Polygonic

That weren't no DJ, that was hazy cosmic jive

Cowering before the real-life Sauron

It’s nice that New Zealand’s done so well out of these Lord of the Rings films. It’s a very pretty country full of nice people and they deserve some good attention. Just like hobbits themselves.

But listen – somewhere, in the South Pacific, a labour activist’s stomach just turned. Can you hear it? You got to listen like me.*

With Warner Bros. having threatened to move production of the Hobbit elsewhere (“O Canada….”), the Kiwi government has crumbled faster than Saruman’s orc minions. The Kiwi PM himself led negotiations with the American studio, and his government has actually legislated new labour terms to keep Hobbit production in country. Diluted labour conventions which have bypassed normal parliamentary procedure – this bill won’t go to committee, and has essentially been written on the fly to satisfy the rumblings of a corporate investor.

The sulphuric stench of Mordor indeed hangs over the Shire-folk.

Included in the deal was an offer of $25 million (£11.8m), $15 million of that in tax breaks, and the law changes, which were pushed through without the normal process of referral to a parliamentary committee and public submissions.

“What is the government going to do next – give in to any multinational that asks for a labour standard to be diluted in return for some form of investment?” said an opposition MP, Charles Chauvel.

“This is a government which, in the words of the Financial Times today, has reduced New Zealand to client status of an American film studio.”

And it’s true. There’s a touchy-feely aspect to New Zealand keeping the Hobbit, but had this been a story of (to get extreme in our examples here) Coca-Cola pressuring a Guatemalan government to dilute its labour laws, frustrate its citizens’ rights to collective bargaining, and circumvent its own congressional conventions to retain the prospect of steady investment, it would be an outrage. If it were Gap, Nike, or any manufacturer offering a small country the promise of investment in return for easy conditions (and indeed political influence), there would be accusations of corporate irresponsibility and a failure of transparency in the country itself.

What makes this all the more troubling is New Zealand’s stellar record on transparency and accountability. Transparency International has them tied in first place as the world’s least corrupt country. Yet, introduce them to a film studio that promises some investment, some pride, and some free tourism publicity, and we see extraordinary legislation pushed through without due process.

NZ’s government may have thought it was a populist no-brainer to do whatever was necessary to retain the Middle Earth brand. But if the principle of capitulation to corporate pressure were applied across all types of foreign investment, New Zealand would soon come to resemble South-East Asia much more than the bucolic Shire.

* props to Jimmy McMillan

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