How work can lead to suicide in a globalised economy

By Sarah Waters, University of Leeds and Jenny Chan, University of Oxford

A Paris prosecutor recently called for the former CEO and six senior managers of telecoms provider, France Télécom, to face criminal charges for workplace harassment. The recommendation followed a lengthy inquiry into the suicides of a number of employees at the company between 2005 and 2009. The prosecutor accused management of deliberately “destabilising” employees and creating a “stressful professional climate” through a company-wide strategy of “harcèlement moral” – psychological bullying.

All deny any wrongdoing and it is now up to a judge to decide whether to follow the prosecutor’s advice or dismiss the case. If it goes ahead, it would be a landmark criminal trial, with implications far beyond just one company.

Workplace suicides are sharply on the rise internationally, with increasing numbers of employees choosing to take their own lives in the face of extreme pressures at work. Recent studies in the United States, Australia, Japan, South Korea, China, India and Taiwan all point to a steep rise in suicides in the context of a generalised deterioration in working conditions.

Rising suicides are part of the profound transformations in the workplace that have taken place over the past 30 years. These transformations are arguably rooted in the political and economic shift to globalisation that has radically altered the way we work.

In the post-war Fordist era of industry (pioneered by US car manufacturer Henry Ford), jobs generally provided stability and a clear career trajectory for many, allowing people to define their collective identity and their place in the world. Strong trade unions in major industrial sectors meant that employees could negotiate their working rights and conditions.

But today’s globalised workplace is characterised by job insecurity, intense work, forced redeployments, flexible contracts, worker surveillance, and limited social protection and representation. Zero-hour contracts are the new norm for many in the hospitality and healthcare industries, for example.

Now, it is not enough simply to work hard. In the words of Marxist theorist Franco Berardi, “the soul is put to work” and workers must devote their whole selves to the needs of the company.

For the economist Guy Standing, the precariat is the new social class of the 21st century, characterised by the lack of job security and even basic stability. Workers move in and out of jobs which give little meaning to their lives. This shift has had deleterious effects on many people’s experience of work, with rising cases of acute stress, anxiety, sleep disorders, burnout, hopelessness and, in some cases, suicide.

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When you dial 911 and Wall Street answers

The New York Times reports: A Tennessee woman slipped into a coma and died after an ambulance company took so long to assemble a crew that one worker had time for a cigarette break.

Paramedics in New York had to covertly swipe medical supplies from a hospital to restock their depleted ambulances after emergency runs.

A man in the suburban South watched a chimney fire burn his house to the ground as he waited for the fire department, which billed him anyway and then sued him for $15,000 when he did not pay.

In each of these cases, someone dialed 911 and Wall Street answered.

The business of driving ambulances and operating fire brigades represents just one facet of a profound shift on Wall Street and Main Street alike, a New York Times investigation has found. Since the 2008 financial crisis, private equity firms, the “corporate raiders” of an earlier era, have increasingly taken over a wide array of civic and financial services that are central to American life. [Continue reading…]

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Panama paper trail goes online with massive searchable database

panama-papers

CNET reports: One of the biggest databases of leaked documents has just hit the internet, and what lies within is a massive and complicated web of corporate ownership that spans the globe.

The Panama Papers contain more than 2.5 million files, analysed by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and 112 reporters across 58 countries. Today’s data dump is just part of the picture, detailing the relationships between individuals, companies and offshore entities.

Think of it like a searchable corporate registry. But in this case, it’s a network made up of hundreds of thousands of individuals and companies, with seemingly endless links criss-crossing from Australia to Zimbabwe. The question now is which of these links can be used to prove the companies involved were attempting to hide massive wealth overseas.

While there’s no evidence that any of the entities have acted illegally, the “John Doe” behind the leak argues the data dump exposes the names behind growing income inequality, saying “it doesn’t take much to connect the dots.” [Continue reading…]

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How Facebook plans to take over the world

The Guardian reports: When Zuckerberg addresses the F8 audience [at Facebook’s annual developer conference] it is with the composure and conviction of a president addressing his citizens. “We’ve gone from a world of isolated communities to one global community, and we are all better off for it,” he says as he hammers home his “mission” to connect the world.

He warns of “people and nations turning inwards – against this idea of a connected world and community”, a position that fits both with his ideology and that of Facebook. This is not a speech about technical tweaks, but a state of the union address.

“It takes courage to choose hope over fear,” he adds. Behind the rhetoric and the casual clothes, the message is clear: Facebook is one of the big boys now, taking on huge global challenges and planning for prosperity.

The scale of Facebook’s audience is unprecedented. More than 1.6 billion people use Facebook at least once a month, or half of all internet users. That’s before you count users on other Facebook-owned sites including WhatsApp, which has more than 1 billion monthly active users, and photo-sharing site Instagram, which has 400 million.

Facebook has also introduced its free basics service to 37 countries, offering a free but limited package of apps to mobile phone users, but which some critics say allows Facebook to tightly control the online experience of potentially the next billion people to come online.

“You hear all the platitudes about Facebook connecting the planet, but to say they are doing it for benevolent reasons is absolute nonsense. It’s about connecting commerce, not people,” says venture capitalist and former journalist Om Malik, who reminds us of the hidden agenda of social networking firms: if you’re not paying, you’re the product. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. corporations have $1.4tn hidden in tax havens, claims Oxfam report

The Guardian reports: US corporate giants such as Apple, Walmart and General Electric have stashed $1.4tn (£980bn) in tax havens, despite receiving trillions of dollars in taxpayer support, according to a report by anti-poverty charity Oxfam.

The sum, larger than the economic output of Russia, South Korea and Spain, is held in an “opaque and secretive network” of 1,608 subsidiaries based offshore, said Oxfam.

The charity’s analysis of the financial affairs of the 50 biggest US corporations comes amid intense scrutiny of tax havens following the leak of the Panama Papers.

And the charity said its report, entitled Broken at the Top was a further illustration of “massive systematic abuse” of the global tax system.

Technology giant Apple, the world’s second biggest company, topped Oxfam’s league table, with some $181bn held offshore in three subsidiaries. [Continue reading…]

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These days, the worst multinational corporations have names you’ve never heard

Michael Hobbes describes how Joyce Chachengwa, a farmer in Zimbabwe, lost the land upon which she, her daughters and grandchildren depended, after a corporate takeover turning the land over to sugarcane for ethanol production. He writes: You know where I’m going with this, right? I’m about to tell you that the company behind all this is Monsanto, or Shell, or Coca-Cola. That your car is running on the ethanol this plant is producing. That the U.S. government is funding or facilitating or failing to prevent what is taking place here.

But none of that is true. The company responsible for all this is called Green Fuel. It is headquartered in Zimbabwe, it isn’t listed on any stock exchange, it doesn’t sell any products in the United States, and it has no Western investors.

And it is, increasingly, the rule rather than the exception. When you think of the worst abuses in poor countries — land grabs, sweatshops, cash-filled envelopes passed to politicians — you probably think they’re committed by companies based in rich ones: Nike in Indonesia, Shell in Nigeria, Dow in Bhopal, India.

These are the cases you’re most likely to hear about, but they are no longer representative of how these abuses actually take place — or who commits them. These days, the worst multinational corporations have names you’ve never heard. They come from places like China and South Africa and Russia. The countries where they are headquartered are unable to regulate them, and the countries where they operate are unwilling to.

For the last 10 years, I’ve worked at an NGO dedicated to preventing multinational corporations from violating human rights. Here’s why every actor in the West that could have prevented what happened in Chisumbanje — the media, the international agencies, my own NGO — is becoming increasingly powerless to do so. [Continue reading…]

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Unlike the secrets exposed by the Panama Papers, big U.S. tax dodging is done in full public view

Quartz reports: Unlike in emerging markets and in Europe, the main US tax avoidance problem isn’t about individuals. Data on financial assets such as stocks and bonds, instruments in which affluent people tend to park their wealth, show a relatively small share of US money is kept offshore.

No, in the US, tax avoidance has more to do with corporations. And much of that dodging has increasingly been done in the clear, bright light of public view.

In his terrific recent book on what he calls the “scourge of tax havens,” Gabriel Zucman, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, estimates that the artificial shifting of profits to low-tax locales such as Ireland, Switzerland, and the Bahamas reduces US corporate tax liabilities by $130 billion per year.

But the US Treasury Department is taking steps to address this. On April 4, it imposed new limits on so-called tax inversions, a type of deal in which a US company merges with a smaller firm in a foreign country where taxes are lower, adopts the foreign address, and takes advantage of the discrepancy in tax rates.

Such deals have been one of the most popular type of M&A transaction in recent years. The $160 billion deal between US drug giant Pfizer and Ireland-based Allergan is perhaps the most eye-popping example of this. [Continue reading…]

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Leaks reveal industrial scale bribery operation involving major U.S., European and Asian companies

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Fairfax Media and The Huffington Post report: A massive leak of confidential documents has for the first time exposed the true extent of corruption within the oil industry, implicating dozens of leading companies, bureaucrats and politicians in a sophisticated global web of bribery and graft.

After a six-month investigation across two continents, Fairfax Media and The Huffington Post can reveal that billions of dollars of government contracts were awarded as the direct result of bribes paid on behalf of firms including British icon Rolls-Royce, US giant Halliburton, Australia’s Leighton Holdings and Korean heavyweights Samsung and Hyundai.

The investigation centres on a Monaco company called Unaoil, run by the jet-setting Ahsani clan. Following a coded ad in a French newspaper, a series of clandestine meetings and midnight phone calls led to our reporters obtaining hundreds of thousands of the Ahsanis’ leaked emails and documents.

The trove reveals how they rub shoulders with royalty, party in style, mock anti-corruption agencies and operate a secret network of fixers and middlemen throughout the world’s oil producing nations.

Corruption in oil production – one of the world’s richest industries and one that touches us all through our reliance on petrol – fuels inequality, robs people of their basic needs and causes social unrest in some of the world’s poorest countries. It was among the factors that prompted the Arab Spring.

Fairfax Media and The Huffington Post today reveal how Unaoil carved up portions of the Middle East oil industry for the benefit of western companies between 2002 and 2012. [Continue reading…]

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Google: Big bets on future tech are sign of an empire bidding for immortality

By Robert MacIntosh, Heriot Watt University

We have got used to Google as a massive global success story. But sometimes the detail is more interesting than the top line. On February 1 an announcement by the firm’s holding company Alphabet gave investors their first real insight into the relative performances of its different parts. And it revealed a lot about a section of the operation of which we previously knew very little – the large number of investments into technologies that are some distance from the core businesses.

We now know that these “moonshots”, as they have come to be known, produced an operating loss of $3.6bn (£2.5bn) in 2015. They lost $1.9bn in 2014 and $527m in 2013. You may have heard about the wearable technology or the driverless cars, but it goes much further than that. There is fibre-optic broadband, Indian railway wifi, thermostats, IP video cameras and solar-powered drones. Then there is Google’s X-lab. Initially shrouded in secrecy, it is now known to be working on everything from contact lenses for diabetics that can monitor glucose levels in tears, to nano-particles that will be able to predict disease.

The revelation about the losses didn’t stop Alphabet from replacing Apple as the most valuable company on the planet the day after the announcement. So what can we infer from its seemingly voracious appetite for newness?

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Report: Fossil fuel industry benefits from $20 billion in subsidies in the U.S.

Desmog reports: A new joint investigative report by Oil Change International and the Overseas Development Institute reveals that, in the United States alone, the fossil fuel industry has benefited from over $20 billion per year in government subsidies between 2008-2015.

The percentage of subsidies has skyrocketed during the two terms of the Obama Administration, growing by 35 percent since President Barack Obama took office in 2009. The findings are part of a broader report on subsidies given to G20 countries ahead of the forthcoming G20 Leaders Summit in Antalya, Turkey, set to take place November 15-16.

“Since the initial G20 commitment in Pittsburgh six years ago, US subsidies have increased dramatically in [the Obama] Administration, in line with the increase in US oil and gas production,” said Steve Kretzmann, executive director of Oil Change International. “The President can and must do more to eliminate subsidies at home and to keep carbon in the ground in the time he has left.” [Continue reading…]

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Lawmakers get $83,000 from pipeline company, then rush a bill favoring pipeline construction

David Sirota writes: The fossil fuel industry had already managed to shape a bill moving rapidly through Congress last summer, gaining provisions to ease its ability to export natural gas. But one key objective remained elusive: a measure limiting the authority of local communities to slow the construction of pipelines because of environmental concerns.

Then, U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican who chaired the House Energy Committee, gave the industry an opportunity to amplify its influence. Joining forces with Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the Alaska Republican who chaired the Senate Energy Committee, he launched a so-called joint fundraising committee, a campaign war chest that would accept donations from a range of contributors, with the proceeds divided between the two lawmakers.

Executives at one of the nation’s largest natural gas pipeline companies soon deposited more than $83,000 into the joint fund’s coffers. The very next day, Upton delivered on the industry’s aspirations: He rushed a bill through his legislative panel that would not only streamline the approval process for new pipelines but also empower federal officials to impose tight deadlines on state and local governments seeking to review their potential environmental impacts. [Continue reading…]

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Exxon sowed doubt about climate science for decades by stressing uncertainty

InsideClimate News reports: As he wrapped up nine years as the federal government’s chief scientist for global warming research, Michael MacCracken lashed out at ExxonMobil for opposing the advance of climate science.

His own great-grandfather, he told the Exxon board, had been John D. Rockefeller’s legal counsel a century earlier. “What I rather imagine he would say is that you are on the wrong side of history, and you need to find a way to change your position,” he wrote.

Addressed to chairman Lee Raymond on the letterhead of the United States Global Change Research Program, his September 2002 letter was not just forceful, but unusually personal.

No wonder: in the opening days of the oil-friendly Bush-Cheney administration, Exxon’s chief lobbyist had written the new head of the White House environmental council demanding that MacCracken be fired for “political and scientific bias.”

Exxon was also attacking other officials in the U.S. government and at the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), MacCracken wrote, interfering with their work behind the scenes and distorting it in public.

Exxon wanted scientists who disputed the mainstream science on climate change to oversee Washington’s work with the IPCC, the authoritative body that defines the scientific consensus on global warming, documents written by an Exxon lobbyist and one of its scientists show. The company persuaded the White House to block the reappointment of the IPCC chairman, a World Bank scientist. Exxon’s top climate researcher, Brian Flannery, was pushing the White House for a wholesale revision of federal climate science. The company wanted a new strategy to focus on the uncertainties. [Continue reading…]

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