May 31, 2013

Amazon hopes new London office will distract British from the fact that it doesn’t pay taxes


Amazon, a company that received more money from the UK government than it paid in tax, announced yesterday that they will be opening a 210,000 square foot office in London later this year. Judging by the villainous design of the company’s soon-to-be-built headquarters in Seattle, we assume the new office will look something like this:

Amazon’s new London office (artist’s rendering).

London Mayor Boris Johnson, who surely buys his wigs from the same supplier as Donald Trump, had this to say about Amazon’s new digs:

“I am delighted that Amazon is once again choosing London for its ambitious expansion plans. This is excellent news for London’s continued growth as a leading global hub for tech talent. Whether a giant or an exciting new start-up, London is proving time and time again that we have the right places and people to support this vibrant sector, which is a significant contributor to our city’s economy supporting tens of thousands of jobs.”

In other words, “Taxes? Who cares about taxes! There’s a vibrant sector to support.” (For the uninitiated, the “controversies” section of Johnson’s Wikipedia page is hilarious. Also, troubling.)

Christopher North, managing director of, a company that barely pays taxes, said that:

“Amazon has over 6,000 permanent employees in the UK and we will continue to create thousands of jobs in the coming years across the UK. We look forward to drawing from the capital’s strong pool of talent as we continue to innovate and enhance our service for the benefit of all our customers.”

The Bookseller’s Lisa Campbell, however, noted that the

“6,000 employee figure quoted is at odds with what Amazon’s director of public policy Andrew Cecil told the Public Accounts Committee in the House of Commons last November when questioned over the company’s tax affairs. Cecil then numbered the employees working in the UK for Amazon at 15,000. When asked to clarify the discrepancy, Amazon said the larger figure included temporary staff.”

Although the new office will be huge—encompassing 12 floors and housing hundreds of employees, whose days will be spent poring over tax laws for unexploited loopholes—the company’s headquarters will remain in Slough, which is a very funny place for their headquarters to be. Slough is perhaps best known as the setting of the British Office; it’s also the subject of John Betjeman’s “Slough,” which contains the lines “Come, friendly bombs and fall on Slough/It isn’t fit for humans now.”

According to MobyLives’ British Correspondent Zeljka Marosevic, Slough is popular with multinational corporations because of its affordability and its close proximity to London—Mars, Nintendo, and Sarah Lee all have headquarters there. By moving into London proper, it seems as if Amazon is announcing that it has “arrived” in the city and the UK in general—that they have, in a sense, physically conquered Britain’s capital. As Zeljka notes, “There’s a definite symbolism to it, which is audacious when you consider their current status in the UK, which is as tax dodgers. I expect they also want to highlight to the government that they’re very much open to do business with them, which as you can already see, Boris Johnson loves… Once again, the British government shows it’s prepared to cosy up to big business, rather than challenge it to pay its dues.”

Amazon doesn’t pay taxes. Also, Boris Johnson is a buffoon.


Alex Shephard is the director of digital media for Melville House, and a former bookseller.