||Issue No. 239||24 September 2004|
Interview: True Matilda
Politics: State of Play
Industrial: Capital Dilemmas
Unions: Rhodes Scholars
National Focus: Rennovating the Lodge
International: People Power
Economics: A Bit Rich
History: Mine Shafts
Safety: Sick Of Fighting
Organising: Building a Wave
Poetry: Anger In The Bush(es)
Review: The Battle Of Algiers
Culture: The Word On The Street
The Locker Room
I Say I Say I Say II
Vote Early, And Often
No Surplus Of Generosity
The spin at the Top End of Town is that Jackson's recognition that there is no legal barrier to Hardie quarantining its liabilities to asbestos victims presents the company with a 'Get Out of Jail Free' card.
The market seemed to follow this line in the days immediately following the report's release, pumping the share price up - although to nowhere near its original level.
But far from being an admission of defeat, the Report has become a call to arms for all those who believe that the terms 'legal' and 'moral' have different meanings.
The outcome of this battle of principle will depend on the next round of negotiations between Hardie and the union movement - who are taking a position of national leadership which the conservative forces are carefully ignoring as they continue their puerile IR scare campaign.
So what's on the table? Hardie is pushing hard to limit its long-term liabilities by establishing the sort of statutory fund that NSW workers have become familiar with through the state's workers compensation scheme.
Experience shows that payouts are limited by such a scheme, with claimants being 'processed' by insurers rather than have their stories heard by courts of law.
Court payouts will inevitably be higher, allowing Hardie to argue that anything more generous would itself be illegal - a breach of their directors fiduciary duty to maximise profits.
In arguing this legal red herring, unions need to show that copping out on compensation will carry its own financial implications that would harm the company's share price.
That's why the mooted consumer boycott is so important - to the extent that it keeps Hardie's share price low it presents a cogent fiduciary argument to meet compensation in full, even beyond their strict legal liability.
The Carr Government is leading the way threatening a boycott of Hardie products, other states have followed suit, dozens of councils have stepped up to the plate. But ultimately, any impact in Australia will be small beer - this is only about 10 per cent of Hardies' total market.
The real question is whether international pressure in the key US and European markets can gain sufficient steam to shift the company.
James Hardie shapes as the first significant international consumer campaign of the 21st century - the question yet to be answered is: can consumers place such pressure on a global company that it makes economic sense to act morally.
It's a tough ask - but if it succeeds in moving James Hardie even a little beyond its black letter legal obligations it will be a vindication of the moral weight of the collective.
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