Today the trade union, Greenpeace and the trade association have “joined forces”: together they made proposals to the federal government to meet online giants at the Austrian level.Amazon, which is making enormous profits in and through the crisis, must finally be taxed fairly.
Austria – On Tuesday, the trade union, Greenpeace and the trade association “joined forces”: Together they made proposals to the federal government in order to meet online giants at the Austrian level. Amazon, which is making enormous profits in and through the crisis, must finally be taxed fairly.
Demands on politics regarding the market superiority of Amazon and Co. are not new. So far this year, an increased advertising tax of five percent has been implemented, which is aimed specifically at international digital groups. In the eyes of the private employees’ union (GPA), the environmental organization Greenpeace and the trade association, this is nowhere near enough. On Tuesday – a few hours before the EU presented laws for digital services and markets – they held a joint press conference and demonstrated levers that also worked at the national level, it was said.
Amazon is reaping billions in profits, especially in the pandemic due to the boom in online trading – at the expense of labor law, the environment and retail – and is managing to pay little or no taxes. The year of the crisis brought Amazon an increase of 40 percent in sales worldwide, in Austria alone the group had sales of over 850 million euros a year.
And last year Amazon received a tax credit of 300 million euros from the EU countries. A stop must be put to this development. The demand is fair taxation, the enforcement of workers’ rights and the promotion of local recycling management instead of a “packaging avalanche”.
Packing flood and “spying”
Alexander Egit from Greenpeace explained that Amazon is now an enormous environmental problem and is “fueling the climate crisis”. Every product that is sent via Amazon has to be repackaged. In Austria, that is 250 million parcels a year, 150 million of which go to individual customers. 33 million parcels would be returned, 1.3 million of which would be destroyed immediately. “Every company in Austria pays a tax on packaging,” says Egit. Amazon, on the other hand, cannot be held liable. Egit called for platform liability, for example, to ensure that Amazon has to pay a fee for packaging.
The business model is also “extremely energy-intensive”. And there is a democratic component: Internationally, employees who campaign for climate protection are threatened with dismissal. There are also spying activities, for example against Greenpeace, so Egit. Here, too, the federal government must take measures.
A lot of money is left behind “
GPA chairwoman Barbara Teiber added that Amazon is trying to stop works council work worldwide. According to Teiber, disproportionate working conditions were also uncovered in the Großebersdorf distribution center (Lower Austria), including monitoring of staff, disciplinary measures and “degrading regulations”. The situation of messengers is just as dramatic: They are pushed into leasing contracts or bogus self-employment and report twelve-hour days. In a first step, the proportion of temporary employment agencies should be reduced to 50 percent, demanded Teiber.
Austria can also levy taxes on the sale of user data and platform fees. Until the demand for a digital permanent establishment can be implemented, tax justice must be different: A “fictitious profit taxation” should temporarily tax five percent of sales. “There are also measures at national level,” said Teiber. “A lot of money is left lying on the street here.”
Imbalance of freedoms
The managing director of the trade association, Rainer Will, criticized that the high market concentration in online trading was “the result of years of regulatory failure”. The ten largest web shops collectively generate almost half of all Austrian online shopping sales, market leader Amazon accounts for a quarter. The pandemic has exacerbated the situation: While Amazon benefits from it, the existence of around 6,500 domestic retailers is now at risk.
Will urged the government to implement its own program by closing regulatory and tax loopholes. He also advocated platform liability for fake products. The damage caused by product piracy is enormous. Domestic customers would be “flooded with incorrectly declared fake products”, and packaging waste was also incorrectly charged. That must change through stricter customs controls.
Amazon rejects allegations
Amazon itself rejected the allegations of low tax payments. “Amazon pays all applicable taxes in all countries in which we operate,” said a spokesman for the APA.
In response to criticism relating to working conditions, the online retailer replied: “The fact is that Amazon employees already benefit from excellent wages, excellent additional benefits and excellent career opportunities – and all of this in a safe, modern work environment.”
“Like to take up dialogue”
The demands found support on Tuesday from the government and the SPÖ. Vice Chancellor Werner Kogler (Greens) let it be known via Twitter that the signal from the sales representatives was being taken seriously. “We would be happy to start a dialogue on further steps,” says Kogler.
Finance Minister Gernot Blümel (ÖVP) took the same line. “We will continue to work for an international solution on this issue and I am happy if there is broad support here in Austria.”
The SPÖ’s finance spokesman, Kai Jan Krainer, also welcomed the demands. The SPÖ has long been demanding that international online companies be taxed fairly.
EU wants to make online companies responsible
The EU Commission also wants more fairness in the market and stricter taxation. Two laws, the Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act, should contribute a large part to this. Corresponding proposals were presented in Brussels on Tuesday. Uniform rules across Europe should make it easier for small companies to survive in competition. It will take years before it can be implemented.