How to avoid the demons of the book industry

A new report by Ethical Consumer has outlined the good, bad, and ugly of the British book industry. We dish the dirt on the best and worst book sellers in Kent and beyond

penguin books subversive press

In 2012, an article outlining the biggest tax avoiders in UK business led to a huge backlash against multinationals, with Starbucks reporting its first British loss since opening stores in the country. Yet Amazon, one of the most unethical of the lot, has managed to sustain little impact. With so many high street book stores closing, and the lack of clarity plaguing tax avoidance figures, it is harder to change book shop than coffeehouse.

We should therefore be grateful for a new report, released by Ethical Consumer, outing the angels and demons of the book industry. Some of the results are to be expected, but many more will surprise you. Please forgive the paragraph headers below, which have been ordered in reverse for suspense.

The ugly

Tesco’s book provider, ‘Uncuva’, uses the highest number of offshore tax havens, including the Cayman Islands, Guernsey, Hong Kong, Jersey, Luxembourg, and Switzerland. Other book franchises in the “red band” of tax avoidance are Kobo, Kindle, Google, Waterstones, and The Book Depository.

Google has dealt with public criticism in high places for refusing to pay more than 1.5% tax on its £359 million UK profit, so the ranking is understandable. More shocking is the fact that Google shares this mantle with the beloved British bookshop Waterstones. The franchise arose suspicion after it was reported that the company’s parent organisation is based in Bermuda, a well-known tax haven. Waterstones responded through a statement on its website which reads: “As a UK registered and domiciled business, Waterstones fulfils all its tax obligations. This will include both the payment and reporting of all necessary UK taxes, as set out under UK tax legislation.” However, this explanation does little more than assure customers that they act within the law, a useless assurance given that tax avoidance is completely legal.

The bad

Apple logo

Nook, Sony, WH Smiths, and Apple have all used some kind of offshore haven, scoring them a seat in the “amber band” of tax avoidance. Most companies in this band utilised tax laws in Hong Kong to pay less money to HM Revenue and customs.
Apple, at least, pays 12.5% tax through the Republic of Ireland, but scored amber, as its overall tax payments outside of the United States come to a measly 2%.

WH Smiths, Nook, and Sony scored amber due to their offshore sister companies and refusal to publish their tax dealings. The report explains: “Multinational companies often shift profits between subsidiaries [sister companies run by the same owners] in different jurisdictions, allowing them to dump their costs into high-tax jurisdictions which can be deducted against tax, and shift their profits to tax havens, where they pay little or no tax.”

The good

The above is disheartening, but bibliophiles should not lose hope. A surprising amount of large organisations have scored a green rating, including sellers of ebooks as well as physical editions.

On the high street, Blackwells is the most ethical, paying its fair share of the UK’s 24% corporation tax. Blackwells, one of the highest ranking ethical retailers, is popular book seller across the UK and Canterbury offers its own mini store on the University of Kent’s main campus.

Those living in Kent should also take advantage of what charity stores have to offer, with the Oxfam bookstores in Rochester and Canterbury offering a lovely atmosphere and a mind-boggling array of books at heavily discounted prices.

The best news, however, is the range of online booksellers offering digital and physical editions of popular and specialist books.

The most transparent and ethical book company, the report claims, is Bertram’s. The store, which started in a chicken shed and grew to become Britain’s most successful wholesale book supplier, offers shipping around the country via its website. Proceeds from the Guardian Bookshop are also handled ethically, the report said.

Meanwhile, the following ebook/e-reader stores also ranked highly in terms of ethics:
 Archos, Bebook, Bookeen, Boox, Elonex, Gobook, Iriver, Libre, Pixelar and Pocketbook

For more information on the companies which do or don’t pay their fair share, check out Ethical Consumer’s Tax Justice Campaign.


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