This is a page about tax. Or rather, it’s a page about corporate tax avoidance.
I know it may seem a little strange to find that on a website about my life as a poet, but in Spring 2014 I wrote Caffè Nero this letter.
To my surprise, it caused quite a stir. Red Labour, Occupy London, and UK Uncut (among others) got hold of it and shared it, social media kicked in, and overnight the letter went viral. Suddenly it was being discussed on radio phone-ins in Australia. The BBC rang to ask about it. Then I found myself talking to The Independent.
Eventually, even Caffè Nero felt compelled to get in touch.
At the time, I wrote a couple of blogs. One about the letter going viral (read that here) and one about trying to deal with Caffè Nero (which is here). Now, to be fair to Caffè Nero, they’re not the only company playing a cute game when it comes to paying the taxman. Not by any means. Amazon, Google, Apple, and others have all been found to be rather more interested in pocketing money than they are in supporting the people who put money in those pockets.
And that leads me to this question. Why give them your cash if you don’t have to?
To put it another way, , at a time when government is using the excuse of ‘we can’t afford it’ to cutback everything from the arts to health care to disability benefits, why give any of your money to companies who go out of their way to avoid paying into the pot that pays for these things? You want coffee? Go to one of the hundreds of small coffee shops who do pay their tax. You want books? Use your local bookshop, or try hive.co.uk. You get the picture. It’s not that hard.
Now, one last point and I’ll be done.
This story isn’t about me, and what I did. It’s about what happens when hundreds of thousands of people take action, and start voting with their feet. That’s the important lesson in all this. Caffè Nero’s Head of Communications didn’t eventually get in touch with a poet in the Midlands out of the goodness of her heart, but because the publicity about their tax affairs was hurting the company. And that only happened because a very large number of people stood up and said ‘this is wrong’.
So next time someone tells you there’s nothing you can do, ignore them. Because if we give it a go, pretty much anything is possible. Poets know that.