Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Let's Talk About Tax

As the months rolled by the revelations tumbled in: Starbucks, Amazon, Google UK, Facebook. Some of the largest and most powerful companies in the world had avoided, through cloudily legitimate means, paying significant chunks of their UK corporation tax – collectively contributing only £30m over four years despite profits of £3.1bn in Britain. 

I’ll admit straight away that my understanding of the processes used to avoid tax is hazy. I don’t feel I can talk with authority on the financial ins and outs. However, despite my economic ignorance, what I do feel licensed to discuss is the ethical quagmire this leaves me, as a consumer, facing.

It’s not a new problem. I took the decision to stop buying clothes in Topshop after finding out about the now infamous £1.2bn cheque Philip Green (CEO of Arcadia Group) gave to his Monaco-based wife in 2005. There is no income tax in Monaco; meaning Green avoided paying an estimated £285m to the British government – a figure that could hypothetically fund 20,000 NHS nurses’ wages. To me that single statistic sums up the immorality of that action. The concept of one individual owning that much wealth, more wealth than can ever be spent, seems deeply wrong. This is a man who thinks nothing of throwing a £6 million birthday celebration (for himself) or buying a £32 million yacht. A few less millions wouldn’t have dented either Philip Green’s wallet or his lifestyle.

Of course, I’m opening myself up here to accusations of naivety, idealism or a failure to understand the way that the world is. I’m fully aware that there will always be a scale of wealth in which some are richer than others. I have no problem with that, or with the entrepreneurial concept of starting a business, building it up and earning a fantastic wage from it. What I cannot stand though is the unwillingness of certain companies and individuals to pay a sum to the country they are living or trading in, so that those who are not as well off as themselves can be supported. With privilege should come awareness and acknowledgment of being fortunate in comparison to others. Avoiding tax is a demonstration of selfishness, of retreating inwards and not giving a damn about others. Taxes are used for public good and public necessities. For example, mundane as it is, the upkeep of roads is only made possible through taxes. Many companies whose branded vans are seen throughout the country could not trade without these roads. But they still feed, vampire-like, off infrastructures they do not help to support.

Also, in the UK taxes fund healthcare, education, the police and other public services. Call me a liberal lefty, but to me these are the cornerstones of society – public goods that are absolutely vital. But in the UK we are now living in a time where libraries are being closed, where the budget for the NHS has been reduced, where cuts are slicing into the most vulnerable first. And yet some global companies continue to duck and dive around the taxman – legally, but not morally, in the clear.

To return to my own personal conundrum though, the query is this: are my values strong enough for me to resist shopping in and thus supporting these businesses? To not buy books online? To throw away the Mac I am typing on? There are also other issues aside from finance, such as Amazon’s throttling of independent bookshops or Apple’s appalling working conditions on construction lines. Despite being aware of all of this though, my response as a consumer is tricky. In an ideal world I would only support ethical businesses, but living rurally and having a minimal budget means that the ease of online ordering is seductive – particularly for second hand items on eBay (who paid just £1.2m on £800m of sales in 2010.) Also, it vastly reduces the number of products that can be bought.

As mentioned before though, I don’t give my money to Topshop (or any other member of the Arcadia group), but this is easy as my main hunting ground for clothes are charity shops, vintage and independent businesses and markets. I’m using Topshop as an example because my blog is primarily known for its fashion content. I know that to speak against a brand with such huge sway in the industry is not the done thing, but I'm not judging anyone who buys or enjoys their clothes – I'm only expressing my personal opinion. I can also appreciate the support that Topshop has extended to new designers through NewGen, particularly in a time when corporate funding is one of the only ways fledgling brands can fly. But this good work doesn’t negate or blank out the fact that Philip Green, despite huge earnings, avoided paying the fully taxable amount. It was money sorely missed, now desperately needed. With these companies it's not a few thousand lost here and there, but massive sums – bigger than most of us could comprehend owning – that should be invested in the country, not sitting in some business bank account.

I don’t know where this leaves me. Writing this piece won’t convince any business to pay their tax or any government minister to shut the loopholes that allow this to happen. But it feels important to state, even if I know that as an individual my power only extends to what I buy.

Statistics and facts taken from The Guardian, The Telegraph and UK Uncut.

Now how to explain the so-tenuous- it’s-almost-invisible link between the photos and the subject matter of the post? Two reasons. Firstly, the fifties swimsuit is handmade – no high street brand has brushed its hands across the ruched elastic. But secondly, and this is meant fully tongue in cheek, it’s a well known advertising cliché that adding a female in a swimsuit supposedly sells a product. Nothing for sale here though, just images of a summer May afternoon, 'swimming' in a field crop of flowers - photos taken by the fantastic Flo. 


Diana Marks said...

great photos!
Please, support my blog by following it on Bloglovin!
LA By Diana Live Magazine

Tara said...

Consumerism, capitalism and brand-power are oft overlooked issues, I believe, especially by those in the teenage-age bracket. One cannot put a price-tag on social and ethical awareness - nor will it go out of fashion, like the occasionally gaudy wares one quite often has to rummage through in Topshop in order to find something truly of worth.
You write that the penning of "this piece won't convince any business to pay their tax or any government minister to shut loopholes that allow this to happen" - this is, regrettably, irrefutable. But the very action of writing something so lucid and potent and the actions you have already taken - such as not buying anything from Topshop, from whom I must confess in spite of my better judgement and "liberal lefty" leanings I still purchase goods , or any other member of the Arcadia Group - is enough to give this worthy cause some much-needed momentum.

Best Wishes,


Anupriya DG said...

The pictures are amazing, dear Roz!! Your red pucker looks so vivid against the clear blue sky!

And yes, taxes are the Government's way of playing Robin Hood - taking from the rich & giving to the poor. Processes have to be followed honestly for every nation's development & secure future.

AVY said...

Robin Hood didn't steal from the rich to give to the poor, he took what the state had already stolen and gave it back to the people.


Marla said...

You are so stunning.

Vanessa, Take only Memories said...

Awesome title post, made me giggle :)

I really don'T know much about tax and should definitely know more. Good for you for stopping to shop topshop! I had no idea that was going on!
And you've definitely sold me on reading your post with those lovely bathing suit pics ;)

Serina said...

I actually love this post. I agree with everything you have said, and even though you think your post might be insignificant, the fact that there are quite a number of people who think alike gives me hope.

tanaya said...

I so agree with your personal conundrum, its just getting harder and harder to find ethical companies to buy from. There is always some action that causes deep misgivings and sometimes I sit and wonder what can one lone person do.

But you are writing about it and discussion creates awareness and hopefully eventually will lead to enough people boycotting brands who chose to be morally unethical. Topshop wasn't my most favourite place to buy from anyway but they've opened up their new store down under and I was eyeing a pair of boots, now the need for them in my life shall be ignored. So there atleast your post has convinced one person to not buy from them :D

Isa said...

What you've pointed out is, indeed, ridiculous - it amazes me that the people who most evade their taxes are the people who least need to. Greed shows no bounds! And it's just so stupid, as well, because really, in the midst of billions, what huge difference in the lifestyle of those paying does the tax percentage make?

ailsa said...

i think about this kind of thing often, though not phrased exactly through the lens of avoiding taxes, but rather as part of a larger scale, hazier and more indefinable problem dealing with ethics and morality and treating workers properly and taking care of our country (or countries, as i'm in australia) and deciding what to consume in light of all these issues. i try not to shop at coles or woolworths (the two giant supermarket chains) but support independent grocers and local farmers. i don't buy clothing new, especially not from chain stores. i would like to believe that my choices are making a tiny, tiny difference (because after all, it's really all i can do), but i feel that as consumers trying to make better choices we are overwhelmed by how many issues there are to consider. either we don't give our purchases enough consideration, or we do and then plague ourselves with guilt over how despite our careful consideration we're still falling short somehow. it seems like there's no way to win this battle, there are just too many options and too many things wrong with each and every option. if i buy peanut butter from the independent grocers instead of the giant conglomerate, does that make it ok? what about the company that makes the peanut butter? is it ethical? sustainable? cruelty-free? do they pay their taxes? it's impossible to tick every box and feel good about what you consume.

ailsa said...

ps. love the picture showing your scar!

Caitlin said...

Oh my goodness, the color of the blue with the yellow flowers is so pretty! I love your hair by the way :)


Izzy/Bella said...

Where to start...I just adore you, Rosalind. I feel like you're this wonderful, retro chick. On Facebook all my mother's fantastic hippie friends (who have become my friends as well) sound just like you-- so passionate and caring, and they have REALLY lived some of those ladies, so never let anyone call you naive. My generation is generally more apathetic (I don't know why this is), but you young'uns are giving me hope :)

Yikes..I didn't know about Topshop...I mostly didn't shop there even when I lived two blocks from the store, because of personal, selfish reasons-- too expensive for what it was and too crowded to fight my way there through the crowds thronging the way.
Yes, a LOT of people shop there and at similar large stores, but if no one tells them different, they'll never think about their actions and nothing will change. I just found out some troubling things about Starbucks. I still tend to go there, because they have decent decaf (surprisingly hard to find) and are the closest to my apartment, but now I'm rethinking. However, it's all so complicated and difficult the more you unravel it, the more knotted up it gets-- a true Gordian knot. I do have many friends who are students and actors who can only survive in NY because of their jobs at Starbucks and have been treated very well by that company (not all of them but most.) They would not appreciate me writing this to you.

For a brief time I lost some of my passion and caring for others, and I became so much more lost and empty. Nurturing that love and compassion for other people is the most important quality I think there is. In America our election was decided by a movement that rejected the Republican's tax vision on this exact topic. The Democrats aren't perfect, but at least they are looking to close loopholes in the tax law for the very rich instead of preaching the nonsense gospel of trickle-down economics. usual I could go on and on. I love the combination of high quality photos and essays you publish on this site. I've been either super, super busy with some projects and getting ready for the baby or super exhausted (in my third trimester) so forgive me if I fall behind in my reading the next few weeks (can you believe only 7-8 weeks left!) or take a little longer to reply to emails.

So glad I checked in instead of watching more TV tonight before bed!

Bella Q said...

I got it, and love it. You are taking a stand and being heard, swimmingly. Hear hear!

Chloe Likes To Talk said...

I found this a really interesting perspective. I grew up around small business, and until recently worked for my parents business. Corporation tax is highly necessary on many levels, and I agree with you on issues of extreme wealth and high level turn over/profit, but for a small business, corporation tax can be crippling- I know many small businesses who try very hard to reduce their bill, not because they object to paying taxes for the education, health and welfare sectors, but because the sheer weight of the tax burden can mean difficulties in cash flow, the inability to grow or develop a business and it's also a double whammy if you are the business owner, because you pay tax on the part of the profits paid to you.

Thank you for setting me thinking- I'm not sure exactly where I stand on this issue, seeing it from 2 sides, but I definitely am now more conscious than ever.

Willow said...

This is a great post, and I hope that this will make some of your readers make more ethical choices.

At the beginning of this year I made the decision to be more ethical with the clothes I buy and things I consume. Most of my money for clothes now is being spent in charity shops, vintage stores, markets, etc. And there is the importance of supporting independent businesses and ethical brands. While I do enjoy searching through eBay, I've never actually bought anything from it, but I have purchased from Etsy where there is vintage, handmade and a lot of recycled clothing.

These photos are absolutely amazing, Flo is very talented. You are stunning, and that swimsuit is gorgeous! Great photo of your scar, it's healed really well and you have a beautiful back.

I also enjoyed reading your post below, and those photos are wonderful.

Jean at said...

It's the same here in the U.S, absolutely. I can only hope that President Obama will be able to rein in some of the insanity. At least he'll try, unlike his recently defeated opponent. It's definitely a complex mess. Like you, I'm not well versed in economics, but it's obviously an ethical issue, one that must be addressed somehow. I, too, do my best to avoid known offenders and hope to spread the word in my small way.

That blue against the yellow is magnificent, and you are too.

Emalina said...

It's for those reasons that you stated that I only buy clothes second hand via ebay, charity shops and oxfam online nowadays! Topshop in particular deserves a boycott.

You look heavenly in that beautiful swimsuit Roz. The gorgeous photographs leave me longing for summer, especially after all the flooding we've been having here in the south west!

K.I.S.S. said...

Great blog dear!
Would u like to follow each other?

AfrogeniK said...

totally agree with you ....

shooting star said...

as far as tax is concerned, i get bored the minute i have to discuss about it!!

but ofcourse it is the sad reality of life

the photos are so amazing..the vibrant so nice..especially with the blue dress and the red lipstick you got most of the basic colors in the pics!!

Caro * said...

Beautiful pictures :)

Melanie said...

Yes, Flo is fantastic for snapping these beautiful photos of you in this sea of flowers.

I didn't know that about Top Shop, and the "gift" makes me angry, but I imagine this is not uncommon. What I find most troubling about taxes is how something so numbers-based can possibly have so many grey zones. Accounting is probably more like abstract painting with numbers all hopping around inside and outside those loops until they are eventually shoved into neat columns of convoluted sense. Madness.

I love thrifting so I'm not too worried about avoiding particular retailers of new clothing.

Anonymous said...

Amazing how some can get away with not paying taxes. I saw some of it when I lived in an overseas Territory. I know the laws have now cracked down on what's known as offshore investing (a term loosely applied) but...where there's a will, there's a way.
As for shopping, thrifting/second hand has never been more popular for a number of reasons. It really is an ethical way to buy.
Lovely strong images - well done (as always)!

PinkCheetahVintage said...

A lot of people agree with you and it's time to tighten up the legal loopholes that let these big corporations get out of paying their fair share. Thinking about it, bring it to the attention of others, making the best choices you can as a consumer all help. Great blog post :)

Natasha Gregson said...

Beautiful pictures, I love your blog how it's a mix of fashion and inspiring writing!! I'm not really with it, I have to admit my brain is not in any way economical. I totally agree on the Philip Green front though, I think the worst thing was he was hired by the government to be a benefit buster! I once heard that for every £1 lost by 'normal' people avoiding tax, £10 was lost by the upper ranks of society committing tax avoidance!!


Aimee said...

I was just talking with some friends about this. I'll have to share this with them. You brought up some really interesting points (also great photos :)).

Giulia said...

wow this pics and this col are amazing!

100%soie said...

what a beautiful outfit and a nice shooting !! the blue fits you perfectly, always an inspiration !

Krystalle Teh said...

Tax evasion is always treacherous territory, and will continue to be until the world invents a more efficient tax-paying system. The truth is that things are always not what they seem. The fact is that the government is most likely unwilling to crack down on such tax evasion because multinational corporations employ millions of people, resulting in a sizable economic contribution which might cease to exist if the companies decide to uproot their operations to another country.

In addition, as you've mentioned, these institutions make other valuable socio-cultural and indirect economic contributions as well. (E.g. Topshop working with fledgling designers, Facebook and Google UK attracting tech talent and related tech companies to the UK to perhaps form a technological hub) Sure, all of this would not have been possible without the resources funded by the welfare state, but when faced with legal loopholes such as this, is boycotting these MNCs the most effective way to deal with this when reduced consumer demand might lead to a downsizing of the workforce for these companies? The fact that some companies choose to evade tax through charity donations is another tricky debate. (I'm not entirely dismissing your choice to boycott, but just pointing out other perspectives, perhaps?)

In addition, a comment from above made by ailsa pointed out the fact that consumerism is simply not transparent anymore. (Or has it ever been?) Even when buying from independent grocers, how can we be sure that they, too, have managed to tick all the ethical boxes? On the topic of independent grocers, I would also like to point out that not all consumers have the economic privilege to purchase a more ethical alternative. While independent grocers are generally reputed to be more ethically conscious than major supermarkets, most products from independent grocers are sold at higher prices due to lower economies of scale such that the poor will buy from supermarkets who might've employed unethical practices in order to keep costs low. And then the cycle continues.

Helen Le Caplain said...

This ethical conundrum is one of the many reason I turn to vintage items.

Apart from the fact that they have more choice (in my opinion) and are generally of a better quality, I have an issue with many places exploiting their workforce and not stumping up what they should be paying in taxes.

But as you say - where can you/do you draw the line?

I really don't know.....

Anonymous said...

I agree that it is a tricky situation.

While I already avoid Starbucks (I don't like that they, and other large coffee chains pitch up opposite independent cafes and run them out of business) I honestly don't know how I could avoid using Google.

I don't buy much online but Amazon owns so much now - I have a LoveFilm subscription and I'm pretty sure they're owned by Amazon too.

L'age moyen said...

I'm so glad you brought this story to light - I was unaware of it and share your conundrum. Like many who have commented, I, too, have turned to vintage and thrift because disposable fashion (a trend every 3 days it seems) just puts me off. The waste is astonishing and the conditions under which this fast fashion is manufactured is depressing. Your focus on style rather than fashion is (I hope) an inspiration to young shoppers (and those in l'age) who focus on the fleeting pleasure of staying on trend. And beautiful photos - the colours are so welcome in grey, dark December.

Maya Topadze Griggs said...

Dear Roz,
Of course anyone would agree with you that avoiding to pay taxes is unethical. I admire you for taking a stand and not buying from Topshop (I did not even know what Topshop was until I started blogging and saw many bloggers buying Topshop).
However, there was something about this post that deeply bothered me. I definitely don't think you are naive. In fact I think you are very smart and I love your blog and admire what you've accomplished so far. I feel as we are virtual friends and felt like commenting here although I often just don't comment when I disagree with someone. You said "The concept of one individual owning that much wealth, more wealth than can ever be spent, seems deeply wrong." Look, I am not financially rich but I take stand that we should not hate the rich just because they have money. Rich people are just people. Some of them are very moral, some very immoral etc. I don't think we should judge anybody based on their finances. If anything I definitely admire someone who can be refereed as self-made man/woman.
I know, I know you are talking about one man probably. But still that sentence really bothered me...

I have a question for you. Why is it that vast majority of fashion/style bloggers are so liberal. I try to ignore those people's view and keep coming to their blogs (such as yours) because I try not to judge people and I always prided myself with the ability to make friends with variety of people. My friends don't have to think exactly the way I do. I am conservative, yet very compassionate. I am Christian and believe in freedom of religion and expression of my faith. I am for equality between men and women (believe me I understand the issue deeply as I come from the country where women still are not equal with men), yet some things feminists say don't make any sense to me.
Anyway, I'm not sure why I'm commenting. Maybe because though we've never met I feel like we know each other. I can't wait to see your future posts. GOod luck,

Juicy Satsuma said...

It's important to take a stand against something you feel is deeply wrong, however small or insignificant you may feel your stance is.

I am passionately opposed to animal testing in the cosmetics industry and at first I thought vetoing all brands who animal test would be impossible, L'oreal & Estee Lauder seem to own EVERYTHING!! Turns out, its not hard at all, you just have to do your research! I''ve discovered so many wonderful new, local, niche brands since I became cruelty free. Stand your ground girl! x

The Foolish Aesthete said...

I love how you chose images of swimming in gold to discuss taxation! I've always respected your choice in choosing non-high street brands on many ethical levels.

I mentioned I used to live in NYC. Back in my old life, conspicuous consumption coupled with tax-advantageous strategies was the norm I saw. And then, we moved out West. Suddenly, I saw a different way of life. Sure, there are many billionaires and multi-millionaires here. But there's almost an embarrassment of exhibiting wealth, and it's expected that the wealthy show charity and support public institutions. California actually voted to INCREASE taxes to support the public education system, from primary to university level education. I found that rather heartening and it reconciled some of the conflicts within me (not that I'm one of those billionaires!). - J xxx

Zoë said...

I get such anxiety about my own taxes, and being on welfare, how I'll cope etc, yet the rich seem to operate a few levels above us all, blissfully ignorant to what the heaving masses have to endure. And they have us bewitched don't they, Philip Green and his kin. Give us frivolous things and we'll forget about the rest! We're not intelligent enough to grasp it, well, not all and rightly show that these companies are named and shamed. HOW did they manage to avoid this? I'm probably most disgusted by Topshop, as they take up every corner of every high street, people taken in by a brand, muscling out the independent companies. I love the diversity of your blog, that you display an awareness of these issues, and more!

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