Claire Black: Starbucks isn’t the only culprit. Amazon is under the spotlight and so is Google

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I HEARD something funny about Starbucks.

No, not that after years of paying almost nowt they’re coughing up £20 million in corporation tax over the next two years, in a kind of goodwill gesture – a free shot, if you will – with which they are trying to appease their outraged customers. (They seem less worried about HMRC.)

No, that wasn’t it. The funny something is this: if you find yourself in one of the company’s 793 UK outlets and the barista asks for your name to write it on your paper cup, you reply, “Taxpayer”. Ha! Good one. Taxpayer. Funny.

Of course, why you’d still be in Starbucks after everything that’s gone on over the last few weeks, I’m less clear. This is a company that has paid £8.6m in UK tax over 13 years on sales of £3.1 billion. I mean, can their gingerbread latte be that good?

Perhaps Kris Engskov, the company’s UK managing director, really has convinced people with his outpouring of PR guff, ahem, I mean his heartfelt mea culpa? You know, when he said “doing the right thing is part of the DNA of the company” and he knows that it’s “vital to listen to our customers” and that they call their employees “‘partners’ because all of them have equity in the form of shares in our company”.

Good for you, Kris. Equity eh? Nice one. Pity they no longer have paid lunch breaks, sick leave or maternity benefits. Those changes to the contracts of more than 7,000 of the company’s staff were made on the same day that the company’s unorthodox tax arrangements were made public. Still, when they’re lying on their sickbed, I bet they’ll feel safer in the knowledge that if their P45 does arrive it will be addressed “Dear Partner”.

I know Starbucks isn’t the only culprit. Amazon is under the spotlight and so is Google. And a while back it was Vodafone. I’d bet a flat white they’re not the only ones either.

The issue is this – tax isn’t optional. You have to pay it. Ideally, you should want to pay it because you understand that it’s morally right and also practical – it pays for lots of vital services that we use and rely on. But if that doesn’t sway you then the law should. There’s a Clement Attlee quote doing the rounds: “If a rich man wants to help the poor, he should pay his taxes willingly, not dole out money at whim.” He’s got a point.

If this doesn’t melt your heart then I genuinely don’t know what would. Washington State’s new marriage law came into force on 6 December and the first couple to use the legislation to tie the knot were Jane Abbott Lighty, 77, and Pete-e Petersen, 85. They’ve been together for 35 years. They got married in sweaters. They looked awesomely, beamingly happy. Good on them and good on the voters who upheld Referendum 74 in November making their marriage possible. As for whether the world has stopped turning or a plague of locusts have descended, there’s no sign yet.

I don’t want to come over all Scrooge-like but seeing John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John trying to recreate the magic of Danny Zuko and Sandy Olsen in their new video doesn’t make me want to give to charity, it makes me want to give up. Entirely. His hair. Her face. Those dance moves. It’s only three minutes and 12 seconds long, but it should come with a health warning, or an age appropriate certification, or something. To add to the insult it’s called I Think You Might Like It. I don’t. «

Twitter: @scottiesays