CADBURY could be the next firm to be hit by organised groups of protesters after it relocated part of its operations to Switzerland for tax reasons.
The move comes as Topshop boss Sir Philip Green was left counting the cost of closing his flagship Oxford Street store on Saturday afternoon after a protest over his tax affairs.
A group called UK Uncut organised demonstrations at Arcadia outlets – including Burton, BhS and Topshop – and Vodafone stores.
Green has come in for criticism after saving an estimated £300m in tax by paying his wife, a resident of Monaco, a £1.2bn dividend. Vodafone was targeted after settling a long-running tax dispute with HMRC for £1.25bn, despite allegations it could be liable for more than £6bn.
UK Uncut organisers told City A.M. they may now turn their attentions towards Cadbury after its US owner Kraft said it would redomicile parts of the business to Zurich, in a move that will cost the UK an estimated £60m in lost taxes.
Kraft says parts of Cadbury will still be registered in the UK but that the ownership of most of the firm would move into line with Kraft’s other European operations in Switzerland. A spokesman said: “Since 2006 we have been implementing our European model involving a holding company based in Zurich. We are integrating Cadbury into this model. This involves the transfer of certain roles to Switzerland, though the majority of UK-based roles will remain in the UK.”
A UK Uncut spokesman said: “There is a huge amount of public anger. People are furious that they are paying for cuts while corporations are being allowed to avoid paying millions in tax.”
Mark Littlewood, director general of the Institute for Economic Affairs slammed the protest, saying it sends the wrong message to businesses. He said: “Any sensible company or individual will minimise its tax. These people are the ones who contribute the vast majority of UK tax reciepts.”
Protesters stormed Arcadia and Vodafone branches across the country. Some demonstrators even glued themselves to the windows of Topshop, chanting “Philip Green, pay your tax, it’s our money and we want it back.”
Green, who recently completed a government spending review where he uncovered millions in potential savings, hit back at protesters, saying he pays “tens of millions” of pounds in tax in the UK.
Meanwhile, the Treasury is set to announce a raft of anti-avoidance measures expected to raise £2bn over five years.
Q&A: WHO IS BEHIND THE PROTESTS AND WHAT DO THEY WANT TO ACHIEVE?
Q. WHO ORGANISED SATURDAY’S PROTESTS?
A. A group called UK Uncut. It acts as a central hub for protesters but individual acts of civil disobedience are carried out by autonomous “cells,” often groups of students. It also receives input and support from organisations including the Tax Justice Network, the Jubilee Debt Campaign, Compass and the Public and Commercial Services Union. The group says it does not have a leader or single founder.
Q. WHAT DOES UNCUT WANT TO ACHIEVE WITH THE PROTESTS?
A. It says the point of the group is to chase firms who are avoiding paying tax in the UK while taxpayers are asked to shoulder the burden of the austerity measures.
Q. HOW DOES UNCUT MOBILISE ITS FOLLOWERS?
A. Predictably, it is mostly driven by the internet. Individual groups meet and share information over Facebook and Twitter. It also has its own website on which individuals can join or form new groups.
Q. WHAT TACTICS DOES THE GROUP ADVOCATE?
A. Its website suggests tactics including setting off stink bombs, ringing up huge bills and refusing to pay, leaving cheese in the pockets of clothes, setting off personal alarms, taking over changing rooms and distributing fake vouchers. More than 20 people were arrested as part of the demonstrations on Saturday.