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‘Leeched Off the Taxpayer.’ Church of England Hits Amazon Over Taxes and Wages

September 14, 2018, 11:13 AM UTC

Amazon has “leeched off the taxpayer” said Justin Welby, an archbishop of the Church of England (CoE), which, besides tending to the spiritual needs of its flock, also has a $10.88 billion investment fund that holds Amazon shares.

The CoE’s comments on Amazon (AMZN) are worth noting, as it is an activist investor: Earlier this summer the charity threatened the companies it invests in with divesting if they did not meet Paris climate change targets by 2023.

“We have previously been on the record that we consider aggressive tax avoidance or abusive tax arrangements to be both a business risk and an ethical issue,” the CoE said today in a statement. The organization publishes its ethical investing principles yearly.

“When vast companies like Amazon and other online traders, the new industries, can get away with paying almost nothing in tax, there is something wrong with the tax system. They don’t pay a real living wage, so the taxpayer must support their workers with benefits,” Welby said Wednesday at the Trades Union Congress, the BBC reports.

The bulk of the CoE’s income, despite its healthy investment fund (it returned 7.1% on the fund in 2017), is from tax-free donations. It also relies on British government support for maintaining many of its listed buildings.

In 2015, the CoE ran a living wage campaign that British newspapers criticized because they found advertisements for jobs at the CoE that paid less than the so-called living wage. At the time, Welby called the affair “embarrassing.”

Many vicars and other positions in the CoE are listed as part-time and may include in-kind benefits, such as housing, that make them harder to compare to conventional employment. Many CoE employees are also on so-called “zero-hours” contracts, which hold no guaranteed minimum number of hours, something else the church has criticized.

Amazon doesn’t seem to be holding a grudge. Alexa helps users find churches in England.