response mechanism

Starbucks UK Tries to Spread the Cheer; Tax Protest Ambush Spreads the Sneer

Posted by Mark J. Miller on December 17, 2012 12:03 PM

All PR is good PR, right? Getting your brand name in front of as many eyeballs as possible can’t hurt, especially if the eyeballs are attached to bodies that are participating in a fun, engaging activity and so moved to purchase? Well, no.

The eyeballs of Britain have been staring down hard at Starbucks after it surfaced that that the coffee giant has paid only £8.5m ($13.8 million) in tax in the UK since entering the country 14 years ago despite having £3bn ($4.8 billion) in sales in that same time. In the last three years, the company paid exactly nothing in corporate tax in the UK. Some financial wizards at the company (or that the company consulted) figured out a way to make this a legal possibility. It involves the UK division of the company buying its coffee from the Swiss division in order to circumvent the tax charges.

Starbucks has agreed to voluntarily cough up £20m ($32.4 million) over the next two years to help make amends, but the dust-up hasn't settled yet. It's sponsoring an ice skating rink at London’s Natural History Museum, where Jessica Alba took her daughter for a spin. A big screen is pulling in Twitter messages with the hashtag of #spreadthecheer — and some wags took the opportunity to #spreadthesneer.

Yes, some folks are getting in the holiday spiring by tweeting sweet thoughts (“Today I am grateful for a nice home, a nice car, a job that enables me to have a good life and amazing friends and family :)”). But there's an inevitable ambush of the hashtag resulting in anti-Starbucks sentiments in 140 characters or less such as “Smash Starbucks! Vive la revolution, you have nothing to lose but your overpriced milky coffee drowned in syrup #spreadthecheer”

Other tweets that museum-goers were treated to, according to the Independent, including one that called Starbucks "Tax Dodging MoFos" (at top) and another that simply read, “"Hey Starbucks, PAY YOUR ------- TAX."

London Mayor Boris Johnson isn’t holding any grudges and has asked his constituents not to “sneer” at Starbucks for its lack of payment and its newfound generosity. He likely feels the same for the other corporate giants  -- Amazon and Google – that were also named as companies that found ways to lessen their UK tax burdens. “I cannot exactly blame the finance directors of these companies for doing their job,” Johnson stated. “Their salaries and livings depend on minimizing the tax exposure obligations on their companies.”

This idea didn’t exactly win Johnson a lot of love from Brits, of course. As one commenter pointed out, “It's not as if the rest of the country has a choice over paying tax and 'volunteer' to pay out of the goodness of their hearts. It may be xmas but this kind of window dressing outdoes Selfridges.” Another notes that the corporations may be doing a good job of getting around the law, but perhaps the politicians might want to see that as an indication that the law might need changing.

Tidings of comfort and soy, anyone?

[Image at top via]

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