5 December 2011

Chief Reporter


The eight finalists for the 2011 Roger Award for the Worst Transnational Corporation Operating in Aotearoa/New Zealand are: Adidas, Newmont Waihi Gold, Oceania, New Zealand Aluminium Smelters Ltd/Rio Tinto Alcan NZ Ltd, Sajo Oyang Corporation, Sky City , Telecom and Westpac. There is one finalist for the Accomplice Award – the Government (in its own right and accompanying both Sajo Oyang and Telecom).

Adidas was nominated for its total arrogance. In the year in which New Zealand both hosted and won the Rugby World Cup for the first time since 1987, this transnational corporation (TNC) tried to charge New Zealanders substantially more for its “official” All Blacks' jersey than what it charged for the same item if bought overseas. When NZ fans resorted to buying the jerseys online, Adidas blocked those Internet sales outlets. To add insult to injury the jerseys weren't even made in NZ but in Asian sweatshops. It was a public relations disaster for Adidas and when it finally pulled its head out of its arse and dropped prices, it had seriously pissed off a huge chunk of ordinary rugby loving Kiwis in the most important year in NZ's rugby history in a quarter of  a century. It was universally denounced throughout the country but still refused to apologise for the rip-off.

Newmont Waihi Gold was previously a finalist in 2009 and 03, and has made it again in 2011, for the same reason – its appalling mining activities, which have created a huge hole in the middle of Waihi and which it now wishes to extend into creating a giant underground mine under the town. Understandably the locals aren't crazy about mining literally under their homes. The Government touts mining as one of the keys to “freeing up the wealth” in parts of the country such as Coromandel. Well, Waihi is the reality check of what mining in Coromandel is like already.

Oceania is New Zealand 's largest rest home provider and is owned by a foreign equity fund. It is the prefect illustration of what has happened to this sector which used to exist to provide a service for old people no longer able to look after themselves in their own homes. Now it is a profit-driven business, with the residents the “product” and the workers are overwhelmingly female, brown and/or Third World, who are paid very low wages to do the literal shit work – while the owners of Oceania cream it.

New Zealand Aluminium Smelters Ltd/Rio Tinto Alcan NZ Ltd (well known to Watchdog readers for decades under its previous name of Comalco) has been a regular finalist and was runner up in both the 2009 and 08 Roger Awards. This time the nominator put in a detailed (even footnoted) nomination of the owners of the Bluff aluminium smelter for a new reason – for lobbying two Governments “over several years to secure to secure excessive allocations of free emissions units under the NZ Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS)… NZAS/Rio Tinto has interfered in a democratic process via political lobbying through its industry advocate the Greenhouse Policy Coalition in order to dodge a tax (greenhouse gas pricing under the NZETS), and to profit from the ETS through excessive free allocation of emissions units….there is very little doubt that the NZETS unit allocation rules are so distorted that the smelter would face a higher carbon price if it were exempted from obligations under the NZETS and just paid its electricity bills”. This is the same transnational which, only a few years ago, threatened to quit NZ if the ETS went ahead. If you can't beat them, you might as well make money out of them, eh.

Sajo Oyang is a South Korean fishing company which has achieved the not inconsiderable feat of having the worst record when it comes to treatment of the poor buggers from Third World countries who have to risk their lives and health in working on these joint venture fishing boats. It was nominated for exploitation and harm of its crew members (six of whom died when one of its boats sank in NZ waters; others have walked off Oyang boats in NZ ports in protest at the appalling systematic abuse of crewmen). Oyang is the “star” of the report into abuses in the fishing industry, the report which forced the Government to open an Inquiry. For its part the Government was nominated for the Accomplice Award because of its “neglect and active harm caused to the NZ maritime industry, comprising (1) the failure to regulate the NZ fishing industry to protect jobs, conditions, the wellbeing of overseas workers, the environment and New Zealand control of its resources, and (2) the open coast policy which is responsible for flag of convenience shipping, the decline of shipping standards and NZ shipping, and the failure to sign the international treaty to maximise liability for clean up costs by charterers”.

Sky City was nominated for all the reasons you would expect for a corporation that makes its money from gambling, particularly for its impact on the poor and vulnerable. To single out its most egregious example of political interference, the nominator wrote: “ Sky City is trying to buy New Zealand law (building a convention centre in exchange for changes to the law to enable a significant expansion of the casino”. A startling example of the way Sky City treats its staff is that the workers have to wear flea collars or flea spray because Sky City won't close for 24 hours to have the place properly cleaned. Just reading that makes me feel all itchy (and not for poker machines, either).

Telecom remains the only TNC to have been a finalist every year since the Roger Award started in 1997 (although it's only actually won it twice). Its crimes in 2011 include being fined a record $12 million for breaches of the Commerce Act and for being subsidised by the Government as the preferred supplier of the ultra fast broadband (UFB) scheme). The nominator wrote: “Telecom has made mega profits out of NZ for two decades now and has shamefully reinvested very little of that back into its NZ telecommunications business, preferring to enrich its foreign owners and biggest shareholders with dividends instead. With the money it has made out of this country it could have paid for the UFB scheme several times over out of its own profits, without any taxpayers' money having to be involved. It is an indictment of Telecom - past and present - that it instead chooses to rely on a Government subsidy to fund such an essential part of any modern country's telecommunications infrastructure”. And the Government was nominated for the Accomplice Award “for hypocritically subsidising Telecom whilst simultaneously proclaiming the virtues of the market (where is the Government subsidy for the tens of thousands of Canterbury earthquake victims who can't get any cover from the insurance market?). The UFB scheme is simply massive corporate welfare for a recidivist transnational bludger”.

Westpac was a finalist in both 2010 and 09 and the joint winner of the 2005 Roger Award. One of the reasons it was nominated in 2011 was for profiteering (including paying its Chief Executive Officer $5.8 million and $5.4 million respectively, over the past two years, the highest in NZ) while its workers are left to struggle on low pay. Shamefully, it pressured its Christchurch tellers to meet normal sales targets by pushing loans and insurance products onto financially stricken Christchurch customers after the earthquakes, adopting a “business as usual” policy.

The Government was nominated for the Accomplice Award in its own right (in addition to accompanying both Sajo Oyang and Telecom). To quote the nomination: “ for helping to create the conditions allowing the Rena wreck and the Pike River disaster through their policies of de-regulation, privatisation and the encouragement of sales to foreign transnationals. These policies have also affected the extent of the destruction of the Canterbury earthquakes and the ability of the community to recover.   If, at the macroeconomic level, New Zealand 's 20 odd year adherence to the neoliberal agenda has been an abject failure, at the microeconomic level the tools of neo-liberalism have wrought havoc in the past 12 months. Whether it is Pike River , the Rena, the offshore fishing industry the underpinning problem, the cause of the problem is neo-liberalism and its dogmatic adherents. 

“Denying all notions of solidarity, cooperation, mutuality and participatory democracy, neo-liberalism affords primacy to the market; is hostile to collectivism (collective bargaining, worker-based health and safety initiatives), pursues a low wage economy and affords a privileged status to investors and their agents, management. Pike River : light-handed regulation, minimal standards, anti-worker (i.e. the removal of worker health and safety reps), managerial prerogative.  Rena : flags of convenience, low wage labour, loss of cabotage. Fishing industry: flags of convenience, low wage labour, loss of cabotage”.

The criteria for judging are by assessing the transnational (a corporation with 25% or more foreign ownership) that has the most negative impact in each or all of the following categories: economic dominance - monopoly, profiteering, tax dodging, cultural imperialism; people - unemployment, impact on tangata whenua, impact on women, impact on children, abuse of workers/conditions, health and safety of workers and the public; environment - environmental damage, abuse of animals; and political interference - interference in democratic processes, running an ideological crusade.

There is also an Accomplice Award for an organisation (not an individual) which was the worst Accomplice during the year in aiding and abetting transnational corporations in New Zealand to behave as described in the criteria. The Accomplice's award is in addition to the Worst Transnational Corporation award and will not necessarily be awarded every year.

The judges are: Joce Jesson, a Senior Lecturer in Critical Studies in Education, University of Auckland, and a community activist; Paul Corliss, from Christchurch, an organiser with the Tertiary Education Union and a life member of the Rail and Maritime Transport Union; Paul Maunder, cultural worker, curator of Blackball Museum of Working Class History and a founding member of Unite!; Sam Mahon, an artist, author and activist from North Canterbury; and Wayne Hope, Associate Professor, Communications Studies, Auckland University of Technology.

The winner(s) will be announced at a Christchurch event on the night of April 20th.

Murray Horton

Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa,
P. O. Box 2258