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Starbucks Website Swamped By Tax Critics

(c) Sky News 2012

Starbucks (NasdaqGS: SBUX - news) ' attempt to explain its controversial corporate tax arrangements has been met with hundreds of complaints on its UK website.

The Seattle-based company received more than 350 comments on blog postings written by three of its top officials, with many promising to boycott its stores.

Blog poster MrGlynWilliams called its tax position "sheer scumbaggery", while illi41 said: "Just pay your taxes and you will be loved. Pay no taxes, receive no love, simple."

People also took issue with chief executive Howard Schultz's claim that over the last three years it had "paid more than £160m in various taxes, including National Insurance (NI) contributions, VAT and business rates".

Angry bloggers left messages saying that neither NI nor VAT were taxes, with VAT only being collected from customers on behalf of HM Revenue and Customs.

The comments are easily viewable from the firm's UK homepage and could only be posted by people with active Starbucks accounts.

Registered user stuyvpc replied to Mr Schultz and said: "I appreciate that you allow me to comment on your statement.

"For the last 3 years a group of IT homeworkers have met twice weekly in Starbucks for a coffee and catch up.

"However as a group we have decided to move to Costa in future who at least pay some corporation tax on their profits in the same way we IT contractors do."

Rival chain Costa, owned by Whitbread (Berlin: WHF4.BE - news) , told Sky News that it would not comment on sales information outside of its normal trading announcements.

However Whitbread CEO Andy Harrison previously said: "Every consumer has the right to choose Costa over Starbucks and that is what I would recommend."

The issue of foreign multinationals paying what is seen by critics as a disproportionate level of corporation tax has become an increasingly important issue for politicians, with Business Secretary Vince Cable saying the Chancellor is expected to address the issue in his Autumn Statement on December 5.

On Thursday night Sainsbury (LSE: SBRY.L - news) 's boss Justin King told Sky's Jeff Randall: "I think as consumers we can make this change much quicker than the Government.

"Customers have to be demanding of where they spend their money - the vote you make with your wallet is the most powerful vote you have at your disposal."

If you send a clear message as a consumer to any company you think doesn't pay its dues, you can bet your bottom dollar they will make a change very quickly."

The angry backlash has been prompted by the revelation that Starbucks paid £8.6m UK corporation tax in the past 13 years, on sales of £3.1bn.

Chief financial officer Troy Alstead has been grilled by the Parliamentary Accounts Committee, alongside bosses from Amazon and Google (NasdaqGS: GOOG - news) , but said his firm had only once made a UK profit in 15 years.

"I assure you we are not making money," he told the committee.

"It's very unfortunate. We're not at all pleased about our financial performance here. It's fundamentally true everything we are saying and everything we have said historically."

His comments came despite operating more than 700 UK stores and employing nearly 8,500 people, along with plans to employ another 6,000 staff and open 300 outlets.

Grassroots activists from UK Uncut have announced a day of action for December 8, with plans to turn Starbucks stores into women's refuges and children's creches - claiming tax the company avoids would offset slashed Government budgets for these social services.

Although most comments left on Starbucks' website are negative, some supporters defended the firm and highlighted laws which allowed legal tax minimisation.

Poster flat-white said: "There are far too many reactionary comments on here that are failing to see the bigger picture. You have a problem with lax UK/Tax laws? Complain to your MP, not your barista.

"By boycotting Starbucks you are simply putting 8,500 jobs at risk."

A Starbucks spokesperson told Sky News it may address the VAT and NI details in a new blog and added: "We are trying to be as open and transparent as possible with the blogs.

"We've left them open for comments - we welcome the open debate and hope we are being as clear as possible."

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