Activists stage series of sit-ins, amid concerns that firm’s decision to pay £20m to Treasury over two years misses the point
Anti-tax avoidance protesters have targeted UK branches of Starbucks, attempting to turn them into women’s refuges and creches, saying that the company’s unilateral decision to pay £20m to the Treasury over two years is missing the point.
The coffee chain faced a backlash from customers when it emerged last month they had received £3bn in sales over 14 years yet claimed to have made a loss in Britain each year, vastly reducing its corporation tax bill.
The campaign group UK Uncut has organised 45 protests to pressurise the government to clamp down on tax avoidance and roll back cuts to public services.
A UK Uncut spokesperson, Anna Walker, said that 1,000 people attended 45 sit-ins across the country.
At Starbucks’ flagship store on Conduit Street in central London about 40 activists and six children were threatened by police with arrest for aggravated trespass and – after a brief discussion – the protesters agreed to leave.
At Vigo Street in London’s Mayfair, about 60 protesters gathered among customers sipping lattes and herbal tea, chanting: “If you don’t pay your taxes we’ll shut you down.”
Zara Martin, 33, a protester who was handing out leaflets in the branch, said: “Everyone is being really quite cheerful and the response from passersby is great, they are all smiley and interested in what we are doing. It’s very encouraging.
“Even if people don’t agree it’s important that we’re having the debate. I think the £20m over two years is a bit rubbish. It’s like, wow thanks Starbucks, but actually why don’t you just pay your full tax like everyone else has to?”
Customer Paula McCaully, 42, with her partner Ian, said: “I was hoping for a coffee but [the protesters] are right, of course, and we will boycott and get our coffee somewhere else, I think. Good for them, coming out on a cold day to stand up for what they believe in.”
Two American tourists, a couple from New York, were in the branch carrying Mulberry shopping bags. The man, who did not give his name, said: “Well, surely it’s up to David Cameron to make the tax laws. Why interfere with people’s shopping like this?”
The woman then added: “Actually, I think it’s quite right – Starbucks should pay the taxes in the country in which they are in.” The couple left, arguing.
The protests are taking the form of sit-ins, designed to highlight the impact on women’s services by transforming Starbucks branches into spaces that reflect those being lost due to the government’s deficit-reduction measures.
Walker stressed it was not targeting Starbucks staff, but highlighting the impact of the government’s austerity measures on the most vulnerable. “This is not just about Starbucks and tax avoidance,” she said. “That’s just the tip of the iceberg. The government is not only refusing to tackle tax avoidance, but it’s dismantling public services because it loses £25bn a year to it.
“People are incredibly angry when they see multinational companies getting off scot-free when they are the ones feeling the pinch.”
On Thursday, Starbucks UK managing director, Kris Engskov unilaterally announced that the coffee company would pay £10m a year over the next two years. Starbucks came under fire earlier this year when it was revealed that it had paid only £8.6m in tax since it opened its first store in the UK 14 years ago. In that time, the coffee chain has made £3bn in sales yet has claimed it has made a loss in Britain every year.
In October, HMRC said a total of £32bn had been lost to tax avoidance in the past year, an increase of £1bn on 2010-11.