Anti-Amazon E-Petition Gains Momentum - InformationWeek

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3/22/2013
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Anti-Amazon E-Petition Gains Momentum

British grassroots campaign aims to force Amazon to stop "unfair practices" and pay more local tax.

A British online petition calling on the U.K. government to force U.S. e-commerce giant Amazon to pay more local sales tax has garnered 100,000 supporters.

The campaign, started by Coventry-based independent booksellers Frances and Keith Smith last November, says businesses like theirs have already been pushed "to the brink" by the huge discounts offered by online retailers like Amazon.

The petition states that Amazon, despite making sales of £2.9 billion [$4.4 billion] in the U.K. last year, does not pay any British corporation taxes on the profits from those sales. (Amazon does not normally break out such figures for individual country operations, but the company did supply them to British MPs last year.) The petition further alleges, "The unfair advantage that your tax dodge gives you is endangering many U.K. high street businesses."

[ U.K. government leaders encourage contracts with small and midsize businesses. Read more at U.K. Pushed Govt. IT To Use SMB Suppliers. ]

The Smiths told The Guardian on Friday that they intend to deliver their appeal to Prime Minister David Cameron at 10 Downing Street -- accompanied by a "large crowd of authors and other allies."

All of Amazon's U.K. book and toy sales are routed through its Luxembourg subsidiary, which means that when the British public buys goods from Amazon, they are in fact paying a Luxembourg company. "This means Amazon can avoid paying British corporation tax on the profits it makes," the petition states. "Experts say if Amazon's total U.K. sales profits were not funneled to Luxembourg, it could be paying as much as £100m a year in British corporation tax… We pay our taxes and so should they -- please take a stand with us and tell Amazon to pay their fair share."

The Smiths count prominent British MP Margaret Hodge, writer and comic Charlie Higson, and alternative comedian Rhona Cameron among their supporters. Hodge led the confrontational meetings between British lawmakers and representatives of U.S. firms, including Starbucks and Google, last year that brought to the surface the issue of alleged low tax payments by multinationals. In her Committee meetings, MPs accused such firms of moving hundreds of millions of pounds of profit that could have gone to the British Exchequer to tax havens.

Among the many supporting statements is this from one Susan Jones: "I love books and I regret the demise of bookshops and the joy of browsing them and discovering new books. Amazon is guilty of unfair trading and should mend its ways."

Frances Smith told the newspaper, "We've got to keep the pressure up so the government realizes this is an issue close to people's hearts. We have to keep banging on about it so the government knows it is important to people -- and that there are votes in it."

The Smiths, who run independent bookshops in two West Midlands towns, are clearly not convinced by Amazon's insistence to the British media that it complies with all necessary fiscal regulations of the countries in which it operates.

InformationWeek's March Must Reads is a compendium of our best recent coverage on collaboration. This Must Reads: Collaboration issue looks at how collaboration tools solve real problems, the potential for unified communications to expand collaboration outside your company, where the cloud fits in and more. (Free with registration.)

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