What We Now Have Is Anarchy – By The Rich And Powerful : Part One
Anarchy – By the rich and powerful : The Case of the starving verses a tax dodging transnational food company
In July 2014, Darren Head eloquently told of his anguish via an article in The Guardian as someone who was living in the twilight zone of unemployment and homelessness in Britain. In an excerpt from that piece he wrote “There were benefits sanction due to a mix-up about Work Programme courses I should have attended as a condition of receiving out-of-work benefits. Life became hell. Once my food had run out, I had no money to buy more. I was sent back on the Work Programme but without funds to feed myself. The hunger was unbearable. I did not have the energy to turn up. This led to another sanction. The sanctions became a vicious cycle as I became too ill to do anything. When I did get a job interview, I looked like a zombie as I had lost so much weight. I could not focus properly and lacked energy. Support from friends and family fell away as they assumed I was addicted to drugs. I was just hungry. I tried contacting my local MP but he did not seem interested. I felt alone and trapped. With nobody to turn to, and feeling like it was my only option, I pocketed a sandwich from a supermarket. I was arrested and fined £80. I had no way of paying and spent a week in prison for non payment. I lost my flat as I was £1,000 in rent arrears.”
Some months earlier, The Guardian also reported that “One of Britain’s biggest multinationals, whose brands include Silver Spoon sugar, Twinings Tea and Kingsmill bread, is avoiding paying millions of pounds of tax in an African state blighted by malnutrition”. The report went further by saying that for years the company was effectively paying less than 0.5% in taxes and that this one British headquartered transnational organisation managed to deprive the country of Zambia of a sum 14 times larger than the UK aid provided to the country to combat hunger and food insecurity. Chris Jordan, a tax specialist at ActionAid and co-author of the report, said: “This is a really shocking case where the Associated British Foods (ABF) group has gone to great lengths to ensure it pays virtually no corporation tax in a very poor country.”
The ActionAid report concluded that “From 2008 to 2010, an agricultural labourer employed by the company has paid more income tax in absolute terms than the company whose US$200 million revenues have benefitted from her labour.
As it turns out, this British company is operating in a country so poor that 45% of its children are malnourished and two-thirds of the population live on little more than £1.25 a day.
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In 2013, the FT reported that the company, reached the bottom of the world’s 10 big food companies on social and environmental performance in a ranking by Oxfam, the global charity.
Oxfam singled out a couple of ABF’s Patak and Amoy brands for its lacking of public policies requiring its suppliers to pay some sort of living wage or support to smallholder farmers.
Back in 2008, ABF’s Primark brand was caught up in an investigation that revealed that children as young as 11 were working in squalid conditions, sewing tiny beads and sequins onto cheap t-shirts by candle-light. The revelations were very embarrassing for a company that has always previously claimed it was possible to sell T-shirts for as little as £2 without compromising on ethics.
More recently, and with some irony The Telegraph reported in April this year that “the boss of Associated British Foods, the UK’s biggest sugar supplier, has come out swinging against the Government’s proposed “sugar tax” and the suggestion it will help the obesity crisis.”
From a global perspective, ABF’s total revenue as a group was £12.8 billion, it has assets of over £15billion and makes a profit of well over £1 billion. Its CEO, George C Weston is paid over £7.5 million a year whose family also owns Fortnum & Mason and Selfridges.
Wikipedia – On 26 March 2011 Associated British Foods, and its parent company Wittington Investments, were targeted over tax avoidance by UK Uncut during anti-cuts protests. The tax avoidance scheme involved moving capital between ABF/Primark and the affiliated Luxembourg entity ABF European Holdings & Co SNC by means of interest-free loans, avoiding tax of about £9.7 million per year. The protest took the form of a mass sit-in in Fortnum & Mason.
Although not directly connected specifically to ABF’, there is another controversy with the involvement of the Weston family charity where the charity commission found that between 1993 and 2004 the Garfield Weston Foundation had given donations to the UK Conservative Party that totalled £900,000, which constituted a breaches of UK Charity Law, as were similar donations to the right-wing think tank the Centre for Policy Studies, as well as to other right-wing Eurosceptic European political lobby groups such as the European Foundation and the Labour Euro-Safeguards Campaign.
Private Eye also linked the Garfield Weston foundation’s political donations with the Conservative Party’s decision to grant tax breaks for the kind of offshore arrangements used in tax avoidance schemes.
Other research reported in The Independent also highlighted alleged disputes with ABF with claims that poor communities from Brazil to Cambodia were losing their homes to make way for lucrative sugar crops to feed the rich world’s increasingly sweet tooth.
By comparing the two stories we can see on the one hand that a British individual is strictly monitored and controlled by the government, sanctioned to the point of starvation and left to fight a losing battle with little or no help other than people-powered charities set up to catch his fall. On the other we see a British based transnational corporation and its leader provided with the business environment allowing them to profit from poverty, land grabs and making donations to political parties that encourage aggressive tax avoidance schemes in order to enrich themselves at the cost to everyone else – Darren Head included. Darren was imprisoned for stealing a sandwich whilst starving, the CEO and Board of a global transnational corporation seem to have done nothing wrong at all in the eyes of the law,
Anarchy by the rich and powerful is a series of articles that seeks to clearly demonstrate that neoliberal extremism is out of control, leading to lawlessness by the privileged. Real capitalism and social justice have now been deemed irrelevant, the consequences of which will only lead to more extremism from both ends of the political spectrum yet to unravel.
Graham Vanbergen – truepublica.org.uk