The most harrowing corporate-related video of the day doesn’t involve children dying in Africa as they are forceably weaned off mother’s milk through massive advertising campaigns. No. It’s much more prosaic and – yet – just as pointed. Amazon’s Director of Public Policy – I think that was his post though I’m not sure he’s going to remain in it for much longer – provides us with this excruciating performance today as he was interrogated and even laughed at by MPs investigating the tax affairs of the big corporates.
Amazon wasn’t, however, the only one to suffer. As politics.co.uk also reports:
[...] Starbucks global chief financial officer Troy Alstead was told his company’s claims to make a loss in the UK “just doesn’t ring true”.
The coffee chain pays no corporation tax in the UK and has filed losses with Companies House for most of the years it has been in the country.
“You have run the business for 15 years and are losing money and you are carrying on investing here. It just doesn’t ring true,” Hodge said.
“You are losing money. You have tried for 15 years and failed and you have promoted the guy who failed. It doesn’t ring true Mr Alstead, that’s what frustrates taxpayers in the UK.”
She added: “Are you lying to your shareholders?”
Meanwhile, if you are of a masochistic bent, more background to this story – again from the BBC – can be found here. It’ll make you weep, if only out of evil joy.
It makes me feel ashamed, mind.
Ashamed of all the schools and hospitals which will close because these behemoths have got so good at avoiding their moral responsibilities. Ashamed of all the good public servants – and private employees too – whose jobs have been lost because of the unfair advantage such companies have over their tax-paying competition. Ashamed of the purchasing choices I now strive to make less and less: choices which have filled the pockets of delightfully clever “whats” – websites, delivery schedules, search engines and seductive flavours – but all at the expense of considerably unpleasant “hows”.
For this has real consequences – and they’re not only in the public sector. Recently, the British electrical appliances and electronics chain Comet announced it was going into administration. There are very particular issues I believe in relation to how the company was run, but Amazon’s own very forceful presence in the market was surely a contributory factor. And overheads are bound to vary tremendously. That bricks-and-mortar establishments provide a face-to-face after-sales service is, for example, a cost which many online retailers refuse to provide.
I recounted, in the meantime, the story of our iPod – purchased at a heavy discount from Amazon itself and now six months out of guarantee with a failing home button as built-in and permanent feature. We felt that as retailer it was up to Amazon to take ownership of the issue – Amazon, however, argued it was Apple’s responsibility. After a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, I received this email from my erstwhile favourite corporation:
Dear Mr Williams,
My name is [ _____ _____ ] and I represent Executive Customer Relations within Amazon.co.uk and in this capacity, your correspondence has been brought to my attention.
I am sorry to hear of the difficulty experienced with the New Apple iPod touch 8GB (4th Generation) received in May 2011 from your order #202-_______-_______.
The European Directive 1999/44/EC allows for a claim to be taken (under certain circumstances) for a period up to two years in accordance with European Law, and up to six years under UK law.
This does not imply that an item has a warranty of two years or six years respectively. It merely permits an individual to make a claim under certain circumstances within that time period, e.g. should a fault be proved to have been inherent in the first six months.
Amazon do not provide the warranty for this item. We do, however, cover our obligations under the relevant legislation such as the Sales of Goods Act 1979 in the UK. Under the Sale of Goods Act, a consumer is granted recourse against a seller of goods if those goods were defective at the time of purchase. This may include, in certain circumstances, repair, refund or replacement but only to the extent that doing so is not disproportionate to the value of the goods, having regard to the use the customer has already had of the goods and the nature of the goods.
You purchased your product approximately 18 months ago and, until recently, have used it successfully and reported no fault with the product. Given your satisfactory use of the product for a period of time which exceeded the manufacturer’s warranty period, it is not established that the product did not conform to the contract (i.e. was defective) at the time of purchase.
Amazon.co.uk is therefore not under an obligation to offer any additional assistance in repairing or replacing your product.
Please note that the manufacturer is often in a better position than the retailer to deal with technical problems affecting their products. Therefore, should you wish to pursue this matter, we would encourage you to contact the manufacturer to see if they are able to provide you with any further assistance. They may be in a position to offer a repair service or could provide you with information on relevant charges for an out of warranty repair:
- Manufacturer: http://depot.info.apple.com/ipod/
- Phone: 844_______
- Email: http://www.apple.com/uk/support/
Thank you for your attention to this email.
[ _____ _____ ]
Executive Customer Relations
To cut a long story short, after a period of a year defined by the guarantee Amazon cares to comply with, Amazon as retailer understands it has no obligation to liaise with manufacturers at all. Even as your Currys or Comet or Argos presumably continue to provide such a service. At, of course, a slightly higher – but even so market-sensitive – purchase price.
If truth be told, it’s absolutely clear that a British search engine company doesn’t exist because of things like Google’s tax arrangements (#avoidance); a British coffee chain doesn’t exist because even Starbucks has demonstrated that on two quid a cup the business can’t operate profitably (#irony); and Comet, Argos, Currys and all the rest are busily defending evermore difficult trading circumstances as the Amazons of this world (well, let’s just say #Amazon) make all kinds of entirely legal decisions to avoid paying corporation tax to the communities from which they extract so many billions of pounds of profit.
What we really need is the free market to take these corporates by the scruff of the neck. I’ve already suggested how here, here and here. It’s now up to you to determine whether we go forward with these ideas. I’m convinced they’d create a constructive level playing-field which would benefit everyone – but then I am a naive soul who still believes that people show general good faith when properly given the opportunity.
I do have to say one thing before I finish tonight: I suddenly feel so very awfully ashamed of ever having loved those American corporations.