||Issue No. 225||18 June 2004|
No Place Like Home
Interview: The New Democrat
Bad Boss: The Ugly Australian
Unions: Free Spirits and Slaves
Industrial: National Focus
History: A Class Act
International: Across the Ditch
Economics: Home Truths
Review: No Time Like Tomorrow
Poetry: Silent Note
The Locker Room
No Place Like Home
What we know is that James Hardies, to divest itself of long-term liabilities incurred through knowingly selling a product that causes slow and painful death, removed itself from the jurisdiction those abuses occurred in.
With the support of lawyers and actuaries who put their own cash flow ahead of the public interest, Hardies shifted its liability to a trust holding inadequate and finite funds, while moving itself to Holland to start a fresh life with a fresh name.
It's left the thousands of Australians who will contract the deadly mesothelioma over the coming years with no safety net; because there is simply no one who is legally responsible.
And the sting in the tail - the current judicial inquiry which will lead to outrage but probably very little practical change in the situation - was predicted in the contingency plans.
It is the corporate equivalent of a hit and run accident - though it is unfair to single Hardies out alone. This is behaviour that occurs at every level of the economy.
We have building sub-contractors who go bust leaving their workers unpaid entitlements only to rise like a phoenix in a different corporate guise the following week.
We have the Patricks model, where a strong company is dissected by lawyers into a series of smaller units where assets are separated from liabilities - and the workers are housed with the liabilities.
And we have the global outrage of flag of convenience shipping, where vessels register themselves under the flags of companies by countries with minimal tax and labour lawyers, transforming them into floating little third worlds.
In an era of globalisation, where our leaders are prepared to hand over our sovereignty to the market in order to deliver us economic growth, is it asking to much to expect a little reciprocity.
In a global world, global business rules must apply - a company can not just change nationality and free itself of responsibilities.
Such ideas may be out of vogue in an era where multilateral solutions are being trumped by one on one deals like the US Free Trade Agreement; but the problem with bilateralism is the nations outside the agreement.
To fail to look at the globe that defines the new world economy is merely to invite a race to the bottom, where the James Hardies of this world can claim they were acting within the law and in the interests of their shareholders.
It's enough to make you reach for the oxygen.
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