From emissions cheating to promotional campaigns that allegedly used the Anzacs as a marketing tool, it was a tumultuous year for some of Australia’s biggest businesses.
Volkswagen’s emissions scandal on its diesel vehicles was among the biggest revelations of 2016. The incident saw the company’s shares nose-dive and at least two class actions launched so far.
It wasn’t only Volkswagen, however, that engaged in conduct considered unacceptable by Australian consumers. Here are some of the other companies that deserve a rap on the knuckles.
The past 12 months were especially tumultuous for one of Australia’s largest supermarket retailers.
From a ‘vile’ advertising campaign that saw the company’s commercial messaging mixed with tributes to Anzac war heroes, to a frequent gambling rewards card labelled a ‘harm-exacerbation measure’ for gambling addicts, Woolies certainly gave its critics plenty of ‘fresh’ ammunition.
It topped off the year by suggesting people who grew their own fresh food were ‘freaks’ in an advertising campaign featuring fitness guru Michelle Bridges.
Revelations of the systematic exploitation of vulnerable workers at the retail chain’s Australian stores forced company management to apologise and vow to change their operating model.
An investigation by the ABC and Fairfax found many workers were paid just $12 an hour to put up with unsociable hours, long shifts and the perennial threat of violent robbery.
This Thailand-based company stocks the three of Australia’s major retailers – Coles, Woolworths and Aldi – with seafood.
Thai Union was also accused of slave labour practices.
In early December, Associated Press aired interviews with child and adult workers who had varying stories of horrific conditions at the company, with one woman saying she had been forced to work in a physically demanding job while pregnant, and to continue after she had miscarried.
The tasty corn chip was one of the offenders listed as taking particularly far-reaching liberties with palm oil in its products.
Palm oil production is controversial due to its past links with the exploitation of child workers in developing countries and its contribution to massive deforestation in the habitats of endangered animals.
Although Pepsico was not the only company to use palm oil, it was certainly a major guzzler.
An estimated 427,500 tonnes were used each year for PepsiCo’s products, including Doritos corn chips and Lays Crisps.
Multi-million dollar companies that paid no tax
There were nearly 600 companies operating in Australia that did not pay tax in the 2013-2014 year, according to the Australian Tax Office.
Analysis indicated one in four public companies were paying $0 in tax to the Australian government, even though many were generating profits.
Companies such as Qantas, Vodafone, online betting company William Hill and cleaning company Spotless Group last year used aggressive accounting practices to reduce their net corporate tax bills to zero.
Although not paying tax did not necessarily mean the company was acting illegally, it did raise questions of fairness.
The German car manufacturer, which also heads the Audi and Skoda models in Australia, could be forced to provide millions of dollars in compensation and fines following revelations it fitted its cars with devices to cheat emissions tests.
After news broke of the emissions scandal in September, the company’s usually strong shares dipped more than 30 per cent in one day.
The car maker continues to feel the fallout and probably will for some time – two Australian law firms have already launched class actions on behalf of the more than 91,000 local motorists affected.