British author of children’s books, Allan Ahlberg, has declined the inaugural Booktrust Best Books Lifetime Achievement Award on a pretext that it is sponsored by Amazon. He states that his dislike of Amazon is based on ‘ethical grounds’: because of numerous reports of Amazon’s tax evasion in the UK Ahlberg says that he cannot allow himself to be associated with this company.
In recent years Amazon has been subject to heavy criticism due to the fact that it uses a loophole in the UK tax legislation, paying low corporation tax instead of high sales tax and stating that it sells goods from its headquarters located in Luxembourg.
Allan Ahlberg is an author of more than 140 children’s books, most of which he wrote in collaboration with his wife, Janet Ahlberg, until she died of cancer in 1994 (he wrote stories and she illustrated them). He also wrote numerous books working with other illustrators.
In his letter explaining this decision Ahlberg states that ‘tax, fairly applied to us all, is a good thing’, because it pays for libraries, hospitals and suchlike. Using legal loopholes to avoid paying it is, according to him, a disgrace, and he believes that Booktrust made a mistake by associating themselves with a company like Amazon. And Ahlberg himself feels that for him to receive a “lifetime achievement” award sponsored by Amazon would have been completely unacceptable. The reward is not merely symbolical – together with it Ahlberg turned down £5,000 prize money.
Booktrust’s CEO, Viv Bird, replied that she was sorry to learn about Ahlberg’s refusal, but it is the author’s personal decision and she doesn’t want to criticize his judgement. On the subject of Amazon she can only say that their organization works with a wide range of partners, and Amazon is and will be an important sponsor for them – the help from this company allows them to promote the best children’s books, encourage children to read and, in general, celebrate good fiction and its authors.
She also added that thousands of children participated in voting for their favorite books for the Best Book Awards, and this year three hundred of them took part in the event itself, getting an opportunity to meet people who created all these wondrous fictional worlds for them.
It is not the first time the Booktrust prize sponsor becomes the subject of controversy. For example, in 2003 a number of authors, including Gillian Cross and Melvin Burgess, published a letter stating that they don’t want to be associated with a prize sponsored by Nestle, thus protesting against the company’s selling their infants’ formula in third world countries.
Ironically, in spite of his stand against Amazon “on moral grounds” and refusing to take a prize from the company’s metaphorical hands, Allan Ahlberg doesn’t seem to mind selling his books through its online store and making use of its enormous client base. So perhaps rejecting prize money won’t be too much of a loss for him.