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News Digests

Stay abreast of what’s happening internationally with developments in corporate public affairs. Here is news that you may find useful and interesting:

Women going backwards at the top of corporate AustraliaND

Peter Ryan, ABC News, Tuesday 10th September, 2019

The annual census by Chief Executive Women (CEW) which represents 560 female corporate leaders and analyses gender equality amongst Australia’s top 200 companies has said progress is slow with 17 companies still having no women in their leadership teams. CEW President Sue Morphett said she is disappointed by the findings. “There are some figures saying that we'll be waiting about 80 years for it to be equal, which means my granddaughter will be 84 by the time we have equal representation," she said. Ms Morphett also suggested company boards and recruitment agencies should more thoroughly consider the pool of available female candidates.

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Amazon, Facebook and Google hit back at tax on digital companies’ sales, warn of trade warsND

Nassim Khadem, ABC News, Tuesday 3rd September, 2019

Tech giants Amazon, Facebook and Google are the targets of a suggested tax on sales as the Australian Government discusses an OECD and G20 plan to resolve tax avoidance in the digital economy. Europe are already acting, with the French Senate recently passing a three per cent turnover levy that will apply to companies with more than 25 million euros in French revenue and 750 million euros worldwide. In a hearing called by the US Trade Representative Office, the tech giants argued that the French tax is not just discriminatory but also that it harms global tax reform. Google’s trade policy counsel said, "It's a sharp departure from long-established rules, and uniquely targets a subset of businesses." Amazon also warned that the costs associated with increased tax burdens may be passed onto consumers. The matter is not expected to be resolved until the OECD and G20 release the plan in 2020.

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Miners face higher bar to maintain ‘social licence’, report warnsND

Nick Toscano, Sydney Morning Herald, Monday 2nd September, 2019

A Deloitte report being circulated within the mining industry has warned companies that conflict with communities could face losing their social licence if they are unable to go beyond their required stakeholder and environmental obligations. "In many countries, the true economic contribution of mining is being questioned," said the report. The report went on to suggest mining companies must utilise “innovative strategies” to maintain their social licence in the modern economy. These findings come as mining companies are forced to operate in more remote areas of the world, as sustainability, corporate responsibility and climate change pressures mount. This comes as BHP recently introduced a world-first $500 million decarbonisation plan for its customers in July to address environmental issues in the industry.

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Why CEOs Surround M&A Announcements with Unrelated Good NewsND

Harvard Business Review, Friday 30th August, 2019

Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A) are often received negatively by the market. It’s for this reason that CEOs communicate differently to manage the impressions of the firm and its strategy after the decision is made. In new research, HBR examined ‘impression offsetting’, an impression management tactic in which firms publish unrelated positive news alongside strategic announcements. Research by the Academy of Management shows that firms anticipate negative reactions from the market when an M&A announcement is made and impression offsetting is used to reduce backlash. In the HBR’s study, they found that impression offsetting is an indicator of low CEO confidence. The research is an example of the strategic importance of external communications, and highlights that in addition to content, communication timing matters.

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Apple apologises for allowing workers to listen to Siri recordingsND

Alex Hern, The Guardian, Thursday 29th August, 2019

Apple has issued an apology in a statement to its customers after a Guardian report revealed Apple contractors could listen to voice recordings of Siri users. “As a result of our review, we realise we have not been fully living up to our high ideals, and for that we apologise,” Apple said in a statement on its website. This comes as producers of voice-assistant technologies have been caught running secret human-oversight programmes for years. Companies such as Amazon and Google have both made changes to their programs after extensive reviews. Apple has committed to changing the way Siri is run, saying it will no longer keep audio recordings from Siri and an opt-in setting to share recordings will be built for users.

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US opioid crisis ruling leads to $845 million fine for drug maker Johnson & Johnson in Oklahoma ND

ABC News, Tuesday August 27th, 2019

The Cleveland County District has ordered American pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiaries to pay $844 million, ruling that it helped fuel the opioid crisis in Oklahoma after launching an aggressive and misleading marketing campaign. The US state has been ravaged by opioids, with Attorney-General Mike Hunter stating that between 2007 and 2017, 4,653 people were killed in opioid overdoses. Lead lawyer for Johnson & Johnson, Larry Ottaway said in his closing argument that opioid drugs serve a critical health need while one of its other lawyers, Sabrina Strong called the decision “flawed”. The company is expected to appeal the ruling.

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Google's new community guidelines tell employees not to talk politics on internal forums or bad mouth projects without 'good information' ND

Nick Bastone, Business Insider, Friday August 23rd, 2019

Google outlined its latest set of community guidelines to employees last week, restricting conversations to focus only on ‘fact-based’ and ‘work-related’ matters. The move could be seen as an attempt by Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai to restore order to internal message boards which have created divisions among employees. The memo went on to state that “while sharing information and ideas with colleagues helps build community, disrupting the workday to have a raging debate over politics or the latest news story does not.” The memo also stated that managers are expected to address discussions that violate the written rules. The memo has garnered criticism, with some analysts seeing it as a step away from the ‘free-thinking’ and ‘challenge’ culture that has differentiated Google from other firms in Silicon Valley.

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Banks condemn Hong Kong violence in newspaper adverts ND

BBC News, Thursday 22nd August 2019

HSBC and Standard Chartered, two British financial services companies with large presences in Asia have taken out newspaper ads in Hong Kong criticising the ongoing protests that have rocked the region. In its newspaper advert, HSBC called for a return to civility and the rule of law. "We strongly condemn violence of any kind and the disruption caused to the communities in which our customers, staff and shareholders live," the advert read. Standard Chartered also placed ads in pro-China newspapers, stating the company strongly supports the Special Administrative Region government in maintaining social stability and safety under ‘one country, two systems’.

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Group of US Corporate Leaders Ditches Shareholder-First MantraND

Richard Henderson & Patrick Temple-West, Financial Times, Monday 19th August 2019

The Business Roundtable is one of the largest and most influential business groups in the United States and it includes CEOs from JP Morgan, Amazon, General Motors and Apple. In a new statement released this week on the Purpose of a Corporation, the Business Roundtable dropped the “shareholder primacy” ideology that has driven corporations for over 50 years. The statement includes a more complete view of corporate purpose as the range of stakeholders now include employees, customers, suppliers and communities. Mohamed El-Erian, chief economic adviser for Allianz said, “it reflects an emerging consensus about the importance of more inclusive capitalism.”

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‘Dark art PR’: Amazon uses Twitter army of workers to fight criticism ND

Jonah Engel Bromwich, Sydney Morning Herald, Tuesday 20th August 2019

Amazon employees going by the title of ‘FC Ambassadors’ have been stepping in on Twitter whenever the company’s poor working conditions at its fulfillment centres are mentioned. The ambassadors are supposedly both warehouse workers and public relations representatives as they offer an ‘on-the-ground’ perspective of working for the retail giant. First introduced in 2018, Amazon said that there were 14 FC Ambassadors and that they were paid to patrol social media full time. Although Amazon is not the only company to use ‘employee advocates’, Lizz Kannenberg from Sprout Social said Amazon is using employees to address criticism which is "something I haven't seen done successfully before."

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Cathay Pacific’s CEO resigns following Hong Kong ProtestsND

SBS News, Saturday 17th August 2019

After a torrid week for the Hong Kong airline, Cathay Pacific announced the shock resignation of its CEO Rupert Hogg. The flagship airline and its CEO became embroiled in the pro-democracy protests that have plunged Hong Kong into crisis. Some of Cathay Pacific’s 27,000 workforce participated in the protests, which led to Chinese state media condemnation and Beijing’s aviation regulator preventing any employee involved with, or supportive of the protests working on flights to mainland China. Cathay Pacific reacted by firing four employees involved in the protests. Seemingly, this wasn’t enough. On Friday, Cathay said Mr Hogg had resigned as "the Board of Directors believes that it is the right time for new leadership to take Cathay Pacific forward."

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Useless Dads and Placid Women: U.K. Bans 2 Ads Over Sexist StereotypesND

Palko Karasz, The New York Times, Thursday 15th August 2019

The United Kingdom’s Advertising Standards Authority has banned two television ads in Britain after they were deemed harmful to society. The banned ads were from German car giant, Volkswagen and American multination, Mondelez. The regulator said Volkswagen’s ad showed a series of men “engaged in adventurous activities,” while the only two women depicted were asleep in a tent and sitting by a baby carriage. The main characters of the ad from Mondelez were two distracted young fathers in a restaurant who appeared “unable to care for children effectively.” Jessica Tye, the investigations manager at the regulator said the two ads were banned because of “the cumulative impact of those harmful gender stereotypes being depicted.” This comes after new regulations came into effect which give additional powers to Britain’s advertising regulators.

To read the full story click here

Why Cathay Pacific changed its tune on Hong Kong protestsND

Bill Wilson & Robert Plummer, BBC News, Tuesday 13th August 2019

Cathay Pacific has warned its staff that anyone participating in the pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong will lose their jobs as the company takes a zero-tolerance approach to the matter. Cathay Pacific were forced to renege on their previous pledge to not interfere if staff members wanted to participate in the pro-democracy demonstrations. This comes as Beijing’s aviation regulator placed mounted pressure on the Hong Kong airline through new regulations that require Cathay Pacific to submit lists of staff working on flights that go into mainland China. The regulator went on to state that any Cathay Pacific staff member involved in the “illegal protests” will be banned from working on those flights. The regulator also demanded a report on increased internal control measures.

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Rupert Stadler, Ex-Audi Chief, Is Charged With Fraud in Diesel ScandalND

Melissa Eddy, The New York Times, Wednesday 31st July 2019

Rupert Stadler, the former Chief Executive Officer of Audi, was charged with fraud related to the Volkswagen diesel scandal that continues to plague the German car giant. The charges relate to Volkswagen and its subsidiaries such as Audi, deliberately installing illegal diesel emission software devices in cars that would cheat regulatory tests. Both European and American regulators have brought charges against Volkswagen and its subsidiaries leading to $US22 billion in penalties and settlements. Criminal investigations have continued with Volkswagen’s former CEO, Martin Winterkorn also being charged with fraud earlier this year. Further documents show Audi were just as willing as Volkswagen to claim market dominance at any cost. In one internal email sent in January 2008, an employee in Audi’s diesel motor development department summarised road tests confirming diesel models would not meet emissions standards. “We won’t make it without a few dirty tricks,” he wrote.

To read the full story click here

Facebook’s big federal fine could just be the beginningND

Barbara Ortutay & Marcy Gordon, The Sydney Morning Herald, Sunday 28th July 2019

Although Facebook just received a record $US5 billion fine from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), senior management should expect more investigations and regulations to affect the tech giant, according to analysts. Facebook is still facing numerous probes around the world, and the FTC recently announced that the tech giant will be facing an investigation into anti-competitive behaviour that will inevitably change the way it does business. In a post, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Facebook will "make some major structural changes to how we build products and run this company" as a result of the settlement.

To read the full story click here

Unilever warns it will sell off brands that hurt the planet or societyND

Zoe Wood, The Guardian, Thursday 25th July 2019

Unilever has warned it could sell off brands that do not contribute positively to society as it ponders a cull linked to the company’s sustainable business agenda. Alan Jope, Unilever’s chief executive, said it was no longer enough for consumer goods companies to sell washing powders that make shirts whiter or shampoos that make hair shinier because consumers wanted to buy brands that have a “purpose” too. The new chief executive’s comments raised the possibility of the company selling off profitable brands, potentially hurting the bottom line, but Jope said: “Principles are only principles if they cost you something.”

To read the full story click here

How our brains decide when to trustND

Paul J. Zak, Harvard Business Review, Thursday 18th July 2019

Trust is a key enabler of business all around the world. Employees in high-trust companies are more productive, more satisfied with their jobs, put in greater discretionary effort, are less likely to search for new jobs, and are even healthier than those working in low-trust companies. Business with high-levels of trust among their customers are also rewarded economically. Now, more is being understood about the importance of trust to high-performing organisations. Over the past 20 years, research has revealed why we trust strangers, which leadership behaviors lead to the breakdown of trust, and how insights from neuroscience can help colleagues build trust with each other — and help boost a company’s bottom line.

To read the full story click here

Bots are listening to your CEO’s conference callND

Simon Jemison, Bluenotes, Tuesday 16th July 2019

Natural language processing (NLP) is changing the way we operate. Algorithms, linked mostly to targeted advertising on social media, are now working on divining corporate speak from spin. Why read 20 pages or labour through a conference call when an algorithm can alert you when the company’s investment thesis is pivoting? Or when voice forensics suggests the sector’s top analyst has changed their view before the broker note hits the street? As Bloomberg’s chief equity strategist Gina Martin-Adams puts it, the future is likely to be “less about the narrative and more about the data”.

To read the full analysis go to Bluenotes

Culture matters. Now we can measure it.ND

MIT Sloan Management Review, July 2019

The Culture 500, together with MIT, has used more than one million reviews from Glassdoor to rank corporations along nine dimensions of company culture: agility, collaboration, customer, diversity, execution, innovation, integrity, performance and respect.

Follow this link to see the list, and compare the biggest corporations in the US.

Gender stereotypes banned in British advertisingND

Valeriya Safronova, The New York Times, Friday 14th June 2019

Scenes which play on gender stereotypes have now been banned in the UK, as a December announcement from Britain’s advertising regulator comes into effect. The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority said in a statement that it will also ban ads that connect physical features with success in the romantic or social spheres; assign stereotypical traits to boys and girls, such as bravery for boys and tenderness for girls; suggest that new mothers should prioritize their looks or home cleanliness over their emotional health; and mock men for being bad at stereotypically “feminine” tasks, such as vacuuming, washing clothes or parenting. With the new guidelines, Britain will join countries like Belgium, France, Finland, Greece, Norway, South Africa and India, which have laws or codes of varying degrees and age that prevent gender discrimination in ads. Norway has had a law prohibiting sexism in ads since 1978. Companies are also reckoning with the problem of sexism in advertising by themselves too. In 2017, Unilever partnered with UN Women and a host of major corporations including Google, Johnson & Johnson and Mars, to create the Unstereotype Alliance, which seeks to educate people on how advertising perpetuates biases.

To read the full story click here

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