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Toxic gifts

I cannot tell you how appalled I was to learn today that evil corporate giant Alcan sent each and every resident of Hafnarfjörður [municipality in the Greater Reykjavík Area] a CD/DVD wrapped in tin foil as a Christmas present. How blatant – and tasteless – can their bribery get?

Alcan owns and operates the aluminium smelter on the outskirts of Hafnarfjörður [the one you pass on your way from the airport], and are lobbying to be able to enlarge the plant from 180,000 tons presently, to 480,000 tons. That enlargement is pending a municipal referendum, hence Alcan’s transparent efforts to buy the votes of the local folks.

The CD/DVD is a recording of a concert given by Icelandic crooner Björgvin Halldórsson last fall, to which Alcan invited its employees as well as all Hafnarfjördur residents, free of charge. The gift was accompanied by a letter from CEO Rannveig Rist in which she claimed it was sent to commemorate Alcan’s 40 years of operations in Iceland, and stated that she hoped the election campaign would be “objective and rational”.

The real question is, of course, whether Alcan’s methods are “objective and rational”. A few weeks ago, for instance, it launched an ad campaign that is so blatantly self-flattering and image enhancing that it’s quite nauseating. So nauseating, in fact, that I can’t imagine it having anything other than the opposite of the desired effect. I’m talking half-page spreads in the local newspapers with pictures of elated employees under headings like “I received a new perspective on life“, and a television ad with choral singing and general euphoria, in which Alcan employees wish all Icelanders Happy Holidays.

In addition to the above-cited concert invitation, they also invited Hafnarfjörður residents to a football match recently, plan to send round a special calendar to all residents with pictures by local artists, and are sponsoring a huge fireworks display – in collaboration with the local search-and-rescue team – tomorrow.

According to CEO Rist, this is Alcan’s way of “giving back to the community”. However, as someone remarked to me the other day, “they’re targeting the most vulnerable aspects of society” – the arts, the community centres, the search-and-rescue teams … in short, the people who need the money. It’s absolutely insidious and cunning – and, I might add, quite a departure from their previous stance, earlier this year, in which they threatened to close the plant entirely if they were not allowed to enlarge it. Can you say “manipulation”? I can.

In view of all this, major props go to the organization Sól í Straumi, which is valiantly opposing the enlargement despite general inertia and apathy from their fellow residents. On receiving their CD through the mail slot they immediately rallied like-minded individuals to gather at 3 pm today and ceremoniously return their “Christmas gifts” to Alcan – which they did.

To my mind, the best Christmas gift of all would be to have the residents of the town reject the enlargement altogether – even in the face of Alcan’s threats to pull out of the community they’re now “giving back to”, if they don’t get their way.

[Incidentally, there is more on the flogging of Iceland’s beautiful wilderness to the aluminium industry here, and also on the Saving Iceland website.]

It’s been extremely windy today with bouts of heavy rain – the sort of day where you don’t want to venture outside without your Gore-tex waterproofs on. Went for an excellent, bracing stroll around the golf course this afternoon wearing just that and it was utterly delightful, what with the waves crashing and the wind howling. Had to drive out to Kópavogur [almost Hafnarfjörður] this evening and was a bit spooked by the heavy rain and the wind – especially because of those crazy Nicelandic motorists who drive like utter madmen no matter what the weather. However, the rain didn’t stop the nutcases who go crazy playing with pyrotechnics at this time of year – the explosions have duly begun, now that the fireworks vendors are open for business. For those of you who don’t know, fireworks are sold unrestricted to the [adult] public these few days between Christmas and New Years’ – culminating in New Year’s Eve, when all hell breaks loose. Right now it’s a mild 9° Centigrade, and the sun came up at 11.22 and went down at 15.37.



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