AN EXCLUSIVE REPORT IN TO THE ABUSE OF PUBLIC FUNDS
While most of us will deplore Gazprom’s inhumane decision to stop gas supplies to millions of people across Europe this winter, Welsh assembly members are, no doubt, breathing a sigh of relief that the world’s largest gas extractor is putting profits before lives. That’s because Gazprom is one of the companies included in the National Arsembly for Wales Members’ pension scheme! The scheme, worth £10.5 million, is run by Edinburgh-based Baillie Gifford Life Ltd, which trousered nearly £800,000 last year for investing taxpayers’ money in companies which systematically destroy the environment, are mired in corruption and mistreat their workforce. All so that our hard-working assembly members can enjoy a very handsome payout when they retire.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the fund’s main holdings.
BHP Billitonis the world’s largest mining company. Created in 2001 following the merger of Australia’s Broken Hill Proprietary Company (BHP) and the UK’s Billiton, the company’s worst environmental crimes have been committed in Papua New Guinea where BHP ran the OK Tedi Mine from 1984 to 2002. In 1999 BHP’s boss, Paul Anderson, finally admitted that the project was ‘not compatible with our environmental values‘; rather an understatement considering BHP was discharging 80 million tons of toxic waste into the OK Tedi river system each year affecting 50,000 people in 120 villages downstream. BHP were forced to pay $28.6 million in compensation, but don’t seem to have mended their ways. In January 2007 a further claim for $5 billion was lodged on behalf of 13,000 villagers known as the Ningerum people.
In 2006 BHP Billiton became embroiled in the Iraq oil-for-food scandalwhen it emerged that United Nations contracts had been inflated by £4.5 million so that BHP could recover a debt owed by the previous Iraqi regime. Involved in the same scam which impoverished millions of ordinary Iraqis, is another star performer in the Welsh Arsembly pension fund: Atlas Copco, the Swedish industrial company. The 2004 oil-for-food inquiry led by Paul Volcker, former chairman of the US Federal Reserve, found that Atlas Copco paid kickbacksfrom both its construction and mining division in Sweden and Airpower, its huge air compressor manufacturing division in Belgium. Airpower paid $1.3 million on sales of $15 million while Atlas Copco CMT paid an undisclosed amount for a $500,000 contract.
The stink of corruption hangs over Vodafone, another major pension fund holding. In 2007 the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) launched an investigation into allegations of corruption involving Vodafone’s activities in Kenya, notably its links to a mysterious Guernsey-registered company called Mobitelea, which was allegedly connected to members of the family of former reviled president, Daniel Arap Moi. Vodafone refused to co-operate with the inquiry and the SFO inquiry was later dropped for reasons of ‘resources’. A year later Vodafone were accused of ‘blatant dishonesty’by the National Consumer Council (NCC) after blocking customers from legitimately quitting their contracts over price rises.
Following in BHP Billiton’s destructive footsteps is Arch Coal, the second largest US coal producer. Arch Coal practices mountaintop removal mining (MTR) in West Virginia, reducing the height of the Appalachian mountains in the area by 800 feet. As a result vegetation is destroyed and mining waste pours into mountain streams, causing flooding, erosion and water contamination. Due to the huge amount of explosives the company uses, neighbouring communties complain of stray rocks hitting homes, damaged water wells and endless clouds of dust.
As well as mining companies, taxpayers’ money is also being handed out to some of the world’s most notorious oil and gas corporations. Apart from Russian bully Gazprom, the pension fund has holdings in Royal Dutch Shell, Petrobras, the Brazilian giant, and Reliance Industries Ltd, India’s largest private sector conglomerate.
While Shell continue to make record profits, an alliance of human rights and green groups, including Friends of the Earth, estimated the environmental cost of the damage caused by Shell’s irresponsibility at £10 billion. We’re aware of the destruction to the Niger Delta thanks to Ken Saro-Wiwa’s efforts to expose Shell’s crimes, for which the Nigerian writer was executed. Shell has also attracted criticism over its running of the massive Sakhalin II project in Russia and the controversial Corrib gas field development in Ireland.
Meanwhile, Petrobras is doing its very best to destroy the Amazonian rainforest. It currently extracts 35,000 barrels a day from its facilities in Ecuador. However pressure from the Huaorani people, who live in the Yasuni rainforest, has meant that further destruction has been halted temporarily. Not to be outdone, Petrobras is now building a $500 million natural gas pipeline through the rainforest, despite the growing wave of protests.
Reliance Industries Ltd is doing its bit to destroy the environmentand accelarate climate change through its involvement in a multi-billion dollar project to build dams in the Himalayas. ‘Mountains of Concrete’, a report published in December 2008 by International Rivers, a non-governmental organisation which protects rivers and defends the rights of communities that depend on them, concludes that ‘the projects are likely to have huge social, environmental and cultural impacts, impacts that will be especially harsh on locals, tribal people, farmers and others living in the remote valleys of the Himalayas. These projects threaten not only livelihoods but often the very identity and culture of these people.’
Also included in the assembly members’ managed pension fund is United States Steel, which finished second in the Toxic 100, a list of top US air polluters in 2002 compiled by the Political Economy Research Unit of the University of Massachusetts. Another fund holding, US company, Berkshire Hathaway, whose directors include Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, came thirty-fourth.
Our investigations into Hon Hai Precision Industry Company, which trades under the name Foxconn, a Taiwan-based electronics manufacturer, have revealed widespread abuse of workers’ rights. An inspection report commissioned by Apple, a customer of Foxconn, found that workers were forced to work up to an extra 80 hours per month even though labour law restricted over time to 36 hours. A quarter of employees were denied at least one day off a week and workers were punished by being made to stand to attention for long periods of time.
Of course, no Baillie Gifford pension fund would be complete without a link to the defence industry. Step forward the Taiwan Semi-conductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), the world’s largest dedicated semi-conductor foundry. In a 2006 report entitled ‘Defence Critical Technologies‘ published jointly by the US Defence Department and UK Ministry of Defence, TSMC was on the critical technologies list.
Neither should we exclude British American Tobacco (BAT), whose
shares form part of the pension fund’s UK equities. Last year the company’s activities in Africa were the subject of a BBC2 documentary which found that BAT targets childrenthrough music, competitions and the sale of individual cigarette sticks; practices which broke BAT’s own code of conduct and company standards.
And, finally, we shouldn’t forget the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC), whose beginnings date back to Britain’s involvement in the Chinese opium trade. Last December,the US Justice Department expanded its criminal investigation into banks that sell offshore private banking services to include HSBCand Credit Suisse. The investigation centres on allegations that the two banks helped wealthy Americans hide as much as $30 billion in offshore accounts in order to avoid tax. Meanwhile HSBC is growing its private banking division by 24% a year, making over $1.5 billion in 2007.
And when arsembly members plead ignorance over their shameful support for these criminal corporations, don’t believe them. While Baillie Gifford run the scheme, politicians from all parties sit on a board of trustees to which Baillie Gifford report. Alun ‘greasy wops’ Cairns, the diminutive Tory AM, currently holds the chair; Eleanor Burnham represents the liberals; Carwyn Jones and Rosemary Butler represent labour and Mohammad Asghar is plaid’s man.
Just how are they going to explain themselves?