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.

Photo: Getty
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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