Itís a Tie for Worst! BNZ & Westpac Equal Winners of 2005 Roger Award
Toll & Telecom Runners Up;
- by Murray Horton
The eight finalists in the annual Roger Award For The Worst Transnational Corporation (TNC) Operating In Aotearoa/New Zealand were: Telecom, Westpac, Toll, BNZ, Comalco, Guardian Healthcare, Merck Sharp and Dohme, and British American Tobacco. The criteria for judging were by assessing the transnational that had 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, cultural imperialism. Environment - environmental damage, abuse of animals. Political interference - cultural imperialism, running an ideological crusade.
The judges were: John Minto, from Auckland, a veteran political activist, National Chairperson of the Quality Public Education Coalition and a spokesperson for Global Peace and Justice Auckland; Maire Leadbeater, from Auckland, a veteran anti-nuclear and human rights activist, spokesperson for the Indonesia Human Rights Committee; Laila Harre, from Auckland, National Secretary of the National Distribution Union and a former Cabinet Minister; and Mary-Ellen O’Connor, from Nelson, a senior educationalist and political activist. For full details about, and the history of, the Roger Award, go to www.cafca.org.nz and follow the Links. It is organised by CAFCA and GATT Watchdog and is supported by Christian World Service (all of which are Christchurch-based organisations). The previous winners are: Telecom, Tranz Rail (three times), Juken Nissho, Carter Holt Harvey, Monsanto and TransAlta.
BNZ and Westpac are the Roger Award’s first co-winners. They won because of tax avoidance, profiteering, bullying of the Government and banking authorities, blatant attempts to lure Kiwis into debt, and treatment of their workers. To quote the Judges’ Report: “…many of the practices they have adopted also apply to the other two large Australian-owned banks – ASB and ANZ – and had they also been nominated then the likelihood is that all four would have been joint winners… Together these banks constitute a ‘gang of four’ wielding huge power and influence over the NZ economy and operating solely in their own interests rather than that of their accountholders, employees and the wider community”.
Toll was third (there was no second this year) because it refuses to heed the pleas of the people of Marlborough to alleviate the environmental damage caused by its ferries. And it bullied the Government into paying to upgrade the rail network of which it has exclusive use. “(Toll) takes all the profits while the people of New Zealand take the losses!”. Toll is thus a worthy successor to Tranz Rail, which won the Roger three times out of the first six and was finally declared to be ineligible and shunted into the newly created Hall of Shame, where it remains in solitary confinement (so far).
Telecom (the 2004 winner and the only TNC to be a finalist in every Roger Award since it was started, in 1997)was fourth because of profiteering and shoddy broadband service. “For 15 years now this private monopoly has …made more than $15 billion in profits – most going to wealthy shareholders overseas. The judges are appalled that this national scandal continues…”.
They awarded the Minister of Health, on behalf of the Government, a Special Award for Protection of Profit and Privilege at the Expense of Public Health, because three of the finalists – Guardian Healthcare, British American Tobacco and Merck, Sharp and Dohme – come from the health sector. “Each… is involved in practices which exploit the most vulnerable in our community. It is clear these practices are the result of poor Government policy and lack of commitment to protect New Zealanders”.
Roger Comes To Queen Street
The event to announce the winners was held in Auckland on March 6. It was hosted by Global Peace and Justice Auckland (GPJA), which holds its meetings on the first Monday night of the month. By pure coincidence that was also the night ( New Zealand time) that the Oscars were announced, in Los Angeles. The Roger Award grew out of a Christchurch brainstorm meeting in 1996 when it was felt that such an award should be created and that it should be some sort of Oscars for the worst TNCs (even the name was chosen with that in mind). But it has taken a decade for these two great awards events to be held at the same time. The media wasn’t slow to take the point and play up the comparisons. Even the celebrity gossip columnist for a national weekly expressed interest (but, in the end, nothing was seen of her).
This was the third time that Auckland has hosted the Roger event, and the previous two occasions (which were organised by different people) had been extravaganzas of music, street theatre, video and general razzle dazzle. The first one had been entirely outdoors, which greatly impressed a simple South Island yokel such as me. The second one was held indoors, for the compelling reason that it was pissing down with good old Auckland rain (and the venue turned out to be an authentic Auckland leaky building). This, the third one, was much more what I was used to in Christchurch, although it was held in a wonderfully Auckland venue – namely a Queen Street comedy club (I only learned later that it used to be a porno cinema. I wondered why it came complete with a big movie screen). The banks tried to distract attention from their ignominy by saying that the venue for the Roger Award said everything that the NZ public needed to know about it.
The event, while plainer than the previous two occasions in Auckland, was a whole lot of fun. Approximately 50 people attended (it is a small club, so it felt full) and they threw themselves into it with gusto. GPJA’s Mike Treen was the MC; I was the opening speaker (some cruel people suggested that I appeared to be right at home behind the microphone and blinded by the spotlights at a stand-up comedy club). Roger himself took pride of place, having travelled up from Christchurch (where he normally lives in our garage) in his brand new and hopefully permanent travel crate. It had better be permanent, because it cost CAFCA $630 and the professional artworks packager who built it assured us that he kept the price down because he was sympathetic to us. There was some entertainment, in the form of a 12 minute clip of a documentary in the making about the drive by the Unite union to organise the young people, many of them Polynesian, who work in the junk food chains (see John Minto’s article elsewhere in this issue). Set to a throbbing beat, and full of the fantastic energy of the young discovering their own collective strength and finding out for themselves what every generation has to learn from scratch (“unions! strikes! sticking it up the boss! choice!”), it’s a great little movie.
Three of the four judges were present (Laila Harre had to put in her apologies) and Maire Leadbeater and Mary Ellen O’Connor – who had specially come up from Nelson – did a double act in announcing the winners, while Chief Justice Minto ran a simultaneous PowerPoint presentation. In January those same three judges all took part in the Anti-Bases Campaign’s protest activities at the Waihopai spybase, so they took advantage of my suggestion that they meet up at our campground (physical meetings of the Roger Award judges are rare to the point of non-existence in these days of e-mail). That is the only time that I’ve ever witnessed the judging process at work and I was greatly impressed by how thoroughly they do their work (as have all previous judges). It’s worth noting that the judges receive absolutely nothing from us, beyond our heartfelt thanks, in return for their hard labour over the summer holidays.
Excellent TV & Radio Coverage; Papers Missing In Action
The two previous Roger events in Auckland attracted absolutely zero mainstream media coverage (the honourable exception being Alan Marston of Planet TV, whose documentaries of those two events were screened on Auckland’s Triangle TV and other regional channels around the country). But this time the media took an interest, big time. TV3 came along and filmed at the event, screening it on Nightline later that night. Radio New Zealand also sent a reporter and devoted a very respectable four minutes to it on the next day’s Morning Report. I, John Minto and Mary Ellen O’Connor all did interviews with various other radio stations and networks. However, by contrast (and in marked contrast to previous years) the mainstream print media didn’t touch it. It made the front page of the Marlborough Express (highlighting Toll’s coming third because of its appalling behaviour in Marlborough) and the Business section of the Nelson Mail. But that’s it, as far as I’m aware. Nothing appeared in the Press, which had given it big coverage in the recent past (particularly when Dunedin’s former Mayor, Sukhi Turner, was a judge). When the Roger finalists were announced, back in December 2005, the Press had run a straight story about that in its Business section, shorn of any of the usual features such as the use of quotation marks or words such as “alleged” and “Leftist”. The Herald rang me to say that it would be running a story the next morning but nothing has ever appeared (and silence has greeted my inquiry as to what happened). An NZ Press Association story definitely went around all the papers, which is how it ended up in those two provincial South Island papers.
Your guess is as good as mine as to why the big papers decided not to touch it. I am, however, reminded of the very interesting meeting that the CAFCA committee held with a local journalist a few years ago, to discuss our media relations. This person was then in a senior position at the Press and has gone on to bigger things at the national level. The journalist specifically advised us to tone down our criticism of TNCs, to dump the Roger Award, and to be mindful that the Press (and by inference other papers, nearly all of whom are owned by TNCs) would do nothing to upset major advertisers. The banks certainly fall into that category. Nor is this conspiracy theory hypothesis. Not long before the 2005 Roger event, we were approached, completely out of the blue, by the Chief Executive Officer of an NZ company with a national profile, to tell us that a previous Roger winner had pulled its six figure advertising from a major paper as a result of that paper having run an ad drawing attention to that company having won the Roger (an ad of which we, the Roger Award organisers, were completely oblivious, although it was written in such a way as to appear that we had placed it).
Drug TNC Aggrieved At Making Finalists
The Roger Award has never failed to get a reaction in the past, from the TNC finalists themselves, and/or their public relations mouthpieces and even from one Embassy (the Japanese one, when a Japanese TNC won it) and a Cabinet Minister (Jim Anderton, when one of his pet TNCs was a placegetter). Westpac gave us a blistering reaction, communicated directly to us, when it was a finalist – not even a placegetter – in 2004. It must have learned its lesson, and both it and the BNZ bit their tongues this time, not contacting us or saying much of anything in the media. This is the line that Telecom has always taken, that of totally ignoring it (which is just what we’d expect from Telecom). This is not to say that the joint win by BNZ and Westpac went unnoticed. It drew public comment from Finsec, the union representing bank workers, and from the Democrats for Social Credit (now an extra-parliamentary party and independent once more, no longer part of the Alliance, they’ve always specialised in critiquing the banks).
But, true to form, as soon as the finalists were announced, I was personally rung by a senior manager of one of them (Merck, Sharp and Dohme, the first drug TNC to ever feature). He was aggrieved that his firm, of whom he told me he was “proud” was in such a contest, wanted to know who had nominated it (we don’t divulge that information to anyone, let alone the nominated TNCs), wanted to argue the toss about the reasons why it was nominated and demanded the right to put the “truth” before the judges. We never heard from him again (and his type of approach is far from unique).
The Roger Award is over for another year. Planning now begins for the next one, which will be the tenth (doesn’t time fly when we’re having fun?). There are nominations to call, new judges to select (a couple of our veterans want a well earned break) and a venue to find for the event – we’ve already had an unexpected offer from someone right outside the usual circles. Sadly, there doesn’t appear to be any imminent likelihood of the need for the Roger Award becoming redundant. The 2005 Overseas Investment Act (read any Watchdog from 2003-05 inclusive for details or check it out on www.cafca.org.nz) means that the TNCs have not only been told that the key is under the doormat, they’ve been given the go ahead to treat NZ as the doormat. Every issue of Watchdog, including this one, contains numerous examples of why the Roger Award is still a vital necessity. So, what are we waiting for, let’s get Rogering!
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