales since 1998, and nothing in the past three years. Is this OK?
At the time of writing this post, 93 percent of people say it’s not OK. The other 7 percent are presumably employed by Starbucks’ clearly well-staffed tax department.
There’s more on this matter in the same paper today in an article which draws a wider conclusion:
The UK international tax system is failing us. HMRC say they can’t do anything about that: candidly I don’t believe them. They could stop sacking staff, for a start. But even if that were true they would still have a duty to point out the fact that the system is not working fairly and to suggest to ministers ways in which the system should be reformed.
For it’s not just Starbucks; there have been plenty of other high-profile cases. After all, if the laws allow it, we can hardly expect managerialist organisations to feather anyone’s nests but their own.
It is, as Richard Murphy points out in the above quote, the system that is failing us. And again, at least according to Murphy, HMRC has apparently thrown in the towel.
Well, I’ve had an idea which could help HMRC. It’d almost certainly pull in a broad and crowdsourceable response and could even help to reduce the organisation’s own overheads. This brilliant idea?
How about it promotes a Corporate Boycott mobile-phone app?
So how would this work? Something along these lines:
- The objective of the app would be to allow consumers to compare and contrast the percentage of corporation tax paid annually in relation to turnover by a shop or company or other institution before a decision to purchase was made.
- The app would piggyback off public domain data already in the possession of HMRC which would allow such a comparison to be made. A website could be set up which would allow web users to access the same data.
- Instead of consumers having to manually keep track of every company the media continues to reveal as the latest tax-avoider we knew nothing about, the app would do this automatically on our behalf according to criteria which could be set.
- Options could include sorting via sector; nationality of head office; philanthropic activities; community engagement; ratio between highest-paid and lowest-paid workers; salaries of executives; bonus arrangements; environmental awareness; and the percentage of internationally outsourced jobs.
Obviously, not all the information in point 4 would necessarily be in the possession of HMRC, but I’m sure there are enough open-data organisations out there who’d be perfectly happy to supply the missing information.
The advantages of such an idea? It’d be entirely free-market driven by consumers. HMRC wouldn’t need more staff to chase down tax avoiders or even evaders – as long as the data used was reliable, accurate and up-to-date enough, it’d be the consumers and purchasers who’d eventually bring the errant companies, corporations and organisations onside.
Downsides? The veracity of the data would have to be absolute: imagine the legal implications if a company’s stock market value suddenly plunged because of an erroneous judgement the app simultaneously led millions of consumers to take.
So expensive data – but surely no more expensive than a credit crunch and resulting economic dislocation, millions of unemployed, people suddenly made homeless and a rapidly crumbling health, care and education infrastructure.
What do we say then? Anyone want to work on this one? Anyone in open data circles interested in doing the job which HMRC is clearly not up to all on its lonesome?