2012 Roger Award Finalists named
The eight finalists for the 2012 Roger Award for the Worst Transnational Corporation Operating in Aotearoa/New Zealand are announced.
The eight finalists for the 2012 Roger Award for the Worst Transnational Corporation Operating in Aotearoa/New Zealand are: the Australian-owned banks (ANZ/ASB/BNZ/Westpac collectively), BAT (British American Tobacco), IAG (Insurance Australia Group), King Salmon, Newmont Waihi Gold, Rio Tinto Alcan NZ Ltd/NZ Aluminium Smelters Ltd, Taejin Fisheries Co. Ltd and Vodafone.
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 nomination for Taejin Fisheries also includes nominations of UFL Charters Ltd and Immigration New Zealand (now MBIE) for the Accomplice Award. The Government was nominated for the Accomplice Award in its own right, because of its facilitation of the transnational corporate takeover of NZ by making the partial privatisation of State-Owned Enterprises its top policy priority in 2012 (only thwarted, at least temporarily, by the Maori Council’s legal challenge over water rights).
The four Australian-owned banks collectively. The Roger Award is for the misdeeds of one transnational corporation. However, the organisers agreed that there is a case to be made for treating the four Australian-owned banks as a cartel and there are precedents for this in previous Roger Awards. Indeed, the only time that it has ever been won by joint winners was in 2005 when the winners were BNZ and Westpac. We are happy to leave it up to the judges to decide and we have also told them that they are at liberty to pick just one of those four banks. Specifically, they have been nominated for “excessive profits over several years – strip mining; obscene remuneration for CEOs; not passing profits to staff – profit increases are much higher than staff pay rises; predatory lending practices; taking the bulk of their profits overseas”. Several of these banks have been finalists throughout the years and ANZ won the 2009 Roger Award.
BAT has been a regular finalist over the years. It achieved the “distinction” of winning the 2008 Roger Award, having been the joint runner-up in 07 and runner-up in 2003 and 2000. By definition, a tobacco company could be a finalist every year but that’s not the way the Roger Award works (and there have been years where it hasn’t appeared). To qualify, the transnational corporation must have committed specific misdeeds in New Zealand in the year in question. And in 2012 BAT has mightily pissed off plenty of people with its no expenses spared, high profile advertising campaign directed against the Government’s plan to introduce compulsory sales of cigarettes in plain packaging only. To quote one nominator: “Outrageous ad campaign against plain cigarette packaging – their attempt to maintain their stake in this iniquitous trade qualifies them on all judging criteria”. Another one wrote: “BAT’s malevolent intentions can not be over-stated. They trade on: the poor; the addicted (or those with addictive personalities); the uneducated; the young; and all those marginalised for many reasons. They cause misery in ever widening circles on every level. BAT is a cancer that should be stamped out”.
IAG marks the first appearance of a insurance transnational, not only as a finalist, but as a nomination (the Roger Award has been going since 1997). But, after the seismic events in Christchurch since 2010 (which now seem to have calmed down, touch wood) and the highly controversial role that insurance companies have played – or, rather, not played – in the long delayed recovery, it shouldn’t be a surprise. To quote the nomination: “Basically it serves as a generic nomination of all the insurance companies for their incredibly foot-dragging, obstructive, heartless and profiteering response to the Canterbury earthquakes catastrophe… I chose IAG because it is the biggest, owning State and Lantern, plus buying out AMI in 2011 when the latter went bust, overwhelmed by quake claims… The evidence speaks for itself as to how badly the insurance companies have treated their Christchurch domestic and commercial clients. But there is plenty of stuff specific to IAG – e.g. it has topped a Christchurch survey to be rated ‘the worst insurance company’; it is the only one to have been the subject of a protest at its Christchurch head office; it (and Vero) ‘have dredged up a more than 20 year old Court of Appeal decision which, they say, relieves the insurer of the obligation to rebuild for a purchaser, leaving it to the insurer’s discretion whether to repair or refuse to rebuild on a case by case basis…the purchaser is left at the mercy of the insurer, with the right limited to the indemnity amount, which is usually much less than the value of replacement’ (Press, 25/7/12, Commercial Property, ‘Insurance knockbacks for rebuild buyers’)... There are more spectacular examples involving other insurance companies e.g. Ansvar went bust and quit the country, leaving many of its policy holders high and dry. But because IAG is the biggest rogue in this rogue industry, I have nominated it. Insurance companies have achieved the not inconsiderable feat of pissing off everyone right across the spectrum of socio-economic class, from individual house insurance policy holders through to major businesses. They have behaved so badly that the media has crusaded against them... They have even provoked Gerry ‘leave it to the market’ Brownlee into publicly criticising them…”
King Salmon was nominated because of its, in the words of one nominator, “total disregard for the Marlborough District Council’s community-based Sounds Management Plan by using Government’s fast track Environment Protection Agency (EPA) system to override the plan and to put salmon farms in ‘prohibited areas’. King Salmon and its executives have consistently used intimidatory ‘Goliath’ style bully tactics in newspapers and in ’brutal’ style, as one newspaper called it, cross-examination at the EPA hearings. Complained at having to spend millions of dollars for the hearings and evidence when it was King Salmon who wanted it and started it. Use of public space i.e. seabed, for corporate profitmaking. Intolerance of any public opposition to use of public space. Failure to explain deaths of thousands of salmon at their farms, glossing over it in glib, nebulous style”. Local opponents have memorably described salmon farms “as piggeries of the sea”. King Salmon is owned by Malaysia’s Tiong Group (one of whose forestry companies, Ernslaw One, was a finalist in 05). There is a memorable quote from Peter Beech of Guardians of the Sounds: “It’s as if a Malaysian dairy company came over and was allowed to put 1,000 cows on a hectare of DoC land, not pay any rent for using the land, the public can’t go on the farm any more, and we get left with the nitrates as well” (Listener, 5/5/12, “What’s The Catch?”, Bev Doole). Just to emphasis the depth of local opposition – the Marlborough District Council has decided to oppose King Salmon’s application for new fish farms, saying that the company is seeking a rewrite of the rules to suit its own interests. It is a profit-driven transnational corporate grab for private control of the Marlborough Sounds.
Newmont Waihi Gold was previously a finalist in 2011, 2009 and 03, and has made it again in 2012, 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. “In the last year Newmont has created major economic stress for Waihi residents by applying to expand the Martha Pit for exploration for a new mine and applying to build a new underground mine under eastern Waihi homes…At present Newmont control not only whom they will buy out but what tops they may decide to pay for affected properties, they have economic control of this town and its future.. Newmont were supposedly closing the mines in 2007 but are, in fact, expanding in Waihi and the conservation estate behind Whangamata… The worst immediate impact of their activities is the social effect on Waihi residents. This includes mental and physical effects of living with underground and pit blasting, vibration and noise and dust over 25 years in Waihi… (which have created) hardship and permanent uncertainty as well as cracks in homes, broken mirrors, etc…”. “Vibrations, noise, dust, cracks in homes”. They all sound familiar to Christchurch residents. But this is a continuous manmade earthquake for the private profit of a transnational mining corporation.
Rio Tinto Alcan NZ Ltd/New Zealand Aluminium Smelters Ltd (better known for decades under its previous name of Comalco) is the defending champion, having won the 2011 Roger Award and was runner up in both 2009 and 08. It was nominated because it is “the largest and longest running corporate welfare drain on NZ economy via secret/super cheap electricity contract. Sacking workers because supposedly not making enough money and no evidence it is dropping the price it pays itself for bauxite…”. “The smelter is the country’s single biggest user of electricity, consuming one sixth of the total, 24/7 for more than 40 years. It pays a top secret super cheap price that is not available for any other user and all it does is export electricity from NZ in the form of alumina, while being subsidised by all other electricity users. The smelter is the textbook example of corporate welfare in New Zealand. It is the biggest bludger in the country… And we call Rio Tinto’s bluff (pun intended). Stop crying wolf, stop using your New Zealand workers as disposable pawns in your cynical game, stop holding Southland and the country to ransom. Go ahead and close the smelter and bugger off. See if we care, the country will be much better off without you. This smelter constitutes a crime against the people of New Zealand and has done for its entire existence. In the national interest, it must be closed and the sooner the better” (Southland Times, Opinion, 1/11/12, “Smelter NZ’s Biggest Bludger”, Murray Horton).
Taejin Fisheries is a South Korean fishing company which operates the trawlers Melilla 201 and Melilla 203 in New Zealand waters. It is chartered by New Zealand company United Fisheries Ltd (UFL Charters Ltd) and hires Indonesian crews. The extremely detailed and referenced nomination itemised the underpayment and non-payment of wages, plus inhumane working conditions and abuse. “On the 3rd October 2012, twelve former crew members of the Melilla 201 visited United Fisheries (in Christchurch) to demand their unpaid wages…United Fisheries paid them roughly $200,000 that afternoon. This sum represents a portion of the wages owed to them. Other Melilla crews remain unpaid, while many of their families suffer in poverty…During the October 3rd protest, Melilla201 crew spoke to reporters about conditions on the boat. One crew member, who had worked for Taejin for 18 months, said cabins often had dirty blankets and no mattresses. The cabins were about 3 metres by 3m, and each cabin housed six men, he said. He claimed there was one shower and three toilets for 42 crew. Their supervisors were verbally abusive, he said. They called the crew members ‘dog’ ‘monkey’ and ‘pig’ and never by their names. A translator said the men were afraid to complain because they would be fired”. The nomination also detailed the use of manning agents that engage in debt bondage and exploitation; and various environmental concerns, including dumping oil into the sea. Also, UFL Charters Ltd was nominated for the Accomplice Award “for continuing to charter Taejin vessels despite Taejin’s non-payment of wages and revelations of debt bondage in their supply chain”. Immigration New Zealand (now MBIE) was also nominated for the Accomplice Award “for continuing to grant visas for Taejin crews despite Taejin’s numerous breaches of the Code of Practice; for continuing to allow United Fisheries to use foreign charter vessels”.
Vodafone was previously a finalist in 2010 (and this just goes to show that the Roger Award is not about singling out Telecom. In fact, 2012 marks the first time that Telecom has not been a Roger Award finalist since the Award started in 1997). It was nominated because of “numerous instances of false advertising; exaggerating its coverage; and cellphone repairs not up to scratch”. The evidence accompanying the nomination itemised misdeeds like Vodafone having been fined $960,000 for misleading advertising – the judge described called the offending “gross carelessness”. This came on top of hundreds of thousands of dollars of fines in 2011 for similar offences..
The judges are: Christina Stringer, a Senior Lecturer in International Business at the University of Auckland; John Maynard , from Wellington, President of the Postal Workers Union of Aotearoa, spokesperson for People's Power Ohariu and founding member of the Brass Razoo Solidarity Band; 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 Wellington event on the night of May 1st.
Full details, including previous winners and annual Judges’ Reports, can be read online at http://canterbury.cyberplace.co.nz/community/CAFCA/publications/Roger/index.html
Bad luck to all the finalists and may the worst man win!
(03) 3663988/ 0274 307742
Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa
Box 2258, Christchurch, New Zealand