With HSBC now one of the least trusted brands, how will it influence voters?

Big brands, from HSBC to Google, are starting to become bad brands as the ordinary consumer turns against them for their tax dodging and corporate greed. Yet few politicians see the connecting between a socially conscious ethical consumer and how they’ll vote.

This week has not been a good one for HSBC, which means it’s not a good one for the Tories either as they are the party most associated with banking scandals.


HSBC, the world’s second largest bank, helped wealthy clients across the world evade hundreds of millions of pounds worth of tax via Switzerland. The list, originally exposed by the French and a whistleblower, reveals 7000 UK clients alone, plus criminals, a blood-diamond trader, associates of dictators, big businesses and many other unsavory people.


In the USA, France, Belgium and Argentina HSBC is facing criminal investigation, but not in the UK, where it is based – it looks like it’s getting away with it here. And to date, only one person has been investigated and prosecuted for tax evasion linked to the Swiss scandal.

You can see the Labour Party and the Greens rubbing their hands with delight. And media editors loving it too, especially the fact that Stephen Green was head of HSBC at the time, and then made a Conservative peer and appointed to the government.

Now Lord Green, he was made a minister eight months after HMRC had been given the leaked documents, serving as a minister of trade and investment until 2013.

With little between Labour and the Tories, this is one of several news stories that could have a significant influence upon voters, far more so than campaign ads could.

The one slogan that will be remembered forever from Thatcher’s period in office was ‘GREED IS GOOD’.  It symbolizes an era when we moved from when some would say was a caring society to one of self interest.

And there is no doubt that the Conservative brand is associated with corporate greed, with capitalism and the banking system, along with all the tax dodges they have associated with them. Not exactly a good association you’d want for your brand in the current climate.

According to the Daily Mirror (not a fan of the Tories) “Tax avoidance has increased to £35billion under David Cameron”. It just gets worse!

The consumer vs the corporate.

But there’s far more to this story than meets the eye when it comes to what is influencing the voter.

Every year we see the march against corporate capitalism growing in numbers as people pout on the V is for Vendetta masks and join the  global Million Masks March organised by the Anonymous Network. For some it’s just a fun day out, but for others it represents a frustration with corporate greed and power.

The most notable person at the march this year was comedian Russell Brand who suggested people shouldn’t vote, hardly an effective strategy if you want the Tories out, but then that’s why Brand is a comedian not a politician.

The rise of the ‘tax shaming’ movement and brand boycotts.


Another organisation gathering support is UK Uncut, who have claimed that brands like Starbucks, Google, Amazon, Vodaphone, Top Shop and many more are not paying their taxes fairly. And as some politicians point out, if the big corporates don’t pay small, businesses are left to make up the difference.

Tax dodging has resulted in numerous boycotts of these brands which can be very damaging when they grow into movements. This is one time when social media is not your favourite friend if you are tax dodging brand.

Using the pound in her pocket to make a point…

It’s not just left wingers and radical anti corporate minorities that politicians need to fear but the everyday consumer, who 10 years ago may have ignored the behavour of the big brands and corporations, but today they are more ethically minded and even Mrs Jones from Romford is using the pound in her pocket to make a point, not just a purchase.

We are seeing a move back to local and independents, a move we have seen in the high street. Small is good, big is bad. Consumers are making choices based on ethics not just what is cheap.

We see big brands banned for their negative social and financial behavour and unethical ethos by student unions, schools and numerous groups like Mumsnet.

Tesco’s real problem…

When Harris & Hoole, a small but quality chain of coffee shops started to expand it hit social media and the news when punters discovered it was backed by Tesco’s.

To be fair to H&H, it was a funding deal only from Tesco’s investment arm, no different from taking money from a bank, but Tesco was seen as the evil greedy corporate damaging our high streets and H&H was tarnished with that brush.


Local residents now often fight large corporates entering local high streets, residents of Belsize Park (many top celebrities) fought off Tesco’s desire to open there recently, as did locals in Hadfield.

Part of Tesco’s problem, and one they seem in denial of, is the simple fact they are too big, too greedy and like many supermarkets, have abused suppliers – both British farmers (the cost of milk being most recently in the press) and Third World farmers. That’s why shoppers have abandoned them, it’s their lack of real ethics, an ethos of greed – it’s not their aging brand identity, muddled shops or prices.

What the politicians are missing…

But this week, following years of scandal about how corrupt our bankers are, HSBC are in the dock. Yesterday it was all over the Guardian and last night Panorama showed how corrupt HSBC was.

So what has this to do with the coming election? Of course the headlines will pass in a few days, Lord Green will be hung out to dry and the all politicians will respond with claims they plan to tighten up tax dodging and punish the guilty.

But there is an underlying feeling by consumers that big corporates are too greedy, they have no ethics and their power is unhealthy – many now are wealthier than some countries. And they don’t trust the politicians that support the corporates, especially those who take money from them.

Ironically Labour has ben demonised by the Tories as a party that hates big business, even the head of Boots, Stefano Pessina joined in by hitting out at Ed Miliband and Labour. Ironic when you consider they have just moved Boots HQ from Nottingham to…yep, Switzerland! No wonder he’s no fan of Labour.


The recent Oxfam campaign pointing out that ‘The world’s 85 richest people own the same wealth as the 3.5billion poorest people’. 


This is not just another charity shocking us with another fact to get us to donate, Oxfam has its finger firmly on the consumer pulse, more so than the politicians (see their report ‘Working for the Few’).

Consumers are questioning the ethics of greed, it really isn’t good for anyone. So while the politicians argue and spin claims about immigration, the NHS. education and the usual topics that polls tell them (because they don’t ask the right questions) the real feeling that will ‘even it up’ could well be around ethics.