Drop those twee red cups and step away from the seasonal shortbread, Starbucks are releasing their very own Christmas album. It’s called ‘Holidays Rule’ and features actual real life Beatle Paul McCartney alongside the likes of The Shins, Rufus Wainwright, Sharon Van Etten and fun.
Aside from the face-punching banality of yet another sleighful of indie darlings being shoved out to gurgle their way through Christmas standards, there’s a far more insidious evil at work here.
A recent Reuters investigation has revealed that Starbucks haven’t paid a penny in corporation tax in Britain for the last three years. In total, they’ve paid £8.6m in UK taxes on £3bn of sales since 1998. In the midst of a crippling recession and with public services being cut in every borough of the land, Starbucks have been using a policy of ‘transfer pricing’ to create the impression that they’re losing money in Britain and thus avoid having to pay tax.
Good lawyers have ensured that Starbucks haven’t broken the law, just played the system. As campaigning group UK Uncut put it: “Starbucks continue to avoid tax at a time of unprecedented and unnecessary public spending cuts. We must keep the pressure up so that the government cracks down on tax avoidance and ends its disastrous austerity policies.” I don’t have much to add to that, except to say that one of the bands who play on ‘Holidays Rule’ are Ohioan rockers Heartless Bastards. Starbucks could have saved everyone time by just calling the whole record: ‘Merry Christmas From The Heartless Bastards’.
One of the most frustrating things about miserly Starbucks counting their beans in a way that would make Ebenezer Scrooge look like a beacon of philanthropy is their hypocrisy when it comes to their public image. In a statement responding to the recent investigations they claimed to be “compliant” tax payers who balance the “need to operate a profitable business with a social conscience.” This is exactly why it’s so upsetting to see the likes of Macca, Rufus and James Mercer queuing up to make Christmas music for them. It plays into the image that Starbucks like to maintain of being cool, friendly and ethical while ruthlessly exploiting every tax loophole they can find when they think people aren’t looking.
There must be better ways for indie bands to celebrate the oncoming holidays than by sweetening the reputation of a multinational coffee brand. If Starbucks really want to get into the Christmas spirit this year, they can start by paying their fucking taxes.