I never used to pay much attention to ethics, shopping as I did for what I wanted, when I wanted it. Then I met my cleverest friend, who was taking a masters in international development when I was sitting around, unemployed, smoking dope. She is very clever about things I don’t understand, and she patiently tried to teach me that my pound was powerful and I should make choices based on a company’s ability to not employ children and not fly mangoes half way around the world just so I can have a stir-fry.
I jumped aboard the ethics bus, keen as I was to impress her. What’s that you say – boycott Nescafe? Sure! I wasn’t even that au-fait with the whole – they bullied breast feeding mothers in developing countries into switching to formula they can’t afford. Which is BAD – thing, but I sprouted what little knowledge I did have whenever I saw someone dare eat a Kit-Kat.
It was more than I could achieve in an average week just to keep up with their acquisitions. I didn’t even really know what they ever did wrong – I certainly can’t remember now – but when a friend came round for dinner and announced that upon graduation she was going to apply for a job at Unilever, I felt it was my responsibility to shout loud words at her. She quietly explained that in fact Unilever are an exemplary company with an excellent ethical reputation and a sustainable agriculture programme – whilst also helping one billion people improve their health and well-being (and not just through making one billion people have a nice relaxing Radox bath).
Well, that told me. All that boycotting, wasted. I quickly bought some Caramel Chew Chew, just so they’d know I was back.
What good does it do, to boycott, anyway? Does my silent protest really make a difference? In the news of late, some big cats have been naughty: Amazon, (What can’t you buy from Amazon?) Starbucks (love their Chai) and Google (love the days when the Google word is written differently in tribute to someone’s birthday. Those are fun days. Plus they know everything. Quickly.)
They have managed to siphon off a staggering amount of money that really ought to be paid in tax. Our struggling economy continues to gasp for air, while they roll around in their billions, laughing at us as we order our Chai’s and google ourselves.
I want to boycott these companies, especially since Costa started serving Chai, I really do. But is it my responsibility to marshal them? Yes, we should all, as a nation, together, no longer shop at Amazon. But when the next big gun rises up from the ashes, you can bet your bottom dollar that when they start turning over the billions Amazon currently enjoys and their accountant says, hey, there’s a legal loophole here, do you fancy avoiding (and remember, avoiding is legal, evading is illegal) vast sums of tax payments, so you can buy an island instead? – they are going to say yes please, why didn’t you tell me about this before?
In summary, I will try to choose independent, small and local, (which is how all these big boys started out, lest we forget) but ultimately, the government needs to sort out what’s legal and what’s not. They’ve only got themselves to blame when companies find ways to avoid tax. I don’t have all the answers – I mostly just read Grazia – but I am tired of boycotting companies because the government can’t sort it out at the top. Starbucks probably won’t miss my custom, but they might be more abiding tax-payers if there weren’t loopholes to jump through.
Well, if you need me, I’ll be over here, smelling of Dove, eating Ben and Jerry’s and stroking my Toni and Guy-cut tresses. Let me know when it’s okay to google myself again.