Activists Pursue Corporate Tax Dodgers in U.K.

UK Uncut helps galvanize public opposition to tax avoidance.

UK Uncut has no offices and no formal leader, and key members often plot strategy over midnight pints of ale in London pubs.

Yet, with more than 60,000 Twitter followers and a sprawling network of college-educated volunteers, the Occupy Wall Street-style group has helped galvanize public opposition to corporate tax avoidance. It has demonstrated inside Starbucks Corp. coffee shops, sued Britain’s tax collection agency over a deal with Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and shut down London’s Westminster Bridge. It plans to target this month’s summit of the Group of Eight, the world’s eight wealthiest countries.

Singing Flashmob

Nowhere is the backlash more pronounced than in the U.K. A flashmob in Apple’s Regent Street store last week sang Irish songs and waved “Take a tax holiday in Ireland” signs to mock the company’s use of Irish subsidiaries to avoid taxes. Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, both Conservatives, have repeatedly assailed tax dodging. Not to be outdone, their rival, Labour Party leader Ed Miliband, last month laid out a five-point plan to combat avoidance. Members of parliament have assailed executives of Google Inc., Inc., Starbucks and the big accounting firms in three hearings since November.

‘Simple Juxtaposition’

“We know 25 billion pounds is being avoided by big companies, individuals, banks,” Walker said as she drank a tall glass of cider at the noisy Old Queen’s Head pub on a hip stretch of London’s Islington borough. “So why are” government officials “targeting single mothers, school playing fields and the National Health Service?”

Families Pay

UK Uncut’s legal action against Britain’s tax collection agency came courtesy of Rosie Rogers, a volunteer who used to work as a paralegal. Cuts to the country’s National Health Service eliminated her mother’s job. Her severely autistic brother lives in a group home, where she expects caregiving will be reduced, she said.

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