Guardian teams up with tax-avoiding Amazon. Does it matter?

Audible will be providing the Guardian's audiobooks, but a boycott would achieve nothing.

A Guardian editorial, titled "Taxing corporations: One law for them…" on 3 December:

Nearly four years have passed since the Guardian's tax gap series, as have two since the founding of UK Uncut and one since Occupy. In different ways, each shone a spotlight on the murky world of business tax, and to some extent succeeded – though until now nobody would have called it a mainstream concern. But the tax affairs of Google itself, together with Amazon and Starbucks, are suddenly just that…

The Guardian, Tuesday 18 December:

The Guardian and [wholly-owned Amazon subsidiary] Audible today announce the launch of The Guardian Audio Edition. This hour-long weekly audio digest, created in partnership with Audible.co.uk, the UK's largest provider of digital audiobooks, will be produced by the Guardian's award-winning multimedia team. Each audio edition will be introduced by Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland and will showcase the very best of news, culture and opinion pieces as published in the Guardian each week.

Of course, this actually says less about hypocrisy and more about the nigh-on impossibility of avoiding doing business with the companies which make up the backbone of the internet. Just as with the fact that UKUncut is hosted on Amazon's severs, the Guardian isn't making a decision to side with an immoral company; it is operating in an economic system fundamentally incompatible with making the sort of simple ethical stands which may have been possible in a bygone age.

As the post on By Strategywhich broke the UKUncut story, says:

First, modern supply chains, as this UKUncut example ably illustrates, are so dense it is impossible to avoid a particular company. Second, the idea of opposing consumerism by proposing ethical consumerism is problematic also. There is a huge literature on this. More often than not it moralises those who cannot afford to make these kinds of consumer choices (local bookshops, ethical eating, McDonalds versus local businesses etc) as bad, while failing to recognise, for example, stagnant wages. Finally, Amazon is neither going to be economically damaged nor morally persuaded by a boycott. Ask Nestle how effective long running boycotts are.

The Guardian and Amazon are BFFs. But so are we all.

Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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How tribunal fees silenced low-paid workers: “it was more than I earned in a month”

The government was forced to scrap them after losing a Supreme Court case.

How much of a barrier were employment tribunal fees to low-paid workers? Ask Elaine Janes. “Bringing up six children, I didn’t have £20 spare. Every penny was spent on my children – £250 to me would have been a lot of money. My priorities would have been keeping a roof over my head.”

That fee – £250 – is what the government has been charging a woman who wants to challenge their employer, as Janes did, to pay them the same as men of a similar skills category. As for the £950 to pay for the actual hearing? “That’s probably more than I earned a month.”

Janes did go to a tribunal, but only because she was supported by Unison, her trade union. She has won her claim, although the final compensation is still being worked out. But it’s not just about the money. “It’s about justice, really,” she says. “I think everybody should be paid equally. I don’t see why a man who is doing the equivalent job to what I was doing should earn two to three times more than I was.” She believes that by setting a fee of £950, the government “wouldn’t have even begun to understand” how much it disempowered low-paid workers.

She has a point. The Taylor Review on working practices noted the sharp decline in tribunal cases after fees were introduced in 2013, and that the claimant could pay £1,200 upfront in fees, only to have their case dismissed on a technical point of their employment status. “We believe that this is unfair,” the report said. It added: "There can be no doubt that the introduction of fees has resulted in a significant reduction in the number of cases brought."

Now, the government has been forced to concede. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Unison’s argument that the government acted unlawfully in introducing the fees. The judges said fees were set so high, they had “a deterrent effect upon discrimination claims” and put off more genuine cases than the flimsy claims the government was trying to deter.

Shortly after the judgement, the Ministry of Justice said it would stop charging employment tribunal fees immediately and refund those who had paid. This bill could amount to £27m, according to Unison estimates. 

As for Janes, she hopes low-paid workers will feel more confident to challenge unfair work practices. “For people in the future it is good news,” she says. “It gives everybody the chance to make that claim.” 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.