avatar
Forestry Giant Cut To Size At Award Ceremony


It’s that time of year again. The winner of the Roger Award for the worst transnational corporation operating in Aotearoa/New Zealand in 2001 was named at an open-air evening event in Auckland on Friday April 12th.

It was the fifth annual Roger Award, organized by Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa (CAFCA) and GATT Watchdog, two local activist/campaign organizations.

Although run on a tiny budget the award has attracted overseas attention from organisers in other countries who are confronting corporate power and control. It is a very concrete way of raising awareness about a global problem by concentrating on the impacts on local communities and the environment.

Sadly, since the last award, to Tranz Rail, owner of the privatized national railways (see my April 2001 ZNet Commentary, ‘Battling to derail the TNCs in New Zealand’);, we have seen more job losses, and the further dismemberment of the national rail network, as more rail services have been withdrawn, regardless of the impact on provincial centers.

For a small country with a small population, New Zealand once had a relatively extensive railway network. Its private owners are interested in only the most profitable freight and mainline passenger services.

This year, after learning of its inclusion in the list of finalists, Tranz Rail senior management approached the judges and organizers of the Roger Award seeking a meeting to discuss “safety and company ownership issues” and to present a letter from the Managing Director.

This was declined on the grounds that such an approach was quite improper in any sort of contest. It is a reminder of just how sensitive corporate executives are about anything that may dent their company’s image.

The award is given to the transnational corporation operating in New Zealand judged to have the most negative impact in each or all of the following: unemployment, monopoly, profiteering, abuse of workers/conditions, political interference, environmental damage, cultural imperialism, impact on Maori, running an ideological crusade, health and safety of workers and the public, and impact on women.

And so it was that this year’s Roger Award was won by Carter Holt Harvey.

US-based timber titan International Paper now has a 50.1% share in Carter Holt Harvey (CHH) which was once one of New Zealand’s ‘own’ transnational corporations. Like its parent company, it is virulently anti-worker, anti union, and, in spite of its attempts at greenwashing its image, a menace to the environment.

As well as New Zealand CHH has operations in Australia and Fiji. It is one of the southern hemisphere’s largest producers of wood and paper products. It is the second largest company in New Zealand by market capitalization with sales of NZ $3.75 billion. It owns approximately 330,000 hectares of predominantly plantation radiata pine softwood forests in New Zealand.

Over here, its products are ubiquitous. Its company website boasts: “Carter Holt Harvey’s products are all around you – like the Handee Ultra paper towels in your kitchen, the packaging around your next McDonald’s hamburger and the Deeko plastic cutlery you pack on your next picnic. Our products probably even helped build your house as well as your desk, dining room table and kitchen cabinets”.

CHH’s attempts to casualise stevedoring at South Island ports led to major industrial strife and regular confrontations between Police and waterfront workers over the summer of 2000-2001.

The New Zealand Council of Trade Unions launched a campaign in November 2000 for permanent local jobs on the waterfront after CHH contracted casual labour from the North Island on 72 hour contracts to load its logs at South Island ports. There was strong local community support for the local (unionised) watersiders in these small towns struggling to make a living and organizing the pickets at the waterfront.

Solidarity pickets were held outside CHH outlets and offices around the country. The Police operations were highly politicized, targeting the local waterside workers and their local supporters. As one local commentator put it, the Police seemed to be on permanent call when Big Business wanted some taxpayer-funded knucklemen.

The Maritime Union of Australia and the Korean Transport Workers’ Union came out in support of New Zealand waterside workers with a threat of a ban on Carter Holt Harvey ships.

CHH had attempted to corner the South Island log market by buying up logs at inflated prices, and bought up an estimated one-eighth of the total forest pool targeted for Korea. The Roger Award report reads: “The strategy to create scarcity and keep prices buoyant, following the suspension of purchases, led to other industry players having to deal with market-distorted pricing.

In its wake – rotting trees, excess harvest left on the side of the roads and a complete waste of money. This boom or bust scenario has left the industry in tatters and not quite sustainable.” CHH’s workers have been the ones to pay for the company’s failed attempt to monopolise the log market.

During the qualifying period for the 2001 Roger Award, in another industrial dispute involving the company at its Kinleith Mill in Tokoroa, workers were forced to take their holidays while production had stopped to increase demand. Kinleith workers were also subjected to an illegal drugs search although no drugs were actually found.

Meanwhile CHH Wood Products was fined NZ $6000 by Occupational Safety and Health in October 2001 after a Nelson maintenance worker fell and was seriously injured. OSH ruled that the company had failed to provide fall-arresting equipment and in its legal duty to make the worker aware of the risks of falling as he was working at a height above three metres.

But even worse was to follow for the company’s New Zealand workers. Weeks ago, since the decision to award the Roger Award to Carter Holt Harvey was made, it announced the slashing of over 400 jobs – effectively over half of the remaining workforce – at its Kinleith Mill. It plans to contract out most maintenance and stores jobs, and cut production staff.

The news has stunned locals in Tokoroa, an area of high unemployment. Small communities in the Central North Island, often built entirely around forestry have already been decimated by the layoffs in the industry in the recent past. Union spokespeople and many others have voiced fears about the broader social and economic impact of this latest blow to CHH’s workforce.

A week after the plan for Kinleith was announced by CHH chief executive Chris Liddell, who was in the USA at the time, it was revealed in the company’s annual report that he was getting a 23% pay rise.

During its existence as a New Zealand-owned company, Carter Holt Harvey had invested in Pinochet’s Chile and, before the radical labour market deregulation that took place in 1991, its chairman, Richard Carter, argued for Chilean-style labour laws in New Zealand. Since its takeover by International Paper, the operations of CHH’s Chilean subsidiary, Bosques Arauco rode roughshod over Mapuche people’s rights.

And I well remember a Mapuche brother, Francisco Caquilpan, telling me that this company had been hiring former Pinochet goons as armed security guards to deal with Mapuche who were trying to stop logging on their ancestral land, in violation of a court order not to fell the forest.

In 1990, the US Environment Protection Agency identified the cancer risk from dioxin at an International Paper-owned mill at Georgetown, South Carolina to be ten times higher than any other US paper mill. Over a decade later and halfway across the world, the Roger Award judges noted that in New Zealand the only pulp and paper mills that still use dioxin-producing chlorine bleaching processes were those owned by Carter Holt Harvey.

The Roger Award report also highlighted CHH’s role in a joint venture to grow genetically modified pine trees in secret locations which it dubbed “Frankenpine”. ‘Understood to be worth about NZ $60 million, ArborGen has united corporate forestry interests.

Named were Fletcher Challenge, known for its poor environmental record in New Zealand, Westvaco, US-based forestry corporation; and Auckland-based bio-tech company, Genesis. Monsanto, the shameless 1998 Roger Award winner, 1999 and 2001 finalist (with special Watchlist status in 1999), has been included for GE pest-management and, possibly, Terminator-type technologies for pine trees.”

ArborGen’s biotech work is likely to focus on hastening the tree maturation cycle from fifteen years to seven years, as for eucalyptus, with an incentive to halve that time; the inclusion of pest-management, and the introduction of Terminator technology.

“However the centerpiece of ArborGen’s work will be on the altering of lignin – the material that makes trees rigid. While a reduction in lignin has implications for ease of processing, but it is unclear what will the implications be in real terms, for example, the possibility of having “wobbly” trees!”

Along with other big players in the forestry sector, CHH has been pressuring the New Zealand government not to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. In a press release of November 5 2001, its chief operating officer Jay Goodenbour claimed that recent “independent assessments” suggest that implementing the Kyoto Protocol “will hurt our ability to export, will increase costs and cost jobs.”

“The only responsibility that Carter Holt Harvey has shown has been to generate, or more accurately, attempt to generate, profit for its shareholders”, wrote the judges in their statement.

Behind all the TNC sweet talk about triple bottom lines, social and environmental responsibilities, this, and this alone, remains the imperative for global capital, in whichever corner of the world it operates.

Leave a comment