An unexpected shareholder has criticised Amazon for 'leeching off the taxpayer'

  • Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, head of the Church of England (CoE), condemned Amazon for not paying a living wage and “leeching off the taxpayer.”
  • An article published in the Church Times showed that the Church has a multi-million pound stake in Amazon, and it is one of its 20 most valuable investments.
  • The CoE issued a statement to the BBC saying that “to be in the room with these companies” is the best way to effect change.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby gave Amazon both barrels on Wednesday for unethical practices, but a Church Commissioners’ annual report shows that the Church of England has millions of pounds worth of shares invested in the tech giant.

On Wednesday Welby gave a speech to the Trades Union Congress, in which he criticised the low wages Amazon pays its workers. “When vast companies like Amazon and other online traders, the new industries, can get away with paying almost nothing in tax, there is something wrong with the tax system,” he said.

“They don’t pay a real living wage, so the taxpayer must support their workers with benefits. And having leeched off the taxpayer once they don’t pay for our defence, for security, for stability, for justice, for health, for equality, for education.”

However, the Church Commissioners’ 2017 annual report, as first reported by the Church Times, shows that the Church of England has a multi-million pound stake in Amazon. A CoE spokesman confirmed the investment to the Church Times, and said, “as a global investor with a diverse portfolio, Amazon is listed as one of our top 20 holdings globally.”

The Church issued a statement following the news, “We have previously been on the record that we consider aggressive tax avoidance or abusive tax arrangements to be both a business risk and an ethical issue. As with other issues, we take the view that it is more effective to be in the room with these companies seeking change as an active shareholder than speaking from the side-lines.”

Welby has been vocal on the subject of wealth disparity before, calling the present state of the economy “unjust,” and saying that multinational companies must not be allowed to evade paying tax.

Amazon, which recently became the second company ever to be worth a trillion dollars, paid £4.6 million ($US6 million) in UK tax in 2017, despite revenue of just under £2 billion ($US2.6 billion). Amazon tends to point out that it pays tax on profits, not revenue, that its profits tend to be low thanks to the low margins in retail and its reinvestments into its own business.

The Church of England declined to disclose to Business Insider how long it has been buying shares in Amazon, but confirmed 2017 is the first time it has appeared in the list of top-20 holdings published in Church’s annual report.

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