I don't think I'm alone in hating Starbucks, the American coffee shop that has spread its tentacles all over the world. They haven't lied like Volkswagen did but they are hypocrites.
The annoying thing is that I need Starbucks and if you get to the second half of this article I will explain why.
If you go into any Starbucks in Europe you can't fail to see the beautifully designed material about the good works they do in the coffee growing areas of the world; how they pay a fair price and really care about the underpaid coffee workers and their families.
Part of me screams "bullshit. I don't believe any of this." But the more sensible part of me says "take it easy, you don't know anything about what goes on in the coffee growing areas of the world. Maybe it's true, maybe Starbucks is a force for good that has resulted in better wages, schools and conditions for downtrodden coffee workers."
The reason I call Starbucks hypocrites is because they claim to be good but don't pay any corporation tax in the UK. This is common knowledge since 2012 when they were dragged into Parliament, grilled by the Public Accounts Committee and exposed as tax dodgers on TV. This report showed that Starbucks made over £3bn in UK sales between 1998 and 2002 but had paid less than 1% in corporation tax. Normal companies in the UK have to pay 20%.
There was outrage in the press and people even demonstrated outside their coffee shops. Chancellor Osborne promised to crack down and close the loopholes in tax law that allows big multinational companies to avoid tax. I saw a report in Private Eye which said the government could raise tens of billions of pounds in tax revenue in this way.
Needless to say nothing has been done and I just read an article in the Guardian ("The Tories are allowing big business to design their own tax loopholes") which leads with this fact: "one of Britain's largest companies, AstraZeneca, paid absolutely no corporation tax here in 2013 and 2014, despite racking up global profits in those years of £2.9billion."
The only British parties who raise this issue consistently are the Greens and the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn, neither of whom have much chance of getting elected.
But why don't the Conservative Party stand up to the multinationals? The standard reply is that "the investors would leave", but why would Starbucks and big companies like Amazon leave a country where they turn over billions of pounds every year? The fact is that multinationals set up shop in every country they can, and they pay tax if they have to.
The Tories should address this issue as conservatism isn't only about supporting big business - which is how they come across and what makes them toxic. Original conservatism was about "conserving" the countryside, supporting free enterprise, small businesses and equality of opportunity. That all sounds quite good and I'd vote for them if they were able to apply it.
Enough about politics.
Why I need Starbucks
I recently had a meeting in Liverpool with an addiction therapist, a guy called Dave Kirk. He has an office in the financial centre of the city and I had arrived early. How to kill 40 minutes? I had my laptop with me as well as a brilliant novel (The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum by Heinrich Boll) and all I needed was a warm place to sit.
I was in Old Hall Street, looking at several fancy restaurants, all of which looked like nice places to sit, catch up on emails and grab a coffee. Problem was they were all shut, even though it was only nine thirty in the morning. Why don't restaurants profit from people like me wanting coffee or somewhere to sit, meet and drink coffee in the morning? Couldn't they also make a quick buck from selling breakfasts?
I wandered up the street looking for somewhere I could sit but the only place open was a flourescent-lit sandwich bar with metal tables - not the sort of place I could relax and do a bit of work.
I walked some more and came across Starbucks which was ideal for my purposes - comfortable, spacious and open - and next thing I knew I was inside ordering a coffee (Americano with milk). I sat down, enjoyed the good music and did my work. And I thought about all those times that I have used Starbucks - always when meeting people in city centres or killing time.
Is this what has made Starbucks such a globally successful firm - locating their shops in city centres, and being open when other coffee shops are closed? I'm sure they have invested millions on market research into how people like me might need somewhere to meet and rest. They are certainly smart but they seem to have applied this intelligence to avoiding tax.
The happy ending to this story is that Starbucks helped me give up coffee. I was becoming increasingly dependent on the beverage, telling myself that I needed the energy boost to get through the day and spending more and more money on my drug of choice. Like an alcoholic, I started off drinking the good stuff (the Courtado from Bold Street Coffee in Liverpool is world-class) and ended up drinking the equivalent of meths -- chemical rubbish from the vending machines.
My Americano from Starbucks left such a bad taste in my mouth that it enabled me to give up coffee, hopefully forever. It was huge, milky and had an inspipid bitter taste that convinced me that coffee is in fact a disgusting drink. All I need is water.