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Voting with your wallet

November 30, 2012 Leave a comment

I’ve been ranting to enough people over glasses (numerous) of wine recently that it was bound to turn up eventually in my blog. The subject being my general and growing unease with corporate entities who engage in tax avoidance shenanigans. It riles me even more when the same people use “The consumer gets a better price” as an excuse. (Sure, you get cheap books but your kid’s school now can’t afford books – see the problem here?)

Image source & copyright: Guardian.co.uk

Obligatory Guardian sourced image (note the Guardian are owned by an offshore based trust so they are certainly not getting off scott free)

I’ve had pretty heated discussions about politics with many friends/ colleagues/ family over the years, and I must state now that my general views trend towards redistributionism, especially for unearned income, but this is not the aim of this post. There are endless discussions to be had around inheritance/equality of opportunity and the like, and I’ll leave those for another time. This blog is more about the feeling that corporate entities, especially, if they benefit from the market that a population provides (including a stable political system in which to do business; transport infrastructure to get their staff and customers to their locations; police and safety institutions that keep their money, customers and staff safe; and an education system that provides them with qualified staff) they should be contributing fairly to the taxes that fund that crucial infrastructure. I am far from thinking that making money is evil in of itself, and I’m plenty happy for companies to live or die by their levels of competitiveness/product range/R&D etc. I am much less comfortable when the reason they can undercut others’ prices is because they’re swerving payments that other operators have to pay by law.

I’m not expecting everyone to agree with me, but there is a growing movement across the UK in particular to shame both public figures and multinational companies into facing the results of their actions. Starbucks, Amazon and Google are well known companies that have been used as poster boys for how not to act (and how not to brief your senior executives for questions with an MP). There is also troubling evidence for these companies that consumers are not happy about their actions.

The Mission: Ethical Shopping

ethical shoppingThe fury that some companies create is often dismissed as “the politics of envy” and I’m sure there are some people for whom resentment of people richer than them has an ugly core of jealousy – but there is a very real issue of equality – not of money, but equality of tax treatment, at the heart of this issue, which definitely makes my hackles rise. The government should definitely be sorting it out, as it’s a farce that multi-jurisdictional entities are able to avoid payments that smaller companies cannot avoid, but until they do, I’m on my own personal mission to positively discriminate where possible towards those of whose actions I approve.

It’s not going to be possible to totally change my purchasing (and hey, I work in advertising, that well known ethical sector) but if I can  make a few key changes then I’ll be happier that I’m making a difference, even if small.

Task 1) Change bank account.

A few years ago I changed my personal account to Smile, the internet offshoot of the Co-operative Bank, and have been really happy with them, so my next step was to move our joint account also. As I do with everything, I tried to do it all online at first but because Jules wasn’t around at the same time and with joint accounts you need both people there,it became a bit of a chore and it was easier to register with the Co-operative Bank themselves and receive the application details by post, which made the process take a few more days (and sacrificed a few trees needlessly ;).

Once that had been done, they contacted our previous bank (Barclays) and all the direct debits were moved over seamlessly. We were given a temporary £1,000 overdraft in case there was a mismatch of bills/salary payments during the crossover period (which there was so it came in handy).

All in all, pretty easy and I now have the added smugness of knowing that my finances aren’t contributing to dictators or weapons supply.

Ease – 2 out of 5, (5 being the most difficult)

tree hugging

Tree hugging of course

Task 2) Green energy

I have been a typical “switcher” with my energy supply over the last few years – changing my supplier every year or so, following the cheap deals and trying to save money above all else. There has always been an element of greenery poking through the decision process – I’ll often pay a little bit more to get a greener tariff, for instance, but the majority of energy has always been from traditional sources reflecting the average UK supply – natural gas, coal fired power stations etc.

I decided this time to put my money where my mouth is and go for the largest green element to energy supply that I could find, which turned out to be 100% of electricity with Ovo Energy, although gas is still mostly North Sea supplied as right now we can’t yet use cow farts in the national gas network :). The good thing is that my bills still appear to be the same, but I’m benefiting from the smug factor again.

Next up – food, books, xmas presents…..

Two notes:

For anyone interested, there’s some great research in Ethical Consumer Magazine between providers in various sectors  and you can choose the issues you care about – eco, green, veggie, tax etc, so that the recommendations fit your needs. )

Apology that the book lover link is linking to Amazon. You don’t have to buy from there, in fact I positively encourage you to go to your local independent bookshop instead.

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