Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The corporate enclosure of sport

John Pilger on the corporate enclosure of sport.

"The pursuit of profit in sport seems unrelenting............................Corporate sport has enriched Rupert Murdoch, corrupted cricket and much of football, subverted numerous other play and appropriated the Olympics and similar spectacles. Its language is that of business schools, PR companies, consultancies and banks. Its “philosophy” is that everything is for sale and monopoly rules.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The most important West Australian book published in 2010

The book Under Corporate Skies, A struggle between people, place and profits by Martin Brueckner and Dyann Ross is the story of a West Australian community torn apart and people's lives destroyed by the power of a multinational mining company protected and supported by the WA government. 

 In WA we are used to State Governments actively protecting and promoting the interests of large mining and resource companies, but the story of Alcoa, the small southwest town of Yarloop and the WA Government is deeply troubling. In this review to be published in Online Opinion Professor Gavin Mooney concludes that this important book shines the light on the shocking state of democracy in WA. 
A community versus a corporation … while government looks on
Gavin Mooney, Co-convenor WA Social Justice Network, Honorary Professor University of Sydney
‘It seems that whatever Alcoa says the government has to do, they’re too scared to disobey…. I think Alcoa’s got all the control. They tell the government what to do.’  Yarloop resident.
The above is a quote from this book* which tells the David and Goliath story of the struggle between the small West Australian community of Yarloop and the multinational corporation, Alcoa World Alumina, which has a refinery at Wagerup, just next to Yarloop to the south of Perth. The win by David in the original version is pretty much story book stuff. In this real world version from Brueckner and Ross, David has lost out big time. And the original story is nowhere as poisoned as this one – with poison occurring at two levels – as perceived by residents through the pollution in the air at Yarloop and through the bastardry of government (and other institutions such as local universities).

Brueckner and Ross tell the story of this ‘struggle between people, place and profits’ in a remarkably dispassionate way. But it is all the more savage in its telling as a result of that.
The authors take us through the problems faced by the local community as a result of the pollution – air, noise and visual – from its corporate neighbour. They tell how so many local residents have had their lives destroyed and not just their health as a result of both the presence and the behaviour of Alcoa. Perhaps inevitably, given how these things work, the local neighbour when it comes to decision making was not truly local at all as the real power in Alcoa is in a far off board room in the US. It seems that at least some of the local Alcoa management were human in responding to the problems being created for the local community. But they had little power to act.

Thus the authors argue (p 245): ‘As a US-based multinational corporation with executive managers able to influence decisions of governments across borders, Alcoa exercised placeless power while at the same time maintaining a ‘powerful place’ at Wagerup by occupying the territory and pursuing its commercial interests.

One aspect of all of this that comes over strongly is that there is a degree of cleverness, one might say deviousness, with corporates that can be quite breath taking. In this case Alcoa set up voluntarily a ‘Land Management Plan’ which created a buffer zone around Wagerup which involved some financial compensation/relocation for residents in that zone. Sounds good. But it did not include all Yarloop residents and split the town in terms not only of compensation but also emotionally. Deliberate on the part of Alcoa? Who knows but it certainly resulted in weakening the community position vis-a-vis Alcoa.  Then because Alcoa did this voluntarily ‘the government refrained from being involved when residents fell foul of the voluntary relocation as proposed by Alcoa’ (p173). Deliberate on the part of Alcoa? Welcomed by the government? Who knows but it certainly resulted in weakening the community vis-a-vis not just Alcoa but also the government.

Scary stuff and heartbreaking to read about the desperate and despairing fight of the Yarloop residents. 

The book exposes a number of intriguing issues. Just a couple. The question of what constitutes scientific evidence (especially in epidemiology) and how and by whom that is interpreted is discussed and science and epidemiology do not emerge well.

How corporations can act to protect themselves and infiltrate social institutions is fascinating and worrying as again the book exposes. The authors write of how (p227) Alcoa ‘secured a Professorial  Chair and gave its name to a new research centre  - Alcoa’s Centre for Strong Communities (sic - or sick?) - at Curtin University of Technology’ in Perth.  When the authors questioned the company about this initiative they were told ‘there was to be no relationship (with Yarloop) as the new Centre was not going to be addressing the specifics of the Wagerup issue.’

This particular point is close to my heart. I was a member of staff at Curtin at that time and was invited on to local radio to talk about the fact that this ‘Centre for strong communities’ was being funded by Alcoa who were at the same time perceived by the Yarloop community as weakening them! On the afternoon of the interview I was summonsed by a senior manager at the university and had my fingers rapped for daring to speak out as I had in the media.
The influence of the corporations on government and other of our key institutions like our universities needs to be exposed again and again and again. This book does an excellent if frightening job of doing that.

So where does this leave us? There is a risk in the wake of the “success” of the mining corporations in destroying the tax on super profits that we grow to accept that this sort of behaviour by corporations is all fine and that business interests and the national interests as implied at the weekend by Michael Chaney are often synonymous.

Acceptance of that places our democracy at risk.

We need the Brueckners and the Rosses of this country to tell this sort of story and we must be glad that they do. But telling the story aint enough. We must read their story! Please do that. Their tale is horrendous so be sure to have a stiff drink before you start – especially if, as I do, you live in WA. 
*Under Corporate Skies, A struggle between people, place and profits. Martin Brueckner and Dyann Ross.  Fremantle:  Fremantle Press, 2010 $26.95. 316pp.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Serco and the running of immigration detention centres

As the crises in Australia's detention centres worsens, closer attention is starting to be paid to Serco, the global mega-corporation that runs the immigration detention centres on behalf of the Australian Government.  Serco has a contract worth $400 million with the Federal Government to run immigration detention centres on the Australian mainland and Christmas Island,although the value of the contract will increase with the massive expansion of detention facilities, such as Curtin in WA.

Serco is a huge multinational corporation that has benefited immensely from the privatization of public functions previously run by Governments. It has stepped into the void to run services that governments don't want to run. The great benefit for Governments is that they are distanced from criticism when things go wrong.

In Australia Serco is also a major player in the running of prisons for State Governments, including Acacia prison in WA, and also provides defense related logistical services, including running navy patrol services.

Journalist, author, blogger and activist Antony Loewenstein has been one of the few Australian journalists to focus on Serco's' role in the unfolding crises in immigration detention centres. He has written regular pieces on the shady and tawdry practices of Serco.

The Sydney Morning Herald has written this story about Serco, however it only scratches the surface on the role played by Serco. Antony Lowenstein will continue to be the major source of investigative reporting and writing about Serco, but let's hope that mainstream journalists start shining the light on Serco

Corporatization of War

Christian Miller reports that in the last 6 months more private contractors than soldiers were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, the first time in history that corporate casualties have outweighed military losses. Corporate casualties now make up 25% of total US deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

The wars fought on behalf of the American empire are increasingly fought by private contractors working for large corporations, supplied and supported by logistical operations run by other large corporations. Modern warfare has become another way for large corporations to make money and extend their reach and power over governments and countries.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

the lie of corporate social responsibility

Great piece by Russell Mokhiber from Corporate Crime Reporter on why corporate social responsibility is not just an oxymoron but a sham:
"Corporate social responsibility has been used by companies to ward off both the activists and to reduce the probability of more onerous government regulation,"

"And companies pretend to be socially responsible, but they really don't do very much. This keeps the activists at bay. And it might serve to keep government regulators at bay by saying - see, we are doing it on our own."

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Corporate hypocrisy and the sham of self regulation

 image of striking workers in the US, courtsey of Human Rights Watch & Vna Wert Times Bulletin

As Antony points out don't expect to see any reporting of this story in the Australian media.

The report shows that  many European companies which claim to embrace workers rights under voluntary global standards actually undermine workers rights in the US. Those companies have actively carried out aggressive campaigns to deny workers their rights to organize and bargain.  

Among the violations documented in the report are practices of forcing workers into "captive audience" meetings to hear anti-union harangues while prohibiting pro-union voices, threatening dire consequences if workers form unions, threatening to permanently replace workers who exercise the right to strike, spying on employee organizers, and even firing workers who support organizing efforts at companies.

"The behavior of these companies casts serious doubt on the value of voluntary commitments to human rights," said Arvind Ganesan, director of the Business and Human Rights Program at Human Rights Watch. "Companies need to be held accountable, to their own stated commitments and to strong legal standards."