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Modern-day Scrooges: Corporations give ‘small change’ in charity stunts

Coca-Cola and Amazon among giants that hand over a fraction of their profits as part of promotional stunts

Adam Bychawski
24 December 2022, 7.00am

Coca-Cola UK is donating just £25,000 to the charity Fairshare as part of its Christmas truck tour.

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Finnbarr Webster Editorial / Alamy Stock Photo

Corporate Scrooges in the UK have boasted about donating as little as 0.007% of their cash to charities at Christmas, analysis by openDemocracy has revealed.

Amazon and Coca-Cola are among the giants that have been accused of “giving pennies from their back pocket” to good causes as part of promotional stunts over the holiday period.

This year, Coca-Cola announced that it would donate the equivalent of a meal to charity for every person who visits its Christmas truck tour in the UK this year. It’s only at the very end of its announcement that the world’s richest beverage company explains it will give a maximum of just £25,000 to the charity Fairshare, which redistributes surplus food to the hungry.

According to Fairshare, £25,000 is enough to supply 100,000 meals. But the donation amounts to less than 0.01% of the £259.9m profit Coca-Cola made in the UK – the equivalent of a millionaire donating three £30 turkeys to charity. By contrast, Coca-Cola handed £440m in dividends to shareholders in 2021, dipping into its reserves to do so.

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BAE Systems, also among the 30 biggest companies in the UK, donated £150,000 to food banks last Christmas – just 0.007% of its £2.3bn profit for 2021. The arms manufacturer said it gave £11m overall to charity in 2021. By comparison, it handed out £1.1bn to shareholders in dividends and share buybacks.

British Gas owner Centrica – among the top 100 largest UK companies – also gave £250,000 to food bank operator Trussell Trust last Christmas. The donation was equivalent to 0.03% of its profits in 2021 – which stood at £948m, double what it made the previous year. The charity says the number of people using food banks rose by 40% between April and September this year.

“These companies’ charitable giving is too small even to call it reputation washing. This seems more like the corporate equivalent of using a drop of spit to clean something off the side of your mouth,” said Alex Cobham, chief executive of the Tax Justice Network.

“The UK could today simply allow the Treasury to use existing legislation to make multinationals like Amazon publish their country-by-country reporting data. But both as chancellor and now as prime minister, Rishi Sunak has blocked this measure – meaning companies can continue to keep their questionable tax behaviour in the shadows, while they claim the plaudits for trivial charitable giving.”

If each of these companies' profits were scaled down to the median annual savings of a UK household*, their donations would be equivalent to £0.15 from BAE Systems, £0.22 from Coca Cola, £0.65 from Centrica and £2.80 from Amazon.

openDemocracy

Amazon, meanwhile – one of the world’s richest companies – donated an estimated £256,000 to charity in the UK last Christmas. 

In a blog post, the company said it gave £120,000, split between 120 local charities nominated by employees: £50,000 to children’s charity Barnardo’s, £25,000 each to homeless charity Depaul and family support charity Home-Start, and £10,000 to rapper Stormzy’s #MerkyFoundation.

Amazon UK also said it also donated £500 to “every local food bank” near its 24 warehouses. openDemocracy estimates this could amount to a £26,000 donation given there are 52 food banks run by the Trussell Trust within five miles of Amazon’s 24 sites.

Amazon UK Services, the warehouse and logistics arm of its business, made profits of £204m before tax in the UK last year, according to accounts filed at Companies House. The corporation’s Christmas donations in the UK would amount to 0.13% of this income.

But Amazon’s total profits in the UK were likely much higher than this figure. The company reported that revenue for all its business in the UK – including retail and cloud computing services not included in the £204m figure – was £23.2bn in 2021. It would not reveal how much profit it made from this.

Amazon paid no corporation tax in the UK that year, thanks to the “super-deduction” scheme for businesses that invest in infrastructure that was introduced the same year by the then chancellor, Rishi Sunak, according to research from the Fair Tax Foundation.

Other companies have applauded their employees’ personal generosity while seemingly giving nothing themselves. For the last two years, staff working at Jaguar Land Rover have donated £5,000 of their own money to charity and tens of thousands of grocery items to food banks – but, asked if the company itself had contributed, a spokesperson told openDemocracy they were only aware of the donations given by employees. 

“Big businesses like to pretend that, left to their own devices, they will do the right thing. These figures show clearly how hollow those claims are,” said Nick Dearden, director of campaign group Global Justice Now.

“In a period of historically low corporate taxation, these giants will do anything they possibly can to further push their taxes down, as well as shift their costs onto the public sector and drive down the wages of their employees. The idea that putting a few pennies from their back pocket into the charity tin is going to make up for this is ridiculous.

“Big corporations and the multi-billionaires that run them now have so much more power than the average citizen – even here in the UK. Frankly, you could multiply these paltry charitable donations a thousand times and you’d still get nowhere near the amounts necessary to change this.”

Coca-Cola, Centrica, Amazon and BAE did not respond to requests for comment.

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