2015 Roger Award Finalists Named
2015 ROGER AWARD FINALISTS
- Murray Horton
The six finalists for the 2015 Roger Award for the Worst Transnational Corporation Operating in Aotearoa/New Zealand are:
• IAG/State Insurance
Apple makes its first ever appearance in the Roger Award but it is a worthy contender. The nominator singled out Apple’s “massive tax dodging in New Zealand. The primary evidence is John Campbell’s First Person podcast on Radio New Zealand (29/10/15, http://www.radionz.co.nz/programmes/first-person/story/201776580/first-person-with-john-campbell-apple's-high-ideals-and-low-tax-bill). This is particularly egregious as Apple is currently the most profitable company in the world. Nor is it something confined to Apple’s NZ operations – it dodges taxes globally, to the tune of tens of billions of dollars, including in its nominal ‘home’ country, the US.
“Of all the transnational corporations stashing their cash in offshore tax havens (and thus out of the reach of any country’s tax men), Apple has by far the biggest offshore cash stash. Massive tax avoidance and massive profitability go hand in hand. I have provided evidence of both its global profitability and tax avoidance, because that provides the context for its NZ tax avoidance. It is necessary to understand the global context; that what Apple does (or rather, doesn’t do) in relation to NZ tax is its standard operating procedure everywhere.
“Apple is far from alone – other transnational corporations that could have been nominated for exactly the same reason include Facebook, Microsoft, Google and Amazon. And I have included the Foreign Control Watchdog article (issue 138, April 2015, “Dodge City: The Transnationals’ Favourite Place To Do Business”, Murray Horton, http://www.converge.org.nz/watchdog/38/01.html) to provide an overview of the whole subject, both in NZ and globally, and of what is being done about it by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. It is staggering to hear the OECD’s Tax Director tell John Campbell that global tax dodging by transnationals totals a quarter of a trillion US dollars. Apple is the biggest and baddest of these transnational corporate criminals”.
Bunnings is also making its first ever appearance in the Roger Award. The grounds for its nomination are “displaying contempt for its workers and their rights. This year it has demonstrated its’ contempt for workers by seeking the casualisation of workers’ hours. Under Bunning’s proposed hours of work clause, the company is seeking the power to change workers’ rosters every four weeks, subject to a two-week notice period. Bunnings has been quick to note that this is subject to consultation, a step down from the current standard of mutual agreement. When the change is a one-off or to cover an unforeseen event the consultation and notice period is reduced to only seven days. Workers who find their new schedules clash with their existing family and other commitments are required to provide details of those commitments in writing within three days of being given the roster; however there is nothing compelling Bunnings to take that into account or to adjust schedules to fit workers’ lives.
“Workers’ voices are being shut out of the rostering process. Under Bunnings’ proposals workers will go from having an equal say over their roster to no say. Where a worker doesn’t comply with roster changes they are subjected to disciplinary procedures…. Bunnings’ has failed to exhibit good faith during collective bargaining. While bargaining has not yet finished, it has already passed on a wage increase to non-members, and is working hard to try and de-unionise stronger stores. Bunnings managers are notorious for their anti-union bullying. Union members are subject to harassment, told that the union is a waste of money and that there is no value in joining the union. Managers also try to talk members out of taking strike action.
“Workers are afraid that their family time is going to be put at risk. Family comes first, that’s why workers are fighting so hard to have a fair say over their rosters. But the company is also proposing other insidious changes including performance pay instead of pay progression, introducing the discriminatory youth rates, restricting union access, reducing rights around public holidays and removing the expiry dates for disciplinary warnings so they would stay on a worker’s file forever. This is all part of Bunnings’ ruthless attempt to squeeze out as much profit from New Zealand as possible.
“Yet it is not just workers who suffer, but customers do too: Bunnings guarantees to beat lower advertised prices by 10%, but this is only made possible by the numerous exclusive supply contracts that it has, stocking brands and products that other hardware retailers don’t stock. These products are often inferior; when activists chained themselves to the entrance to their New Lynn store, store managers grabbed a bolt-cutter off the shelf and attempted to cut the chains, only ending up breaking the bolt-cutter instead. Workers have been striking across the country since September, including a nationwide strike and a store shut down in New Lynn. Some stores – like in Dunedin and Mount Maunganui – have walked off the job five times”.
IAG/State Insurance is a finalist for the fourth consecutive year, which will be no surprise to anyone who has lived in Christchurch since 2010. This time the nomination was for two major reasons: “Economic dominance (specifically insurance market dominance). I draw your attention to the detail hidden in one of the accompanying Press articles (19/2/15) which reveals that IAG discloses ‘a significant portion’ of its Canterbury quake costs in ‘the lower tax jurisdiction of Singapore’ and thus paid ‘an unusually low tax rate of 10% in the first half of 2015’. Note that also that IAG’s Chief Executive Officer was the highest paid CEO in NZ in the 2014/15 financial year, on $4.59m. There’s money to be made from other people’s misery.
“And impact on people. Five years after the Christchurch earthquakes started the insurance transnationals (of which IAG/State is by far the biggest) are still making life hell for thousands of Christchurch people. IAG/State is far from alone in this but it is the biggest and some of its practices are the worst. In 2015, State has pressurised its ‘too hard cases’ in Christchurch to accept a cash settlement and become responsible for their own repairs or rebuilds. This means State wants to walk away from its contractual obligations to those customers. There are still State customers living in caravans and garages. Things have got so bad IAG is among the insurance companies and Government bodies which are the subject of a claim to the OECD for breaches of its Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. As has been said before in previous Roger Awards, what has happened, and is continuing to happen in Christchurch, sets a very bad precedent for what the rest of the country can expect from IAG/State and the other insurance TNCs in the event of a major disaster”..
MediaWorks is another making its first appearance in the Roger Award, specifically for TV3 killing off Campbell Live. “The grounds for nomination are political interference, by killing off the only current affairs show anywhere on TV that actually took seriously its mission to be the voice of the people and to hold the powerful to account. And considering that TV3 replaced John Campbell with Rightwing mouthpiece Paul Henry, another ground for nomination is running an ideological crusade. The enclosed New Zealand Herald’s article headline ‘Campbell’s Crusades Irked TV3 Bosses’ (23/5/15) puts it in a nutshell. The article says that TV3 management considered that the show ‘over-emphasised charitable fundraising, and coverage of the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquake, GCSB spying and child poverty’ (as well as subjects like Pike River). There was plenty of evidence that not only did Campbell Live piss off TV management but also senior figures among the directors with close connections to the Government and the Prime Minister.
“To add insult to injury Campbell Live was, at first, replaced by yet another Australian police reality show, then by a cooking show. And MediaWorks has not stopped there in its relentless drive to kill off current affairs and any kind of serious news. More recently it has announced it is shutting down its newly created 3D current affairs show (which led to a fightback from its journalists). MediaWorks has moved in a heavy-handed fashion to extend the dumbing down of its programmes into the one remaining area (news and current affairs) that had previously stood in sharp contrast to the rest of the dismal crap produced by either major NZ network. It falls nicely into the playbook of capital’s inherent compulsion to provide a lowest common denominator market for advertisers”.
Serco is yet another new entrant but a thoroughly worthy one. “Serco has a global reputation for dishonesty, corruption & poor human rights. That tendency has been very clearly demonstrated in their time in New Zealand. Serco's Fight Club mentality is a real response to a culture created from the top”. And to quote another nominator, who starts by quoting a blogger: “’Serco aren’t water. They’re not air. They aren’t some kind of vital part of life. They’re not a force of nature or a building block of New Zealand’s society. They’re a British corporation which has expanded so dramatically in the age of outsourcing that they have found it impossible to successfully manage the range of contracts they bid upon. Don’t take it from me, listen to their Chief Executive: “I was counting my days on the basis of how many really, really shitty bits of news happened a day, and it used to be four,” said Soames. “If I hadn’t had my four bits of bad news, I knew something was wrong. I knew there was something I didn’t know”’.
“It gets worse when you think that the bad news involved sexual and physical abuse of inmates in detention centres, prisoners escaping and errors in clinical data management which led to people dying. Forget the Chief Executive, the true cost of Serco comes from the degradation of services which are deemed essential to a functioning society. Schools, hospitals, prisons. All funded by taxation. Here’s the thing. Serco, regardless of whether they’ve failed to ensure a prison works properly, failed to deliver medical services or ensure schools have adequate support staff, don’t stop. They don’t stop attempting to expand into new areas. They don’t stop, even when it’s clear that their business model is the reason for their numerous failures. Because their aim is to make a profit first, deliver services second. Which is exactly why wherever politicians employ Serco, the public get second class services. Serco has become synonymous with the face of privatisation in New Zealand”.
Westpac is a recidivist Roger Award offender, having been a finalist several times, one of three equal runners up in 2011, and the joint winner in 2005 (with BNZ). “This year (2015) the cartel of Australian-owned banks, ASB, ANZ, BNZ, & Westpac racked up a staggering profit of $4.59 billion dollars. Westpac’s share of this was $916 million for the year to September 30. To achieve this they continue to screw their workers. The latest round of restructuring, in July 2015, resulted in the loss of almost 100 jobs. Westpac's staff numbers for 2014 were down 3% from the previous year, and 7% from 2012.
“Westpac New Zealand's chief executive David McLean, who was appointed in February 2015, took home about $1.8m. Not bad for nine months work. Westpac has retained the bulk of the eight year Government banking contract, following a tendering process which dragged on for years. Westpac has held this contract since 1989. Such is the volume of the contract that one banking source claimed it enabled Westpac to effectively determine the timing of payment settlements between New Zealand banks.
“But by far the most heinous action thus far by Westpac, and the main reason for this nomination, was the handing over to the Police of Nicky Hager’s private account information. Court records show Westpac handed over "almost 10 months of transactions from Mr Hager's three accounts" at the request of detectives investigating the hacking of Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater's email and social media accounts. Other companies that were asked for Hager's private details told police to come back with a court order, which would have legally obliged them to surrender the information”.
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.
The judges are: David Small, a lawyer and Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of Canterbury; Dean Parker, Auckland writer and former Writers’ Guild delegate to the Council of Trade Unions; Dennis Maga, union activist from the May First Movement Philippines, organiser of FIRST Union and founder of Migrante and UNEMIG; Sue Bradford, community activist with Auckland Action Against Poverty and the Left think tank project; and Deborah Russell, feminist, social and political commentator and tax expert, Tertiary Education Union member, and candidate for the Labour Party in 2014.
The winner(s) will be announced at a Palmerston North event on April 30, 2016. Full details, including previous winners and annual Judges’ Reports, can be read online at http://canterbury.cyberplace.co.nz/community/CAFCA/roger.html. Bad luck to all the finalists and may the worst man win!