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10th February 2014

The ‘Bucks Stocked Here: Union in deal with “tax-dodging” chain

The Students’ Union is “aware of claims of tax-dodging” but “do not have a policy in place to boycott” company

The Students’ Union have been branded “hypocritical” and “disgraceful” after a decision was made to carry Starbucks products in Biko’s Café.

Since last Friday, Starbucks coffee products have replaced Peros coffee in the main Biko’s Café area.

This decision has led to complaints from students regarding Starbucks’ tax-dodging reputation, especially as the decision comes on the Friday before the Union’s ‘Earth Week’ – a series of events including lectures on ‘Global Inequalities’ and ‘Sustainable Living’.

After the Students’ Union announced the change on Facebook, students were quick to draw attention to this irony.

“In your Earthweek video you talk about the need for more responsibility from us in order to survive in the future,” commented student Lloyd Cawthorne.

“How does this act not contradict your goals for next week?”

Starbucks only paid £8.6m in corporation tax in the UK over a 14-year period, and paid £5m last year in its first tax payment since 2009.

Starbucks coffee had been sold at North Campus for over a year, in the Biko’s North Café.  However, following the café’s closure, having been operating at a “significant loss”, the Starbucks on offer was moved to Biko’s Café in the Students’ Union building on Oxford Road.

Students’ Union General Secretary Grace Skelton told The Mancunion that the Exec, “are aware of the claims of tax dodging made against Starbucks”, but said that “as a Union, we do not have a policy in place to boycott them”.

An official statement released by the Students’ Union simply said, “Following the closure of Biko’s North, we have moved our Starbucks products to Bikos and will be serving them alongside our usual menu items.

“Peros coffee will still be available as an alternative, and can be purchased from the Union Bar.

“All products served in the Student Union are Fairtrade and approved by NUS ethical and environmental criteria.”

Students, however, were not convinced by this explanation.

Euan Bonnar, a third year History student, said, “I feel a bit disillusioned, for so long UMSU boycotted Coke as a result of a vote and now the Union has made the decision to sell Starbucks products without consulting its members.

“It seems oxymoronic and doesn’t really contribute to any kind of transparency in the SU. If we had a vote on it and it passed, so be it, but the fact that they’ve taken this decision without asking us is pretty deplorable and not in keeping with the precedent already set.”

Anna Willis, a second year Biology student, also drew attention to the Union’s previous stance on Coca-Cola.

“It’s disgraceful that the Union is selling Starbucks, especially after banning Coca-Cola from 2007-2013 on the grounds of exploitation,” she said.

Last week, The Mancunion reported how a small coffee cooperative formed by graduates from the University were made to attend a hearing against legal professionals from top corporate law firm Evershead, representing the University.

At the hearing, the ‘Coffee Cranks Cooperative’ were prohibited from selling their coffee from a purpose-built cargo bike on campus.

Leeroy Grimshaw, a third year MML French and Spanish student, said, “I’m sure that in Manchester, of all places, the University could have found perhaps a smaller coffeehouse chain to help support a business that would contribute to taxes, rather than have a corporation that doesn’t pay any tax at all and is gaining a monopoly on the high street as it is.”

Speaking last year to The Mancunion, when Biko’s North Café served Starbucks products, director of the Tax Justice Network John Christensen urged the student body to “think very carefully” about their choice of coffee.

He said, “There are alternatives to Starbucks. Do [the student body] want to support companies that are undermining the economy in this country and elsewhere?

“Corporate responsibility begins with paying tax. You cannot run a democracy without tax.”

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