Fund manager considered cancelling Amazon investment over tax avoidance

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos during his High Order Bit presentation

A leading City fund manager considered pulling an investment in Amazon from its ethical funds because of the online seller's tax avoidance measures and its employment conditions for its staff around the world.

Royal London Asset Management (RLAM), which bought Co-operative Asset Management last year, revealed it had written to the online retailer demanding clarity on its tax levels and where its tax was paid around the world.

The fund manager, which takes an ethical approach to investment, also warned Amazon that its refusal to allow collective bargaining for its staff could hinder its ability to recruit.

RLAM said it was disquieting that collective bargaining, through union membership for example, was not encouraged.

After a meeting with Amazon in the autumn, RLAM detected some signs of progress (the retailer is advertising for an environment manager) and decided to keep holding the investment in its sustainable fund where it is categorised as a bookseller.

Amazon was not immediately available for comment.

The asset management company has separately highlighted the issues raised by the EU bonus cap, which restricts top bankers' bonuses to 100% of salary, or 200% if shareholders give approval; it is sympathetic to the cap because of bonus schemes that have "incentivised risky behaviour without due consideration of potential downside losses or robust clawback provisions in place".

But RLAM has also conceded that it is not against performance-related pay.

The fund manager has revealed how it voted at some of last year's annual meetings, voting against the remuneration report of TUI Travel, for instance, and also at Lloyds Banking Group because of the signing-on fee for the new finance director.

RLAM also highlighted the long-running campaign of its predecessor company, the Co-op, to reduce pesticides to protect the bee population.

Then part of the Co-op Group, which is the largest farmer in the UK, the fund manager had written to the environment secretary, Owen Paterson, to urge him to support an EU ban on the use of certain products.

That ban on "neonics" on flowering crops came into force in December 2013 and lasts for two years.

Powered by article was written by Jill Treanor, City editor, for The Guardian on Sunday 2nd February 2014 18.45 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


image: © James Duncan Davidson

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