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‘Immoral’ tax avoidance shames Starbucks in UK

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A committee of British lawmakers says major multinational corporations, including Starbucks, Google and Amazon, are guilty of immoral tax avoidance. Starbucks announced it is reviewing its British tax practices in a bid to restore public trust.

LONDON — Starbucks bowed to mounting pressure over its tax affairs in Britain and revealed today that it would pay about $16 million in each of the next two years.

Having been slammed by the country’s lawmakers of “immorally” avoiding tax, Starbucks’ U.K. managing director Kris Engskov said the firm had agreed to pay more than required by law.

With the backdrop of these difficult times, in the area of tax, our customers clearly expect us to do more,” he told the London Chamber of Commerce.

The Seattle-based coffee company has 700 British outlets, but has paid just 8.6 million pounds in corporation tax in 14 years. Starbucks says this is due to a process involving paying royalties to its European headquarters in the Netherlands.

The company hasn’t done anything illegal. Companies operating in Europe can base themselves in any of the 27 European Union nations, allowing them to take advantage of a particular country’s low tax rates.

Earlier this week, Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee criticized multinationals such as Starbucks, Amazon and Google for “using the letter of tax laws both nationally and internationally to immorally minimize their tax obligations.”

Starbucks, which also has been the target of demonstrations by the protest group U.K. Uncut, announced this week that it was reviewing its tax approach.

Engskov said the company was proposing “to pay a significant amount of corporation tax during 2013 and 2014 regardless of whether our company is profitable during these years.”

He estimated that would amount to “somewhere in the range of 10 million pounds in each of the next two years.”

Labour lawmaker Margaret Hodge, who chaired the parliamentary committee, said Starbucks’ change of heart was proof that “people power works.”