Today I’ve got a thought-provoking guest post from Georgina Rawes from Ethical Consumer, on Amazon and why finding ethical alternatives to Amazon should be a priority.

Lose weight.  Stop smoking.  Worry less.  Most of us will be making New Year’s resolutions in January and many of them involve giving up bad habits.

If you are one of the millions of people who purchased books online through Amazon in 2020, we at Ethical Consumer suggest that you give up something a little different this year.  Yes, the retail Goliath that is Amazon.

boycott amazon

You might think that shopping is a bit of a strange focus for a New Year’s resolution.  However, the way in which we choose to spend our money has far reaching consequences.  Breaking a bad buying habit could do more than you realise.

Amazon’s Disregard for Ethical Practice

In December 2016, we carried out a review of booksellers in the UK.  Here we ranked them according to their ethical practice across 23 different categories.

Amazon scored 0/20.  Across every single category, they showed a sweeping disregard for ethical practice, including:

  • Using suppliers with appalling records of human rights violations.
  • Having no company-wide targets to reduce their environmental impact and energy use.
  • Selling products that have been tested on animals.
  • Selling controversial whale meat products in Japan.
  • Using tax avoidance tactics and tax havens.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Amazon and tax avoidance

Of all the ethical problems associated with Amazon, perhaps the most pernicious is their tax avoidance.

Unless you been living in a cave, you’ll have heard about some of the unethical tax avoidance tactics of companies such as Amazon, Google and Apple.  Multi-billion pound organisations that hire teams of accountants to ensure that they pay as little tax as possible.  And you might have brushed it off as little more than media hype since, after all, it’s not illegal ‘just’ unethical.

We don’t always like it, but we do it.  We all have to pay our taxes and most of us handover at least 20% of our hard-earned wages.  Seeing that deduction on our wage slip isn’t always pleasant.  However, we know that it’s necessary.  Taxes make democracy work and provide the services that we rely on every day, from road repairs to the emergency services.

So, whilst you might be paying upwards of 20% on earnings, Amazon paid around 0.16% in corporation tax on UK sales in 2015.  On earnings of £6.3bn, they handed over just £9.8m to HMRC.

Tax avoidance destroys markets

In relation to bookshops, their tax avoidance really does cause some big problems in the market.  How many times have you discovered a book in a shop but used the phrase ‘It might be cheaper on Amazon’?  The sad fact is that it probably will be.

And there’s a reason for this.  When businesses don’t pay their fair share of taxes, they are able to offer the cheapest prices.  Sound familiar?

The result? A sweeping and uncontrolled domination of the market.  Mintel reports that there were only 894 independent bookshops left in 2016.  This is a decrease of 42% since 2005.  And it isn’t just small businesses that are ruined.  Waterstones is the only remaining national high street bookseller left (holding 30% of the non-Amazon market).  Tax avoidance, which helps Amazon to cut prices, is the main reason behind this decimation of our bookselling industry.

How do we give up our Amazon addiction?

Amazon is already making huge tracks into other retail categories through their online sales platforms.  This is as well as growing their monopoly in audible and electronic books and television offerings with Amazon Prime.

So, how do we give up this bad habit that started with the purchase of a humble book?

We boycott.  We tell Amazon that until they start to contribute properly to the UK economy and treat their workers and the environment fairly then they are not welcome here.

The Ethical Alternatives to Amazon

There are other ethical alternatives to Amazon and they don’t cost the earth.

Our booksellers report, available on the Ethical Consumer website, highlights several recommended ethical alternatives to Amazon:

ethical alternatives to Amazon

Our best buy ethical alternatives to Amazon include:

Buying second-hand

It’s cheaper and better for the environment than buying new, and a great ethical Amazon alternative.  Our report highlights Oxfam as the recommended best buy in the second-hand category. Oxfam has a high performance across all scoring criteria.  What’s more, all profits are fed into their charity work.

Our other recommended ethical alternative booksellers to Amazon include:

  • Ebooks.com – coming a close second to Oxfam and offering a wide range of ebooks for tablets and computers.
  • Better World Books – an online bookseller who sell second-hand and new books and donate a portion of their profit to charity.
  • Hive.co.uk  – selling books and ebooks online and donating a percentage of each sale to local independent booksellers.

Books etc. and Guardian Books are also recommended as ethical alternatives for new books.

If you’re based in London, then Near St. is definitely worth a look.  The site lists stock in hundreds of independent bookshops helping you to find the book you need quickly and support the smaller shop that stocks it.

Make the Amazon boycott part of your New Year’s resolutions with these ethical alternatives to Amazon.

Together we can make a difference, we can bring back our once thriving independent bookshops and level the playing field for everyone.

To learn more about how you can take action visit the Ethical Consumer Amazon boycott page. You can also check out this guide to eco-friendly alternatives to Amazon.

Title image Creative Commons “The New York Trilogy”, Paul Auster, by pistocasero is licensed under CC BY 2.0, all other images used courtesy of Ethical Consumer.

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