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Anglican leader faces backlash on Amazon, zero-hours contracts

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, the spiritual leader of the world’s Anglicans, faced accusations of hypocrisy on Friday after it emerged the Church of England holds shares in online retail giant Amazon and employs people on zero-hours contracts.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, the spiritual leader of the world's Anglicans
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, the spiritual leader of the world’s Anglicans

In a strongly-worded speech at the Trades Union Congress this week, Welby had criticised Amazon for paying “almost nothing” in taxes and accused firms like Amazon of “leeching off the public” because of its employees’ reliance on social benefits.

Welby also said that zero-hours contracts, which are associated with precarious employment as they do not provide sick or holiday pay or maternity cover, were “the reincarnation of an ancient evil”.

But following press reports, Church of England officials were forced to admit that Amazon was one of the 20 biggest investments worldwide for the church’s £8.3 billion (9.3 billion euros, $10.9 billion) investment fund.

It also emerged that at least two Church of England cathedrals are currently advertising jobs on zero-hours contracts.

In a letter to The Times, the Reverend Ray Anglesea, a United Reformed Church minister who worked on a zero-hours contract in a cathedral bookshop, said Welby “might have done well to have put his own house in order before addressing the conference”.

Politicians joined in the criticism of Welby’s speech.

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“I think we should all practise what we preach,” Conservative MP George Freeman told BBC radio.

The Church of England said in a statement: “As a responsible employer, the Church of England is now reviewing its working practices”.

The Church said of its investments that it condemned aggressive tax avoidance, adding: “We take the view that it is most effective to be in the room with these companies seeking change as a shareholder”.

“We continue to work with other shareholders to tackle this issue via engagement with companies and their managers,” it said.

Following the archbishop’s speech, Amazon said it paid “all taxes required in the UK and every country where we operate”. AFP.