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January 3, 2013 9:21 AM   Subscribe

An explanation of how hard it is to boycott Amazon, even when you are an organisation calling for the boycott of corporations like Amazon While the organisation UK Uncut is calling for the boycotting of organisations that don't pay their fair share of tax, even they are using Amazon (though Amazon is not a company currently listed on their website, it is one of the most talked about in the UK for not paying corporation tax) The first linked article goes beyond the technical aspects of Amazon and cloud hosting and talks about a re-analysis of capitalism.
posted by Megami (28 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
Ideals are not platforms. You can rage against the machine with the tools the machine provides. (eg: not all protest has to be a violent uprising).

Hopefully they're using load-balanced micro-instances on a new AWS account, meaning it would only be costing Amazon to host the web pages, not the owner of the website.
posted by blue_beetle at 9:29 AM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


...we need to consider if focusing on tax avoidance is a good place to continue fighting. Maybe it is time to abandon it.

I thought this was a very smart idea. But since I'm on the other side of this fight I suppose my positive reaction actually indicates a problem with the author's argument.
posted by mullacc at 9:35 AM on January 3, 2013


I'm pretty sure activists use some form of petroleum-powered transport, or goods dependent on oil or petroleum while they rail against abuses by oil companies.

The guy has a point that big companies have big tentacles and are hard to avoid, but that doesn't make partial boycotts either unethical or contradictory.
posted by MuffinMan at 9:38 AM on January 3, 2013


Amazon is acting in a precisely legal way. If these people don't like the outcome of the laws, then they need to change the laws, not try to run boycotts.

Amazon's not going to pay one dime more than they are legally required to, no matter what these people do. You're not going to change Amazon. Will not happen. Instead, you need to change the requirements.
posted by Malor at 9:39 AM on January 3, 2013 [8 favorites]


If these people don't like the outcome of the laws, then they need to change the laws, not try to run boycotts.

They're bringing attention to the issues and in that they have been extremely successful. They also have a legal branch pursuing the legal side of it.
posted by vacapinta at 9:50 AM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]



Amazon is acting in a precisely legal way. If these people don't like the outcome of the laws, then they need to change the laws, not try to run boycotts.


They mention this. Granted, they then move on to the standard, "and thus, we must now destroy capitalism" bait and switch line that some idealogues like to use about any protest that doesn't want to smash the neoliberal state. Good is the enemy of the perfect, etc, etc.

I see shades of this article in which someone is using a contemporary event to push forward their political views, which are somewhat tangential to the event itself. Granted, libertarian communism is related to everything economic, but really doesn't have anything to with this particular protest.
posted by zabuni at 9:58 AM on January 3, 2013


Amazon's not going to pay one dime more than they are legally required to, no matter what these people do. You're not going to change Amazon. Will not happen.

I agree that in general stopping tax avoidance comes down to how the tax laws are written and enforced. But having a bad reputation as a company and getting negative press all the time has a cost too though. At a certain point it makes sense for a company to spend money that it doesn't absolutely have to spend in order to protect its brand image.
posted by burnmp3s at 10:07 AM on January 3, 2013


His point isn't to start boycotts - it's that boycotts are no longer effective. Companies are too big and too powerful for a small minority to impact by boycotting. A bit from TFA:

Amazon is neither going to be economically damaged nor morally persuaded by a boycott. Ask Nestle how effective long running boycotts are.

Nestle uses marketing worldwide to suggest formula is better than breastmilk for babies. This has serious negative health implications. There's been an ongoing boycott since 1977 and it hasn't been very effective. So he goes on to say:

Rather than all this battles must and should occur not at the point of exchange but at the point of production.

Note the use of battle. Judging by the other content on the site, that's not hyperbole. He understands what it means to encourage seizing or disrupting the means of production. He suggests it as he sees no other way to impact the system.
posted by anti social order at 10:08 AM on January 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


His point isn't to start boycotts - it's that boycotts are no longer effective. Companies are too big and too powerful for a small minority to impact by boycotting.

Well, in the case of Starbucks the point wasn't to impact Starbucks the global corporation. It was to impact Starbucks UK. And it did work in the sense of causing change:

After months of controversy over its tax affairs in Britain, the US coffee giant admitted it “needed to do more” by agreeing to review accounting practices that reduce its taxable profits. It is now looking to declare larger profits in Britain and thus pay more tax.
Starbucks – valued at £25bn – is in talks with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) and the Treasury over it tax position. Discussions are understood to be focusing on reducing a “royalty fee” of 4.7pc its UK company pays to a Dutch subsidiary for the rights to use the Starbucks name and coffee recipe.


The boycott raises public ire (rightly or wrongly). It raises awareness. It may even cause a small dent in a company like Starbucks UK that is in fierce competition with Costa and Nero. Isn't that a case of boycotts working?
posted by vacapinta at 10:19 AM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


The miracle of capitalism allows us as consumers to take our business to other ethically-challenged gargantuan conglomerates with shitty customer service if we're unhappy with a particular ethically-challenged gargantuan conglomerate with shitty customer service. Except when they're a de facto monopoly or all part of the same ethically-challenged mega-gargantuan conglomerate.
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:20 AM on January 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


The guy has a point that big companies have big tentacles and are hard to avoid,

Three times I read this as "big testicles." Three times.
posted by roger ackroyd at 10:28 AM on January 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


Boycotting Amazon is easy. Boycotting Amazon, and everyone who uses Amazon services, is difficult.
posted by miyabo at 10:33 AM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


vacapinta: In your quote, I see verb phrases like "agreeing to review", "looking to declare", and "understood to be focusing", but nowhere do I see "has paid any actual additional taxes".
posted by Ardiril at 10:34 AM on January 3, 2013


Systems of taxation that made sense when business was mostly conducted within the borders of a single country don't work so well in a world where practically every transaction is transnational.

Take the Dutch tax policy that taxes IP royalties at very low rates: that's not a problem in a purely domestic context because other taxes such as corporation tax, income tax, and wealth tax* make up for it. The Netherlands is not a low tax jurisdiction by any means. Except that what happens in today's world is that companies structure their global business in such a way that their royalties are incurred in a country where there is a low tax on them while the rest of their corporate income accrues as much as possible in places with low corporation tax.

This best of all worlds approach means that they end with a very low total tax burden.

(*) technically not anymore, but it was replaced with something that acts almost the same.
posted by atrazine at 10:36 AM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


vacapinta: In your quote, I see verb phrases like "agreeing to review", "looking to declare", and "understood to be focusing", but nowhere do I see "has paid any actual additional taxes".

Also the Prime Minister is taking the issue to the G8. I thought that too would meet the definition of boycotts have some effect. But you guys seem to be upping the requirements. I'll come back and let you know when the coins are in the Treasury.
posted by vacapinta at 10:46 AM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's not so much 'upping the ante' as it is recognizing a classic delaying tactic. Many boycotts are appeased by lip-service, and then they evaporate.
posted by Ardiril at 10:52 AM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Amazon is acting in a precisely legal way. If these people don't like the outcome of the laws, then they need to change the laws, not try to run boycotts.
To make something unlawful we must first make it immoral. Boycotts are only partly about using the market to harm wrongdoers, as they are also about shaping beliefs on what is wrong. Shouting slogans outside of Starbucks isn't only about stopping folk from buying there, but strengthening the belief that opposition to tax avoidance is the social norm.
posted by Jehan at 10:55 AM on January 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


Paying the tax mandated by law is immoral? Good luck with that.

I'm totally up for raising the tax rate and restructuring tax systems as necessary. I'm totally against politicians deciding what companies should pay what tax rate. Suppose the anti-abortion wing of the Tory party went after Marie Stopes International for not paying the tax they claim they should pay? Would that be fine and dandy?
posted by alasdair at 11:38 AM on January 3, 2013


The guy has a point that big companies have big tentacles and are hard to avoid

roger ackroyd: Three times I read this as "big testicles." Three times.


tentacles - N, T - tentacles - big difference
posted by kokaku at 11:41 AM on January 3, 2013


"Barley says you can get that DVD much cheaper online."
posted by creeky at 12:15 PM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


> I thought that too would meet the definition of boycotts have some effect

"Effect" is not the same as "effective". And even if coin did go into the treasury now, and not in 2016 or whatever, so what? As he said:

By not considering capitalism as a system it fails to understand why companies attempt to avoid tax. It is not simply because they are evil. It is because the system requires as much in order for companies to operate ... It must reduce its costs and will do this by any means - it is the way capitalism is.

Of course as other posts say, they will do whatever is within the law. Capitalism also means they will do whatever is within the law. What's also legal? Pushing the law back by lobbying for deregulation. Misleading advertising, redirecting pension funds, extending copyright, etc etc. Pick your favorite ill. Capitalism says, fundamentally, that it is right for all companies to do those things as they extract the most value.

So we as citizens must remain ever vigilant, constantly aware of their efforts to pay less tax, to pollute, to violate laws, to lower wages, etc. Now think of times some company has crossed the line into illegal; From pollution to murder. And that we as citizens will fight this fight against them, forever.

As he says: "There is a partial victory, but no victory if the world we really want is not been gained."
posted by anti social order at 12:32 PM on January 3, 2013


As I've advocated here before, one should always check the prices on direct from china suppliers that don't charge shipping, maybe posses their own websites but many simply run ebay sites. It's basically outsourcing the outsourcers, avoid paying the VAT yourself without helping Amazon profit form avoiding the VAT. :)

VAT, sales tax, etc are fundamentally regressive taxes. I'm therefore okay with individuals bypassing them at present, basically it looks economically neutral.

I'd change my tune if we adopted a progressive VAT that made larger companies pay a higher percentage. In fact, I'd rather replace the lower tier income tax brackets with such a progressive VAT, well corporations achieve much more inequality than individuals, but that's unlikely any time soon.
posted by jeffburdges at 12:39 PM on January 3, 2013


If these people don't like the outcome of the laws, then they need to change the laws, not try to run boycotts.

There are many laws I think need to be changed.
As it turns out, some of the time, the majority of the people disagree with me.

Until such time as those people are convinced of the Moral Rightness(tm) of my cause, not giving money to those that oppose my views seems a good intermediary step.

For me personally, I do not do business directly with Amazon* or their resellers, etc.
As has been pointed out, this probably has little effect on Amazon's bottom line, but we all have to do what we can.

*For reasons other than their tax avoidance.
posted by madajb at 12:43 PM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hosting web sites/servers without going through Amazon is not difficult; there are VM hosting companies independent from Amazon who will rent you a Linux instance at a reasonable rate. (I myself use bytemark.co.uk, though have done so since before AWS was launched.) If you want to serve HTTP, send out email, and so on without being beholden to Amazon, it's doable. Which leaves only using third-party services (such as Dropbox or Instagram) which rely on Amazon.
posted by acb at 4:19 PM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


but strengthening the belief that opposition to tax avoidance is the social norm.

Yes, following the law precisely is immoral!

Hmm, you might have trouble selling that one.
posted by Malor at 4:59 PM on January 3, 2013


Yes, following the law precisely is immoral!
It's not that following the law is in itself an immoral act, but rather that the companies are acting immorally regardless of whether they are acting lawfully. Structuring your business to make it seem that your operation in country X is not making a profit, when in truth it is, seems like a pretty straight up lie to me. Whether the tax code lets you do that is irrelevant to morality.

Even so, laws and morals don't always match up, else we would never make new laws or overturn old ones.
posted by Jehan at 6:26 PM on January 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm totally up for raising the tax rate and restructuring tax systems as necessary. I'm totally against politicians deciding what companies should pay what tax rate. Suppose the anti-abortion wing of the Tory party went after Marie Stopes International for not paying the tax they claim they should pay? Would that be fine and dandy?
Well I don't want that to happen either. Any tax code should be applied evenly to all companies, and there should be no personal or subjective opinion in the matter. But it doesn't mean that we can't look at individual companies and close the loopholes they're using. It's just that the loopholes should be closed for all companies. Starbucks and Amazon are tokens for the wider issue of tax avoidance because they're big and well-known brands, not because anti-tax avoidance campaigners only want to punish these two companies.
posted by Jehan at 6:44 PM on January 3, 2013


Apparently U2 is running Amazon now.
posted by 4ster at 6:47 PM on January 3, 2013


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