By Vanessa Houlder
LONDON — Over the past fortnight, Vodafone stores across Britain have been blockaded by protesters wielding banners with the slogan “tax dodgers”. Orchestrated with the help of social media, the campaigners focused on a comparison between swingeing welfare cuts in the UK and what they claimed was Vodafone’s £6bn unpaid corporate tax bill – in spite of the figure being dismissed as an “urban myth” by HM Revenue & Customs. “If the rich paid their tax, you wouldn’t need to make a single cut to any essential service,” read one placard.
The fracas was just one sign of a growing trend for activists to focus on companies’ tax departments – and not necessarily because the companies have clashed with the taxman. Only recently, four well-known global companies – IHG, the international hotel group, Unilever, the fast-moving consumer goods company, Tui, the travel company, and Vodafone, the mobile phone group – found themselves at the centre of an unwelcome publicity campaign launched by Christian Aid.