Sunday, September 23, 2018

INEOS - Who Are They And What Are They Up To ?

The above book is published by Biteback Publishing, 2018. ISBN 978-78590-388-5. At a cover price of £20. (But you can push for your Library to get a copy if you wish to limit profits going to INEOS). 

INEOS mainly operates as a multinational chemicals company with its current (but seemingly temporary) headquarters situated in the United Kingdom. It runs some 181world-wide operations many related to petrochemicals, manufacturing, natural gas, oil, polyethylene and plastics - although with such a widespread and complex empire it can be subject to changed boundaries at any time.  It also owns the Lausanne-Sport Football Club in Switzerland. Yet an effort by its recently knighted boss and key owner Jim Ratcliffe to take-over Chelsea failed. He owns a controlling 60% of INEOS's international empire and as we will see does not like failure. So watch our Chelsea fans.

In the United Kingdom, INEOS runs some 15 operations including five offshore sites and inland activities at places such as Newton Aycliffe, Runcorn and Cleveland. It is, however, best known in the UK for matters related to its operations at Grangemouth in Scotland.

It took over control of its Grangemouth site in 2005 and soon engaged in two bitter struggles with its workforce about their terms and conditions. In 2008, it attempted to close down the workers' final salary pension scheme. But the workforce took industrial action over the issue and were initially victorious after a 48 hour strike. INEOS then dug in and eventually prepared for the closure of the plant in 2013, unless their "survival plan" with significant cuts in worker's conditions was accepted. They triumphed in this second conflict, forcing their workers' acceptance of a no-strike agreement plus a pay freeze for over the following three years. Job losses and reduced conditions also occurred, including the sacking of the major trade union organiser on the site.

Then in 2015, INEOS obtained rights from the Government to follow procedures granted to them in order to operate underground fracking operations to extract shale gas from across widespread areas in England. Whilst it will, no doubt, process much of this shale gas at Grangemouth it will also be free to sell it on to others. But in preparation for its shale-gas bonanza in England, it started to import shale gas for its own purposes (such as the production of plastics) from the United States - as shown in the shipments' photo below.

 The JS Ineos Insight

Around about the time of INEOS gaining its potential shale gas areas from the Government, the Scottish Parliament banned fracking operations in its territory. But once shale gas is extracted by INEOS from its operations in England it can be moved to Grangemouth for processing. At the moment INEOS are moving towards numbers of potentially fully-fledged fracking operations in many areas of England, especially in numbers of shale-gas prone former coal mining areas. If fracking operations with the potential for creating sink holes are granted under or near your home or beneath your front street or under any social facilities in your area (such as your children's schools) neither yourself nor your local council have rights under current Government legislation to prevent such operations taking place. So much for any property rights.

Jim Ratcliffe who is the dominant controller of INEOS, has massive powers. Apart from enjoying access to 10 Downing Street and obtaining a recent knighthood, he has been declared to be the richest person in the UK according to the Sunday Times Rich List - being over 40 times richer than the Queen who is down in 344th position. He has also been recently reported as planning to move the headquarters of INEOS from Lyndhurst in Hampshire to the tax free haven of Monaco.

Evading UK taxes is not, however, something that is new to Ratcliffe. The Herald of Scotland newspaper linked him to the infamous "Paradise Papers" and showed that INEOS were placing funds in overseas tax-free havens. Whilst the trade union UNITE (who are the main body he has been in conflict with at Grangemouth) have shown him to have allocated funds to five off-shore tax havens. 

Jim Ratcliffe has himself been involved in the production of the book which is modestly entitled "The Alchemists : The INEOS Story- an industrial giant comes of age." I find the most informative and useful sections of the book to be a couple of appendices at its close. The first is entitled "The Business Structure Of INEOS" showing which categories of petrochemicals, oil and gas, refining and other business areas it owns. Then there is a two page summary of the main scope of its operations since its formation in 1998. The second appendix is entitled "The Petrochemicals World And INEOS", with a flow chart and then a six page summary of its operations. These are not in themselves details of INEOS's full operations, but they do provide avenues to start searching things out. Clicking into such items via the internet, can give fruitful details about their international operations.

I also find that the book's many photographs can, at times, be informative. They show something of the nature of INEOS's plants which operate in Cologne, Texas, Antwerp, Grangemouth and Lavera in France. Alhough these are just the tip of the INEOS iceberg, they give telling pictures of some of their major operations. If these photos are linked with a rather dark map which is also published showing the positions of INEOS's 181 or so operations around the world, then we can see the magnitude of the financial and political strengths which are at Ratcliffe's elbow. A more detailed map can, however, be found on INEOS's web-site which can be linked to here. When you do this you can scawl across the map that is provided in order to cover the full INEOS global empire

Unfortunately, there are also far too many photos of Ratcliffe himself. Then he selects one showing Mark Lyon his leading trade union opponent at Grangemouth in 2013, who happens to be carrying a banner and has his mouth wide open and is shouting. It is selected to give the impression that Lyon was a loud mouth - unlike the "modest" Jim Radcliffe !  If, however, you then turn to Mark Lyon's own book entitled "The Battle of Grangemouth" (shown below) which deals with the industrial disputes I referred to earlier, you will get to a very different impression and will hopefully agree with the quote from Jeremy Corbyn on the cover of the book, stating "This is a story of a fight for justice for working people told from the worker's point of view. I commend this enthralling book to everyone" - even though that 2013 struggle was lost. Tomorrow is, however always a different day. (Below I show Mark Lyon's book, published by Lawrence and Wishart in association with Unite the Union, 2017. ISBN 978-1-912064-00-7. Cover price £12.50p)

The Battle of Grangemouth by Mark Lyon

The main text of the INEOS book is actually written by Ursula Heath and not by Jim Ratcliffe. She is no independent spirit, but one of his employees. This is her first book. Hopefully some day she will take to publishing her very own independent writings and be free from Radcliffe's domination.

Out of the 300 pages of the book, all that appears under Ratcliffe's name is a short 24 page introduction and two pages of acknowledgements. Yet even then, half of these short number of pages are taken up with favourable quotes obtained mainly from his top-level employees. They clearly all knew which side their bread was buttered on.

Early during the main coverage itself by Ursula Heath it is claimed that Radcliffe moved from rags to riches. But this is over the top, as it emerges that his father actually moved out of their early council dwelling when he ran a factory making laboratory furniture. Whilst Ratliffe has made it to being super-rich, it does not appear that he really emerged out of super-poverty. Although (as we will see next) he does believe in the need to climb mountains and reach out for impossible destinations. Hence his rise from his "poverty" background is given a similar twist.

In fact the coverage of Ratcliffe's early life is very thin in the book. Two of his sons get mentions, but mainly because they went on expeditions with him to Kilimanjaro and to the South Pole. It is his own achievements which he is really plugging. His daughter gets only a brief mention, but neither of his two wives are even referred to. So just what makes him tick is difficult to judge. But he likes to be seen to have made super-journeys - whether physically or financially.

Early into the main section of the book by Ursula Heath an incredible claim is made about Ratcliffe. It is said that "Jim's first fundamental priority is safety...the first subject he discusses at every chief executive meeting." Then we might ask, why is he into fracking at all ? Numerous environmental and safety problems arrive from such operations. However, the section I quoted ends "Safety, reliability and profitability all go hand in hand". We can only assume that when it comes to the crunch it is the later which counts.

It was on 5 May 1998 that the basis of Ratliffe's existing company was drawn together and given the name "INEOS". The title has a Latin and two Greek roots and overall is supposed to mean the "dawn of something new and innovative". Yet such entrepreneurial forms of go-getting and exploitation have over 250 years of experience in Britain which is the home of the Industrial Revolution. Over time capitalists have moved in a variety of ways. In 1799 Robert Owen started out as an industrialist in New Lanark in Scotland and then used his base to become a major developer of co-operative forms of ownership. If Ratciffle would like to earn himself a positive and lasting reputation, then he just about has enough time left to adopt a similar approach. Then he will reach the real heights.

INEOS's empire in the UK would clearly benefit from such a co-operative spirit. The current move by John McDonnell seemingly to argue that Labour should see that large firms gradually move on to hand up 10% of their ownership to their workforce, would impact upon the operations of INEOS in this country in a positive direction by drawing from Owenite ideas. Grangemouth mellowed by New Lanark would be a move in a much better direction.   

Selections from the "The Alchemists" can be found via clicking here. 

Added 8th October. For the latest on INEOS's shortcomings click here.

Added 18th November.  For a link to a list of key Financial Times articles about Jim Ratcliffe and INEOS click here.   

Added 31st December. For more on Ratcliffe's multi-national empire building click here.

Added 7 February.
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