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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:

Facebook to launch dating service as Zuckerberg takes aim at TinderND

Matthew Field, The Telegraph, Wednesday May 2 2018

Facebook has announced it will launch a dedicated dating service in a challenge to the popularity of dating apps like Tinder. Facebook will launch features within its current app which connect uers to people who are not their friends to help them meet new people and start relationships. Facebook’s announcement sent shares in Match, the owner of and Tinder, spiralling, with shares dropping more than 22 percent by close. Facebook’s shares rose 1.1% at close following the news.

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Bill McKibben: There’s clearly money to be made from sun and wind ND

Ben Smee, The Guardian, Tuesday May 1 2018

Founder of Bill McKibben is at the start of an Australian tour, speaking with councils, unions, banks and superannuation funds about backing an aggressive shift to renewable power sources. McKibben reckons there is money to be made from backing renewables, and he wants as many people with capital to invest knowing it as soon as possible. “When we started the divestment stuff six years ago, I was operating entirely on moral grounds,” McKibben said. “But it quickly became apparent that it was a much more financially savvy idea than we’d given ourselves credit for. Anyone who five years ago did it made out like bandits.” On Tuesday, McKibben will launch a report by, the University of Technology Sydney, and Future Super, which will show that 7.7% of Australia’s superannuation savings could fund a full transition to renewables by 2030.

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How managers can be fair about flexibility for parents and non-parents alikeND

Joan C. Williams & Marina Multhaup, Harvard Business Review, Friday April 27 2018

Bias against parents – especially mothers – has been well documented. The idea of the ‘maternal wall’ has been studied for years. We now know however that the bias which questions womens’ competence when they ask for maternity leave or a flexible work schedule can affect fathers too. And while the data is clear that parents are more likely to face bias at work, sometimes another problem comes into the fray: that people without children find that their managers are more understanding of working parent’s need for flexibility, while expecting childless or unmarried staff to pick up the slack. Research has even shown that women without children work the longest hours of any group. Here are some guidelines for managers to set flexibility policies which are fair to everyone. First, in general more flexible schedules work better for everyone, and if you have a work from home policy it should be reason neutral. Next, ensure that your employees can actually use your flexible work policy. Thirdly, clear boundaries and procedures for keeping in touch are important for both sides. Fourth, establish trust with your employees and then trust them.

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Yellow Fever Restaurant at California Wholefoods sparks debateND

Matt Stevens, The New York Times, Monday April 30 2018

‘Yellow Fever’, an Asian restaurant in Southern California, has been at the centre of a heated debate after opening a location as part of a Whole Foods 365 store in Long Beach, California last week. Jenny Yang, a comedian and writer in Los Angeles, said that restaurateurs should think wisely before putting Asian Americans under the spotlight with such names. “… When a restaurateur chooses to use a joke at the expense of Asian-Americans, I would hope they would consider the consequences on how they represent us — especially if they’re going to have a larger platform partnering with Whole Foods,” she said. A media kit for the restaurant said the name was attention getting, but part of embracing the formerly derogatory term ‘yellow fever’ and reinterpreting it positively for themselves.

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Amazon’s Alexa will soon be teaching your child mannersND

Hayley Tsukuyama, The Washington Post, Wednesday April 25

Following feedback from some concerned parents, has updated its voice assistant Alexa to reward children who ask for things nicely. Children are some of the most prolific users of voice assistants, with some learning to talk to Alexa or Siri before they can form full sentences. The company has recently been expanding its efforts to woo children as part of its smart home push. It also announced Wednesday that it has made an $80 US child-focused version of its Echo Dot Speaker, and that it is adding parental controls to help limit when a child can interact with the technology. Children have become a key demographic for voice assistant technology, but this has raised some concerns among privacy advocates about new avenues for data collection. Children are one of the only groups of people in the United States protected by privacy law, and Amazon said it is compliant and doesn’t have any plans to slow down the development of the software.

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'It’s time to transform recycling': Nine in 10 Australians want governments to act on crisisND

Fergus Hunter & Andrew Taylor, The Sydney Morning Herald, Wednesday April 25

A garbage crisis is looming as the industry is hit hard by a new Chinese embargo on waste products, with a new survey revealing that 89 percent of people support governments “taking more action to create a sustainable recycling industry”. The poll was conducted for the Australian Council of Recycling by Crosby Textor, and shows the emphatic support for recycling is spread across political affiliation, states and age groups, with strong support also expressed for specific proposals to make Australia a “circular economy” that has a better capacity to deal with its own waste as opposed to exporting it. Historically, a large portion of Australia’s recyclable material has been sent to China for processing, but the country’s decision to ban imports of low quality and contaminated waste has thrown Australia’s processes into chaos. The NSW and Victorian governments have responded with emergency funding to help local councils deal with the waste, but an urgently needed long-term plan has not yet surfaced.

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Why mining – yes mining – cares about sustainabilityND

Andrew Winston, Harvard Business Review, Tuesday April 24

How do we use the sustainability lens to think in better ways about metals and how to build a circular economy? Rethink where we get metals from. Why do we need to dig up new, or virgin, metals when we can reuse what we’ve already dug up? First, ERG, a central Asian mining company, has a project in the Democratic Republic of Congo which is reprocessing the tailings in one of the world’s largest pools to reclaim some copper and cobalt. This is a win-win, as usually these tailing ponds are one of the biggest environmental liabilities of the sector. Second, an obvious innovation opportunity exicsts in recycling old electronics. A UN study estimated that e-waste has 40 to 800 times as much gold as gold ore. These solutions require innovation and work, but they are worth looking into for an industry with so much at stake.

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The staggering environmental footprint of all the food that we just throw in the trashND

Chris Mooney, The Washington Post, Wednesday April 18

The massive amounts of food Americans throw out every year has staggering environmental consequences, according to a study published Wednesday. The study suggests that the average person in the US wastes about a pound of food per day. That adds up to about 25 percent of all food by weight available for consumption in the US. The environmental costs? 30 million acres of cropland, 4.2 trillian gallons of water and nearly 2 billion pounds of fertilizer, which contains compounds that can run off farm fields and compromise water quality. The amount of total food wasted is undoubtedly larger than the researchers calculated, as the study focused only on waste by consumers at home or when eating out rather than at earlier stages in the supply chain. The study makes clear that, given the numbers, more people will not be able to be fed on Earth with less of an environmental impact if food waste cannot first be brought under control.

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Hit climate target or we will ditch your shares: LGIM’s threat to dirty companies ND

Tim Wallace, The Telegraph, Monday April 23

Legal and General Investment Management (LGIM), one of Europe’s biggest investment managers, is preparing to name and shame companies which behave unsustainably, and to get rid of billions of pounds of investment in their shares. Helena Morrissey, LGIM’s head of personal investing, said that the reason why the company will be shaming the worst performing companies is because they had been given a number of years to improve their act but had not taken any notice. “There comes a time when we should vote with our feet,” she said. LGIM’s move comes amid a Deutsche Bank report released last week which showed that investors who use Environmental Social and Governance (ESG) targets outperform those who invest in companies which fail to meet those non-financial goals.

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Woolworths to take wraps off automated warehouseND

Sue Mitchell, The Australian Financial Review, Monday April 23

Woolworths is ready to unveil a new $215 million fully automated distribution centre in Melbourne later this year or early 2019. The distribution centre, owned by Charter Hall, is leased to Woolworths for 20 years and features Australia’s largest solar installation and more than 14 kilometres of conveyors. The move is predicted to save Woolworths at least $45 million in annual operating costs, and will increase pressure on its rivals. Most of the costs saved by Woolworths will come from labour costs, which will be greatly diminished in the automated warehouse. One analyst said they could save up to four people store, as the automation extends to sorting goods before they arrive to the back of stores. “That’s a major saving and it’s something competitors will have to think about,” the analyst said.

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Facebook’s Current Status With Advertisers? It’s ComplicatedND

Sapna Maheshwari, The New York Times, Wednesday April 18

Facebook and its massive amount of reach have always been a marketer’s dream. Now however, following the Cambridge Analytica Scandal, ad agencies are facing concerns on numerous fronts. Facebook users are becoming increasingly sceptical about the use of their personal data as they learn just how much Facebook knows about them. Some companies are receiving angry tweets following users downloading their data and closely scrutinising sections like “advertisers with your contact info.” In some cases, users’ anger comes simply from the fact that companies often buy data from outside firms for campaigns so that it can direct ads to certain groups of people. These companies do not store that material and can’t see personal information like email addresses, but such a climate around Facebook and what it does with its users’ data is likely to remain a sensitive topic for some time.

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Starbucks to close 8,000 U.S. stores for racial bias training after arrestsND

Rachel Abrams, The New York Times, Tuesday April 17

Starbucks will close all of its more than 8000 stores in the U.S. for one day to conduct anti-bias training, following the arrest of two African-American men in one of its stores last week. The arrests took place after the two men asked to use the restroom in a Starbucks in Philadelphia but were refused because they hadn’t bought anything. The men then sat down and were asked to leave, with an employee then calling the police. A video was posted online of the two men being arrested, which prompted a hashtag #BoycottStarbucks and protests at the store. Starbucks Chief Executive Kevin Johnson said in a statement that he had “spent the last few days in Philadelphia with my leadership team listening to the community, learning what we did wrong and the steps we need to take to fix it.” The training will address implicit bias, with input from groups including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Anti-Defamation League.

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Disneyflix is coming. And Netflix should be scared.ND

Derek Thompson, The Atlantic, May 2018

In 1937, with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Disney invented the modern blockbuster. In contemporary times, it has been able to succeed thanks largely to its cable bundle, which levies a large annual fee on the vast majority of U.S. households. But the cable business is in trouble, as is the film industry, where Disney is also a significant investor. Enter Disney’s new streaming service, poised to hit the market in 2019. It will include exclusive series and every film in the Star Wars, Marvel Entertainment, Pixar Animation Studios, and Disney Animation universes. In other words, Disney is busy building a serious rival to Netflix. In the 1950s, when Walt Disney launched Disneyland on TV and opened his theme park in California, he envisioned his business an endless loop of merchandising. Filmed entertainment would sell toys, toys would sell filmed entertainment, and both would sell park tickets. It’s not hard to imagine a Disney streaming product work the same way. Disney wouldn’t carry advertisements for other brands, but it could function as a nonstop advertisement for Disney itself.

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Not so fast: why the electric vehicle revolution will bring problems of its own ND

Martin Brueckner, The Conversation, Tuesday April 17

Interest in electric cars has risen sharply in recent years as governments around the world make moves to ban petrol and diesel cars, and prices are predicted to be on par with conventional cars by 2025. Despite often being touted as the answer to questions of green, clean mobility, on closer examination our entire transport paradigm might need to be rethought. First, electric vehicles have a troubling supply chain. Key parts of its batteries have been linked to child labour, and the nickel used in the same batteries is toxic to extract from the ground. In addition, the elements used in battery production are finite and limited in supply. Second, individual electric cars will not fix congestion, which is only increasing as urban populations grow. Finally, the vision for most car makers delving in to the world of electronic vehicles is still one of personal vehicles. The sustainability endgame should be to eliminate many of our daily travel needs altogether through intelligent design and removing the dependence on cars so many of our population feels.

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The era of fake video beginsND

Franklin Foer, The Atlantic, May 2018

In dark corners of the internet, ‘deepfake’ videos depict famous women performing sexual acts. The acts are real. The women are not. Instead, their faces have been digitally grafted onto the bodies of adult film stars. Such sordid use of technology is cause for concern, and the ability to manipulate consumers will only grow as VR, AR and AI become more prevalent – by design, these technologies create confusion about what is real and what is made up. Given that big technology companies control the most importance access points to news and information, they have an important role to play in this crisis, and could most easily squash such things as manipulated videos. To play this role, however, would require accepting roles they have so far largely resisted.

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Why Mark Zuckerberg is embracing more regulation of political ads on FacebookND

James Hohmann, The Washington Post, Wednesday April 11

It’s long been a benefit for technology companies to be insulated from the sorts of trying government requirements that apply to other industries. So why would Zuckerberg support a new law that could hurt his bottom line? First, desperate times call for desperate measures, and Zuckerberg knows his net worth could be impacted by a few billion either way based on his performance before the Senate and the House. Second, there is value in regulatory certainty, and Facebook is desperate to avoid European style regulation in the US, which could undermine its highly profitable business model. Third, a new law would force Facebook’s competitors too to spend more on compliance. It’s no coincidence that Zuckerberg references all platforms in his prepared testimony. He wants Google and Twitter to be required to spend the same amount as Facebook for the same purpose. Fourth, regulations could make it harder for smaller companies to take on Facebook, as they usually favour big business when applied equally. Fifth, regulations could improve Facebook’s standing with customers – if people judge Facebook to be a ‘bad’ company, they will stop posting personal information to the site. Even if they don’t delete their accounts that would be bad for the business long term. Finally, embracing regulation could rehabilitate Zuckerberg’s personal brand, as he currently risks turning from a hero to a villain in the public imagination. Zuckerberg is reportedly so obsessed with how he’s perceived that he has had a full time personal pollster on staff to track even small shifts in his image.

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Trump’s trade war could wipe billions from Australia’s economyND

Michael Janda, ABC News, Monday April 9, 2018

The first week of April saw much toing and froing between the US and China, after President Trump asked officials to look at the possibility of tariffs on a further $US100 billion worth of Chinese exports to the US. China warned of a “fierce counter strike” to any such measures. But what some conciliatory experts are calling simple negotiating tactics could significantly hit Australia’s economy should talk turn to action. Citi’s economic team estimates that three years after trade barriers went up, the Australian economy would be $21 billion smaller than it would have been otherwise. In turn, this would mean 70 000 more Australians unemployed and the Australian dollar falling six cents, with a combined hit on the average household of $1500 a year. Given already stagnant wage growth, high living costs and the continued struggles of retailers, a trade war between Australia’s biggest two trading partners could be disastrous for its economy.

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Mark Zuckerberg admits Facebook played part in spread of fake newsND

Darren Davidson, The Australian Business Review, 29th September 2017

Facebook played a significant role in the dissemination of “fake news” during the 2016 US presidential election. Zuckerberg, the CEO and founder of Facebook, initially dismissed the idea that Facebook influenced the US election as ‘crazy’. Former president Barack Obama has berated Zuckerberg, forcing him to acknowledge that the (at least) $US100,000 spent on election adverts by Russian accounts which could have reached ‘tens of millions of voters’ to take the issue of fake news seriously. Zuckerberg stated on his Facebook page that ‘the idea misinformation on Facebook changed the outcome of the election was a crazy idea’ but, ‘calling that [the capacity of Facebook to influence the election] crazy was dismissive, and I regret it’.

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Trump's decision to allow plastic bottle sales in national parks slammed ND

Jessica Glenza, The Guardian, 21st August 2017.

The reversal of the ban on plastic water bottles in America’s national parks suggests “the corporate agenda is king and people and the environment are left behind”. The reversal of the six-year-old policy designed to reduce the level of pollution (plastic water bottles comprised of 20 per cent of the Grand Canyon parks waste and 30 per cent of its recyclable waste). The reversal of this policy allows bottled water producers access to the 331 million individuals that visit America’s national parks. For a President with an inability to immediately denounce American-Nazis, allowing plastic bottles in national parks appear to be a minor issue, yet it may provide evidence that the apparent ‘swamp’ of lobbyists and special interests has not been drained, but rather empowered.

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Impact of voluntary disclosures on corporate brand equityND

Soumya Sarkar and Titas Bhattacharjee, Corporate Reputation Review, 2017.

Sarkar and Bhattacharjee studied the effect of voluntary disclosures by Indian B2B firms on corporate brand equity. The corporate brand is said to be worth between 5-7% on average of stock performance. The findings of the study were that having greater numbers of disclosures and subsequent transparency with stakeholders led to improvements in reputation, while it had minimal effect on consumer decision making.

For more information see: Corporate Reputation Review

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