Starbucks Twitter campaign hijacked by tax protests

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A Starbucks Twitter campaign to "spread the cheer" of Christmas backfired after protesters hijacked it to complain about the coffee chain's tax status.

The coffee firm displayed Twitter messages tagged with #spreadthecheer on a big screen at the Natural History Museum, where Starbucks (NasdaqGS: SBUX - news) is sponsoring the ice rink. Unfortunately, the tweets were not checked before being displayed on the screen.

One tweet called Starbucks "tax dodging MoFos", while another opted for a more blunt message: "Hey Starbucks, PAY YOUR ------- TAX".

One Twitter user encouraged customers to tip staff "as Starbucks has just cut their wages", while another wrote: "If firms like Starbucks paid proper taxes, Museums wouldn't have to prostitute themselves to advertisers."

The Twitter conversation then moved on to the embarrassment of having such tweets displayed publicly and that conversation was also relayed onto the Natural History Museum screen.

A National History Museum apologised for the mistake and said that sponsorship deals such as the one with Starbucks helped the museum to put on extra events.

The spokesman added: "The moderation filter for the twitter wall screen crashed, leading to two comments being displayed about ice rink sponsor Starbucks that included swear words."

A Starbucks spokesman said: “We apologise to any visitors who may have been offended by inappropriate messages displayed on the Twitter wall screen at the Natural History Museum’s ice rink café. This was due to a temporary malfunction with the content filtering system."

Starbucks has been one of the firms drawn into a row over corporate taxation . The coffee chain had paid only £8.5m in corporation tax since it launched in Britain, despite sales of £3bn.

Starbucks uses a number of legal mechanisms to reduce the tax it pays, including buying its coffee from a Swiss division of Starbucks, which charges a 20 per cent premium. The firm also says the high rents it pays on its shops have eaten into profits.

Earlier this month, Starbucks said it would volunteer to pay an extra £10m a year over the next two years.

If the company does not enter profitability it will consider continuing the arrangement beyond the next two years, "until we are paying corporation tax at a material rate".