Saturday, 8 December 2012

Starbucks hit by UK Uncut protests as tax row boils over

Activists stage a series of sit-ins amid concerns that the firm's decision to pay the Treasury £20m over two years misses the point

Anti-tax avoidance protesters have targeted UK branches of Starbucks, attempting to turn them into women's refuges and crèches, saying that the company's unilateral decision to pay £20m to the Treasury over two years is missing the point. The coffee chain faced a backlash from customers when it emerged last month they had received 3bn in sales over 14 years yet claimed to have made a loss in Britain each year, vastly reducing its corporation tax bill.

The campaign group UK Uncut has organised 45 protests to pressurise the government to clamp down on tax avoidance and roll back cuts to public services. A UK Uncut spokesperson, Anna Walker, said that 1,000 people attended 45 sit-ins across the country.

At Starbucks' flagship store on Conduit Street in central London about 40 activists and six children were threatened by police with arrest for aggravated trespass and – after a brief discussion – the protesters agreed to leave. At Vigo Street in London's Mayfair, about 60 protesters gathered among customers sipping lattes and herbal tea, chanting: "If you don't pay your taxes we'll shut you down."

The protests are taking the form of sit-ins, designed to highlight the impact on women's services by transforming Starbucks branches into spaces that reflect those being lost due to the government's deficit-reduction measures.

Anna Walker stressed it was not targeting Starbucks staff, but highlighting the impact of the government's austerity measures on the most vulnerable. "This is not just about Starbucks and tax avoidance," she said. "That's just the tip of the iceberg. The government is not only refusing to tackle tax avoidance, but it's dismantling public services because it loses £25bn a year to it. People are incredibly angry when they see multinational companies getting off scot-free when they are the ones feeling the pinch."
On Thursday, Starbucks UK managing director, Kris Engskov unilaterally announced that the coffee company would pay £10m a year over the next two years. Starbucks came under fire earlier this year when it was revealed that it had paid only £8.6m in tax since it opened its first store in the UK 14 years ago. In that time, the coffee chain has made £3bn in sales yet has claimed it has made a loss in Britain every year. In October, HMRC said a total of £32bn had been lost to tax avoidance in the past year, an increase of £1bn on 2010-11.

Words: The Guardian
Pictures: Getty Images