The double sided blade

I stumbled upon a situation last night that gives food for thought. You see, I am the first one to give way to those who are growing an actual business, those who are there to be true captains of industry. Yet what defines a captain of industry nowadays? What if the person is stated to be an entrepreneur, investor, and philanthropist; yet, the information given to us makes that person a mere oppressor, a borrower and an antagonist or opposer? In this case I am talking about Jeff Bezos, the man behind Amazon. Multi billionaire before he became half a century old, making him more successful than Bruce Wayne without the cape and the niceties.

So where does my view come from?

That is an important part, because other whiles it would just be envy, which in my condition isn’t entirely untrue either. The part that set it off yesterday was in the Guardian (at https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/dec/11/amazon-accused-of-intolerable-conditions-at-scottish-warehouse). We could agree that the subtitle is merely an emotional part, yet the consideration it gives when we read ‘Willie Rennie claims workers are paid so little some camp outside warehouse in tents to cut commuting costs’, depending on the distance, we can agree that alternative solutions would be found and it is not up to an employer to decide how any employee is deciding on their budget.

Yet when we see the following elements:

  1. All permanent and temporary Amazon workers start on £7.35 an hour or more and earn at least £11 an hour for overtime (The new national living wage is £7.20 for workers aged over 25).
  2. Amazon has been accused of creating “intolerable working conditions” after allegations that workers have been penalised for sick days and that some are camping near one of its warehouses to save money commuting to work.
  3. A Sunday Times investigation found that temporary workers at the warehouse were being penalised for taking time off sick and put under pressure to hit targets for picking orders.

So are my impressions founded? You see, point one gives way that the Amazon is acting within their right and as such Amazon does nothing wrong, as stated before is there an issue as we see point two? There are clear labour laws, you get a number of sick days, but you need to build up that right, so again is there a wrongdoing? Item three repeats item 2, giving additional questions when an article seems to rehash a point, yet in addition the requirement for targets and pressure are a clear issue. The question becomes are these targets realistic? If they are not then there is an issue.

Yet this is not the only side in all this. In addition there is the part we would have seen in the Daily Record (at http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/politicians-union-leaders-urge-snp-7235948), more important that this news was from January 2016, so the issue is not really new. The issues in that part is: “Rennie clashed with Sturgeon over the issue at Holyrood on Thursday, highlighting a £1 million grant given to Amazon in the past year alone. The UK arm of the business paid just £11.9 million in tax in 2014, despite taking in £5.3 billion from British shoppers“, which implies that a company making £5.3 billion, only pays £11.9 million in tax in 2014 and got a £1 million grant last year. Now, we can see that three could be an issue, but where are the direct links? You see, Revenue is one, profit is another and after that there is taxation. We can put a straight argument that 5 billion would require more than 10 million in taxation (11 million minus a grant), yet what possessed the giving party to give that 1 million grant? Why was only 11 million in taxation paid? None is this reflects on Jeff Bezos, this is not a failure of the maker of Amazon, but a failure from the governing parties giving out cash where the requirements in light of revenue was nowhere near any justification of any grants, especially when we consider Forbes, who stated that Amazon boss Jeff Bezos ‘added $20 billion to his net worth over the 12 months through late September 2016‘, so, based on how much revenue and profit brought the increased net worth? The newspapers are extremely non-revealing on this. Now consider the two sources, the fact that some was known for nearly a year, we could ask questions from these agencies hiring, we could ask questions at the HR offices of Amazon in the UK and Scotland, yet in all this, were any errors, any transgressions made? Amazon is a business and its concern is profit plain and simple. The fact that according to the initial part that Amazon pays £0.10 per hour above a living wage, we could consider the firm to be Scrooge like which is not a crime! Now we need to look at two elements. The first is the definition of a living wage, which is regarded by several sources as ‘a living wage is the minimum income necessary for a worker to meet their basic needs’. Yet what are basic needs and where does that end? In addition we should consider that the living wage should be substantial enough to ensure that no more than 30% of it needs to be spent on housing. Which is interesting, because that is nowhere near realistic in many places. In larger places, we either need to consider growing cost of commuting or consider that £144 pw is not the cheapest in Scotland and not that sizeable. So at a working week of 40 hours the rent is 48%, implying that the living wage is far below expectations or realism. The only way to get near a living wage is to work a full day extra in overtime, yet in all this the cost of living is not considered, so we have a CEO who is getting demonized here (by yours truly), yet what wrong has he done? From the parts I can see, there seems to be enough evidence to see that there is no wrongdoing on the surface, yet we can in equal measure debate whether he can call himself a philanthropist. If you are spending money on one side by being a ruthless almost cutthroat like business man on the other, they should be cancelling each other out. Is he validly under the same conditions really an investor? If he is using the guise of tax deductibility, is he actually investing or is he relocating funds that were due to HM Revenue & Customs? Relocating some (read: most) of these funds so that they benefit the ‘personal goals‘ of Amazon. Is that really investing? Lastly there is the title of entrepreneur. If we accept the definition: ‘a person who sets up a business or businesses, taking on financial risks in the hope of profit‘, well Amazon has been here for a while, so setting up? We could see it in light of franchises, does that count? And as for taking on financial risk? With the league of tax write offs and grants, should he be allowed to call himself an entrepreneur?

So perhaps the titles or entitlements given to Jeff Bezos are no longer valid, is that a valid view, does this warrant demonization? Off course is does not, because that would be unjust. Yet, we seem to focus on the ‘stamps’ we are giving a successful person, whilst in the cold light of day we overlook the non-repayable funds given to Amazon. In addition, when we look at the independent (at http://www.independent.co.uk/money/tax/revealed-amazon-earns-more-through-government-grants-than-it-pays-in-tax-8617919.html), where in May 2013, the following was given to the public: “Amazon paid less in UK corporation tax last year than it received in government grants, its official company accounts have revealed – sparking condemnation from MPs around the country“, which happened in 2013. We now get another side that is not with Jeff Bezos, but with parliament and elected officials. Yet that news did not really make it to the massive forefront (other than Willie Rennie who seems to shout for attention). You see, if I can be harsh on Jeff, I need to be equally be harsh on Willie and in that regard the fact that the Amazon issues have been on the papers for the longest of times, implies equally that there either is no political issue, or that the most in charge have not committed to anything towards the workers who feel wronged, yet are any laws broken? That is the issue we need to address. What is valid and what is of concern is the labels we seem to bestow on people. For what reason? We can argue that enabling through tax laws does not make a person an investor and the £5.3 billion gains against £11.9 million taxation is equally incomplete more important, how much was exactly invested by Amazon and where? Even if we accept certain labels and certain values, we need to equally accept that the old values entrepreneur, investor, and philanthropist are no longer what they seemed to be. In a world of constants, we see the change and evolution of entitlements on a nearly daily basis giving us less to hold onto and even less than that to consider as the stability of an impression in a constantly changing world.

How is that fair on those who truly were philanthropists, investors, and entrepreneurs?

So until the true investigation, if it happens at all, Jeff Bezos might not be seen as a borrower, an antagonist or opposer. Yet at this point there is in addition nowhere near the clear evidence available to see him as an oppressor, that part would only be seen in the eyes of the workers who decided to stay in tents, to avoid travel costs that does not make him an oppressor. In addition, what scrutiny have the agencies been going through? The smallest quote in the Guardian stating: “Staff have to pay to catch an agency-provided bus to the Dunfermline site” gives us the part where we need to ask how much people have to pay and was this clearly communicated to them in the beginning?

In the end, we need to take a look at what is going on at the Dunfermline site. Is it merely Liberal Democrat shouts for attention via Amazon?  If not, considering that this has been going on for quite some time, how have officials failed and in addition, who signed off on the grants for Amazon? All valid issues and without clear answers we can only see Jeff Bezon as a shrewd business man, which is not a crime and not a valid push for demonization of him in person.

And the hidden messages we now see regarding the whistle-blowers and Google taxation? The independent is giving a nice line, in between the lines of Amazon, yet why is this not seen in a clear tax audit? If there is an issue not reported or not seen by Ernst and Young, it means that either the tax laws are not clear enough, or that Ernst and Young is shown to be unable to do its job. This would be a valid discussion with PwC, yet is there any clear indications with E&Y? And who were those whistle blowers? What many are ignoring is that the benefit of a global company means that you have global options, which is the clear benefit that Amazon is using as well. The fact that politicians have been unwilling to make changes to tax laws makes them negligent and possibly incompetent, not the large corporations, a part clearly not seen in any of the articles. So like Ed Balls, we see another politician shouting for the limelight, yet is there clear wrongdoing?

It seems that this is sidestepped by several parties and when we consider that the sources I mentioned are news sources, perhaps they are missing the plot too, but that just a small speculation from my side. We look at a double sided blade, Amazon and Google alike will slice from the revenue on one side, yet they will in equal measure slice from entitlements within legal limits from the other side of the blade because the option was given to them. Given to them, not taken by them, there is a clear difference and politicians are at the core of that largely diminished roast being presented.

 

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