Business on notice after ‘scrap rigged system’ Corbyn pledge

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn makes his first campaign speech of the 2017 general election at Assembly Hall, Westminster. Picture: Jack Taylor/Getty Images

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn makes his first campaign speech of the 2017 general election at Assembly Hall, Westminster. Picture: Jack Taylor/Getty Images

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Major Scottish employers have been put on notice after Jeremy Corbyn pledged to crack down on the UK’s “rigged” economy in his first major speech of the election campaign.

Amazon and Diageo were singled out for criticism over claims of poor working conditions, low pay and tax avoidance, as Mr Corbyn attacked “gilded elites” who he accused of “hoarding” the country’s wealth.

The companies were placed alongside the troubled Southern rail franchise, the ex-owner of BHS Philip Green, and SportsDirect founder Mike Ashley as “wealth extractors” that should be “worried about a Labour government”.

The comments came on the day it emerged that Diageo could shed 100 jobs in Scotland because of the impact of Brexit.

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In a strident populist speech that attacked “the establishment” and the media, Mr Corbyn said Labour would force medium and large firms to publish tax returns in a bid to clamp down on offshoring of profits.

Mr Corbyn said Labour would not “play by the rules” if it won the election, but would take on the “cosy cartels that are hoarding this country’s wealth for themselves”. He said the election was not about Brexit but a battle of “the Conservatives, the party of privilege and the richest, versus the Labour Party, the party that is standing up for working people to improve the lives of all”.

Under his leadership, Labour was not part of the “cosy club” at Westminster which thinks it is natural for Britain to be “governed by a ruling elite, the City and the tax-dodgers”, he said.

Mr Corbyn said: “It is these rules that have allowed a cosy cartel to rig the system in favour of a few powerful and wealthy individuals and corporations.

“It is a rigged system set up by the wealth extractors, for the wealth extractors.”

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A party spokeswoman later singled out Amazon, which has been criticised for paying less than the Scottish living wage of £8.45 while being paid £3.6 million in Scottish Government grants since 2007.

In December, the firm, which employs 2,500 staff at sites in Gourock, Dunfermline and Edinburgh, was criticised after staff working up to 60 hours a week in its Fife “fulfilment centre” were reported to be sleeping in tents in nearby woods.

The Labour spokeswoman also named Drinks giant Diageo, which is trimming £30m in pension costs by ending a final salary scheme for employees despite pre-tax profits rising by 16 per cent in the second half of 2016.

Amazon has previously said it operates a safe and positive working environment, and pays more than the national minimum wage.

Polls published yesterday put Labour as much as 24 per cent behind the Tories across the UK but Mr Corbyn insisted the election result was not a “foregone conclusion”.

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