Romania shrugs off label of Europes poor man as economy booms

Since it joined the EU in 2007, government economic measures and communist-era educational excellence have spurred rapid growth

At a sleek new office in the heart of Bucharest, Fitbit co-founder and chief executive James Park explains why the smartwear giant is rapidly expanding its operations in Romania and following the lead of a host of multinationals. The tech talent here is amazing. Romania and other countries in central and eastern Europe have great existing talent, and also great universities, he says.

The US company, which bought Romanian smartwatch brand Vector Watches for a reported $15m (11.4m) late last year, and has tripled its staff in Romania since, has just opened its largest research and development centre outside the US, in the Romanian capital. Its not alone: in recent years, major global companies such as Siemens, Ford and Bosch have set up or expanded operations in Romania, boosting an economy thats already growing at speed.

While many see Romania as a country of migrants flocking abroad to find work, back home the economy is booming. The services sector is expanding at pace, along with exports and manufacturing. Meanwhile, private consumption from clothes to furniture and cars hit a nine-year high in 2016, and increased a further 8% in the first half of this year.

The economy grew 5.7% year-on-year in the second quarter of 2017, the fastest rate in the EU, where the average growth rate was 2.4%. This was on the back of a GDP rise of 4.8% in 2016 and 3.9% in 2015; during the same period the UK economy grew by a more placid 1.8% and 2.2%. According to the International Monetary Fund, Romanias economy is expected to grow by 5.5% for the whole of 2017.

The tech sector, in particular, is expanding fast, built on a communist-era legacy of excellence in science, mathematics and technical education, as well as Romanias strong language skills, which have long made it a hub for IT outsourcing. While the Romanian languages Latin roots have helped explained the countrys linguistic skills, some suggest it was a decision to subtitle rather than dub foreign programming on television that boosted foreign language exposure and proficiency.

According to industry insiders, the tech sector which employs about 150,000 people is expected to double its share of GDP to 12% by 2025, aided by one of the fastest broadband internet speeds in the world (behind only Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea and Iceland).

Elsewhere, Ford has announced plans to hire almost 1,000 workers for its plant in Craiova, 180km west of the capital, adding to its current workforce of 2,715. The automotive giant has invested more than 1.2bn (1.1bn) in its Romanian manufacturing operations since 2008. Renault-owned Dacia, a former communist state-owned giant, remains the countrys largest company based on revenue, with a turnover of 4.1bn in 2016. Joining the EU in 2007 clearly had an impact, while more recent government measures have also boosted the economy.

The government in 2015 decided to cut taxation for consumption, says Ionut Dumitru, chief economist at Raiffeisen Bank Romania and chairman of Romanias fiscal council. They cut VAT from 24% to 20%, and now 19%, and extended the reduced VAT rate for food and some other items. This was a very strong stimulus for consumption.

The government has also doubled the minimum wage in four years. And its not only the minimum wage that has increased a lot, but also public sector wages.

Wages in Romania remain far below the EU average, making it an enticing option for outsourcing; the minimum monthly wage is currently around 283 only Bulgarias is lower within the EU.

However, lower wages have stopped many Romanians returning home, leaving companies short of workers in 2016, the unemployment rate dropped to an historic low of 5.9% compared with an EU average of 8.6%, amid predictions it will drop to 5.4% this year.

Uncertainty over Brexit is having an impact, with companies looking at alternatives within the EU in case the UK pursues an exit that restricts trade.

Were getting inquiries from UK companies on a weekly basis since the referendum, says Shajjad Rizvi, the director of the British Romanian Chamber of Commerce in the northern city of Cluj, one of the largest tech centres in central and eastern Europe.

We are seeing global companies hedging their bets, in case tariffs are not favourable or something else, and Romania is one of the choices they are looking at, he adds. Software companies, a lot are doubling or tripling their workforces in Romania, and a lot of those jobs are coming from the UK. Whole departments: marketing, PR, HR; they are being closed down in the UK and moved out here.

But there are also serious challenges. Romania has long been considered one of the most corrupt nations in the EU. Despite progress, there are still major concerns. In February, the country experienced the largest protests in decades after the government pushed through legislation that would have effectively decriminalised low-level corruption. The government backed down, but has yet to regain public trust.

Transportation infrastructure is also poor. Romania came 128 out of 138 countries for the quality of its road infrastructure in the latest World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report; the railway system, which is old and slow, came in slightly better at 79. There are only 747km of motorway in the whole country.

There is also concern about the rising deficit. In 2016 the government deficit the gap between state income and spending rose to 3% of GDP, up from 0.8% in 2015, due to increased spending and tax cuts. The main concern for the economy is the fiscal situation, says Raiffeisens Dumitru. The deficit is under pressure.

Even so, Romanias economy looks set to continue to expand in the near future. Its hard to sustain more than 5% growth, says Dumitru. Most analysts are predicting closer to 4% for next year. But even 4% will probably be one of the highest growth rates in Europe, so its not bad at all.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/14/romania-economy-booming

Dove apologises for ad showing black woman turning into white one

Brand says it missed mark after being accused of racism in campaign promoting body lotion

Dove has apologised after publishing an advert on its Facebook page which showed a black woman turning into a white woman.

The brand was accused of racism over the online advertising campaign and it later admitted it had missed the mark with an image posted on Facebook.

The advert showed a black woman removing her top to reveal a white woman underneath supposedly after using Dove body lotion.

Habeeb Akande (@Habeeb_Akande)

Dove apologised for ‘racist’ Facebook advert showing a black woman turning white after using @Dove lotion. pic.twitter.com/NGXyhnGuBZ

October 8, 2017

The campaign has since been removed from Facebook but was shared by Naomi Blake, an American makeup artist who goes by the name Naythemua.

So Im scrolling through Facebook and this is the #dove ad that comes up ok so what am I looking at, she wrote as the caption.

Under the post, she was asked if people would be offended if the white woman had turned into a black woman. She said: Nope, we wouldnt and thats the whole point. What does America tell black people? That we are judged by the color of our skin and that includes what is considered beautiful in this country.

She added that Doves marketing team should have known better and said the tone deafness in these companies makes no sense.

Following the removal of the advert, Dove, which is owned by Unilever, tweeted: An image we recently posted on Facebook missed the mark in representing women of colour thoughtfully. We deeply regret the offence it caused.

In a further statement Dove said: As a part of a campaign for Dove body wash, a three-second video clip was posted to the US Facebook page.

This did not represent the diversity of real beauty which is something Dove is passionate about and is core to our beliefs, and it should not have happened.

We have removed the post and have not published any other related content. We apologise deeply and sincerely for the offence that it has caused.

However the damage was done and the nearly 3,000 comments below the tweet were almost exclusively negative. Many social media users called for a boycott of Doves products.

A Soldier of the Art (@SelinaNBrown)

ENOUGH!
IS ENOUGH!@Dove Needs to be an example of black boycott worldwide!!!
They need to see the power of the black and brown money power

October 7, 2017

Ava DuVernay, the director of the film Selma, was one of many prominent people to criticise both the advert and the apology. She said on Twitter: You can do better than missed the mark. Flip + diminishing. Deepens your offence. You do good work. Have been for years. Do better here.

The trans model Munroe Bergdorf, who recently was at the centre of a racism row with LOreal, tweeted to say: Diversity is viewed as a buzzword or a trend. An opportunity to sell product to women of colour. Dove Do better.

Others pointed out this was not the first time the company has been accused of racism. In 2011 Doves before-and-after advert charted the transition of a black woman to a white woman after using its body wash.

Keith Boykin (@keithboykin)

Okay, Dove…
One racist ad makes you suspect.
Two racist ads makes you kinda guilty. pic.twitter.com/hAwNCN84h2

October 8, 2017

At the time, Dove said in a statement: All three women are intended to demonstrate the after product benefit. We do not condone any activity or imagery that intentionally insults any audience.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/08/dove-apologises-for-ad-showing-black-woman-turning-into-white-one

HSBC’s man in Monaco arrested

Banker to the famous faces charges over alleged siphoning of $10m from celebrities including Michael Schumacher.

A senior British banker who worked for the private banking arm of HSBC in Monaco has been arrested in connection with the disappearance of $10m (6.8m) from the accounts of rich and famous customers, including champion racing driver Michael Schumacher.

Stephen Troth was arrested by Monaco police last week and is being held in a local jail. He faces charges relating to the alleged siphoning off of the money from some of the bank’s highest profile customers.

As well as Michael Schumacher, who is one of the highest paid sportsmen in the world, cash is also understood to have disappeared from the account of Nigel Robertson, a 38-year-old businessman who co-founded Scoot.com.

Now based in Monaco, Mr Robertson has an estimated fortune of 75m and runs a sports marketing agency representing names including golfers Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke.

HSBC is understood to have paid compensation to all clients who have lost money.

Mr Troth worked for HSBC Republic, the British bank’s worldwide private banking arm, which targets high-earning celebrities offering “tailor-made services to suit their lifestyle”. It is understood that he was the highest-earning member of staff in the Monaco branch.

He is still listed on the bank’s website as the Monaco contact for the group’s “global media practice”, which invites “actors, composers, designers, musicians, sportspeople and writers as well as their agents, producers and directors” to take advantage of a “refined service”.

The affair is a huge embarrassment for HSBC. It has poured millions of pounds into building its Republic operation in an effort to win a significant share of the highly lucrative private banking business.

Secrecy and security are regarded as of paramount importance to its success, and the disappearance of millions of pounds is bound to undermine the bank’s reputation.

Mr Troth, who is in his early 40s, was arrested as he returned from a holiday. It is understood that he left his job at HSBC Republic at the end of July, shortly after the bank discovered that cash had gone missing. He told colleagues he wanted “to pursue other interests”.

A spokesman for HSBC said: “Mr Troth no longer works for us. The matter is in the hands of the police and we cannot comment. There is also the matter of client confidentiality here.”

The bank first became aware that something was amiss when several clients called in to query their account balances. An investigation is understood to have uncovered widespread discrepancies in the accounts of many of the bank’s most valued customers.

At first the losses were blamed on computer errors, but police are now investigating allegations that the money was transferred from those accounts into other numbered accounts linked to Mr Troth.

One account holder said: “It sounds ridiculous but when you’ve got so much money its very easy not to notice that a few thousand pounds are missing.”

Mr Troth was based in the same building where billionaire banker Edmund Safra died in a fire in December 1999. His death came weeks after he agreed the $10bn sale of his Republic banking groups to HSBC.

The ornate, turn of the century mansion overlooks Monte Carlo harbour and is a short stroll from the principality’s exclusive Casino and Hotel de Paris.

The six-storey building is frequented by many of Monaco’s most wealthy residents who value the bank’s discretion and advice. It boasts about 5,000 clients and is run by Gerard Cohen.

Stephen Troth had one of the best jobs in banking – living in Monte Carlo and rubbing shoulders with some of the principality’s most successful and flamboyant businessmen.

He is well known to many members of the so-called “Monaco Mob” of rich and mostly young entrepreneurs who trade the London market from their Riviera bases. Most are tax exiles who flit in and out of Britain completing deals.

Mr Troth was highly regarded by HSBC Republic for his ability to attract wealthy account holders and was spearheading a drive to pull in more wealthy celebrity clients. HSBC’s marketing material for the new venture says: “It concerns personalities in the film entertainment, music, publishing and sports industries and has been poorly served by the financial services institutions worldwide. Until now!”

He is understood to have spent his career in banking and had worked for Republic for more than five years before his abrupt departure in July.

He is described as unassuming and mild mannered, and his arrest was a shock to those acquainted with him. One businessman who knows him socially said: “He’s quiet, wears glasses and looks like a boring old banker in a grey suit and a tie. He was very discreet.”

In his private life he enjoys the luxuries that his position as a top private banker has provided. Clients frequently recommended him to wealthy friends. “The number of times people enthused about him was amazing,” said one.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2001/sep/13/3

Big tobacco still sees big business in America’s poor

The US is pegged as an exciting market, but this growth disproportionately affects the poor including the industrys growers and laborers

Wheeling his oxygen tank in behind him, Leslie E Adams shuffled into the lung doctors exam room, and let out a long string of rattling coughs. He tried to catch his breath, and coughed some more. He is 63, but looks a decade older.

I got stage three black lung. There aint no stage four. Im on my way out, said Adams. Now, I am slowly going down the mountain.

The American smoking rate has plummeted since the mid-20th century. Yet somehow the US remains a growth market. That is partly because the proportion of smokers has fallen, but the population is rising.

Add a nation bedeviled by inequality and those public health gains, while significant, have simply not reached every corner of the country.

With low taxes on cigarettes, intermittent regulations and tobacco-friendly politicians, many US states still mirror conditions around the developing world where tobacco companies see potential.

West Virginia arguablyhas the highest smoking rate in the nation. In places such as Logan County, where retired coal miner Adams is from, the smoking rate was 37% in 2015. The last time the national average matched that was 1974.

I smoked Winston, I smoked Viceroy. I dont know what I was smoking last, I couldnt tell you, said Adams, about brands that once belonged to Reynolds and British American Tobacco (BAT). I just smoked anything. If it blowed smoke, I smoked it. Adams is disabled with stage three pneumoconiosis, better known as black lung.

Adams will tell you he quit, but the truth is, after seven days in the hospital on a ventilator, he still tried smoke three times. I smoked about a half a one, and it just I mean your lungs it just takes all the oxygen out of them.

Despite smoking bans, hundred-billion-dollar settlements and a smaller proportion of the American public smoking, Reynolds longtime ally BAT sees the US as an exciting opportunity for long-term growth.

Through the years, as the population rose, the proportion of Americans who smoke shrank, but their raw numbers stayed the same at around 45 million smokers. Further, since the 1990s, the threat of tobacco litigation diminished and regulations proved less costly than feared, leaving tobacco companies room to increase the price of a pack. In America, where cigarettes are still relatively cheap, BAT will only need to sell two packs of cigarettes to make the same profit as selling six in other markets.

America is highly attractive and the worlds largest tobacco profit pool outside of China, BAT chief executive Nicandro Durante said, as he described a $49bn deal to buy Reynolds American in January. The deal will make BAT the largest listed tobacco company in the world.

It also means revenue from eight out of 10 cigarettes sold in the US will be pocketed by BAT and a rival group of companies Altria Group, a US Philip Morris company. Not since Theodore Roosevelts presidency in the first decade of the 20th century has tobacco been so consolidated.

Mergers and acquisitions have allowed tobacco companies to squeeze profits from customers and the supply chain. Companies charge more for cigarettes, while union organizers say poverty wages keep families on the ropes. Both are trends seen worldwide.

At the same time, the typical profile of smokers has changed radically. In 50 years, smoking moved from glamorous to common. Wealthy Americans have the lowest smoking rates, and the middle class has increasingly quit; instead smoking became a burden of the poor, less educated and marginalized.

The $49bn merger between BAT and Reynolds, expected within weeks, is the most recent act of faith by tobacco companies that selling cigarettes to Americans will remain profitable long into the future, even if the Americans who buy them cant afford it.

As a young man, Adams worked in mines so tight he laid on his belly to dig. He dug his own hole to piss in. When he learned mine owners handed out dust masks that didnt work, he sued.

Adams lives in the Appalachian mountains, in a valley between two green hills affectionately called a holler. He and his wife had two daughters and a son, and those children had eight of their own.

He started smoking at eight, sneaking beside the creek to puff corn silk. He smoked cigarettes for 40 years. Now, after one son died of a drug overdose, unable to chase after his grandkids and still craving cigarettes, Adams questioned whether cigarettes should be legal at all.

Leslie
Leslie E Adams, 63, said he wishes cigarettes could be outlawed. Photograph: Billy Wolfe for the Guardian

They got so many drugs in there you couldnt quit if you wanted to. I still crave them. If I had one right now, and Id go to sleep, youd hold it, Id smoke it in my sleep, he said. Thats how bad you crave them.

Dr Tom Takubo sees more than 30 patients like Adams each day at his clinic in Charleston. His is the largest pulmonology office in West Virginia. Set in the capital of a rural state in a rural region, Takubo sees patients from as far away as northern Kentucky and southern Ohio.

Even if smoking dropped off today, I would probably be going for the rest of my career, said Takubo.

No one is allowed to smoke in his office, but even so, the air smells faintly of cigarettes. Takubos patients carry the scent of the smokes they prefer. Former miners, shop owners and factory workers waiting for their appointments named L&Ms (by Altria) or Salems (by Reynolds) as their go-to. One woman admitted she smoked whatever was cheapest, and called them floor sweepings.

Takubo estimates 80% of his patients see him for smoking-related diseases. Cancer, acute bronchitis, flare-ups of their asthma, he said, naming a few.

The national adult smoking rate dropped from 42.4% in 1965 to 16.8% in 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control. But in West Virginia, the smoking rate in 2014 was still 26%, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. One researcher with RWJF called the rate extraordinarily high.

When he is not seeing patients, Takubo has another role. He is also a Republican state senator in West Virginia, putting him in the unique position of treating the same people whose cigarette taxes he hopes to raise. He is occasionally told by a patient: Now doc, dont raise the price of my cigarettes.

Its really hard for me, because you hear people argue for financial reasons, for freedom of choice, Takubo said about his fellow legislators, shaking his head. This year, inspired by a patient, Takubo introduced a bill that would have fined adults for smoking in the car with a child.

I have a patient thats lost about half of her lung function. Shes never smoked a day in her life, he said. Instead, her father smoked in the car. If she complained about it, he would roll the window up to teach her a lesson. She remembers even getting in the floorboard of the car because she couldnt breath.

But the bill was not successful. Takubos fellow Republicans voted it down.

Dr
Dr Tom Takubo points to an X-ray of a patient suffering from a severe case of coal workers pneumoconiosis, also known as CWP or black lung. Photograph: Billy Wolfe for the Guardian

West Virginia is also the epicenter of Americas drug overdose epidemic, but lung and throat cancer have proven far deadlier than opioids.

Drug overdoses killed 41 people for every 100,000 in West Virginia in 2015. The same year, lung and throat cancer killed tripled that number in south-western counties, such as Calhoun. There, those two disease alone killed 123 people for every 100,000, according to the states health department.

The same year, 46% of adults in Calhoun smoked, RWJF found. The West Virginia department of health estimates that one in five deaths of people over 35 are due to smoking.

West Virginia scores badly on every imaginable indicator of poverty and inequality. Takubo has also argued increased tobacco taxes could bring the state significant financial relief. A $1 tax would have generated $100m in revenue for a state that had a $380m shortfall in 2016, and which spends $277m annually on smoking-related diseases. That too failed, although Takubo did help get a 65-cent tobacco tax passed.

Now, fearing Republicans in Washington will pass a healthcare reform bill that could severely cut Medicaid, a public health program for the poor, Takubo said simply: That would kill us.

State of the nation

In Washington DC, things have also changed in the halls of Congress. People who still smoke stand out, and perhaps for a good reason Congress is mostly well educated and wealthy. Every single US senator has a college degree, and just 5% of the House of Representatives lack one. Most members of Congress are millionaires.

Today, someone with a high school equivalency diploma is nine times more likely to smoke (34.1%) than someone with a graduate degree (3.6%). A poll found Americans who earn between $6,000 and $11,999 are more than twice as likely to smoke as someone who earns more than $90,000.

Even 10 years ago, the offensive and very strong odor of a cigar prompted an aide in Democrat Keith Ellisons office to call the Capitol police on a congressman. Last year, Republican House speaker Paul Ryan took pains to detoxify his predecessors office, a suite held by former speaker John Boehner. Boehner is a Camel smoker. He now sits on Reynolds board.

Tobacco companies dont spend as much money lobbying Congress as they once did. They spent $72m trying to persuade lawmakers to see their perspective in 1998, compared to $19m in 2016, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

But they have not abandoned political spending. They have shifted strategies.

Last year, Altria and RJ Reynolds spent $71.3m in California trying beat back a cigarette tax hike referendum. They failed there, but succeeded elsewhere. In North Dakota, tobacco companies spent more than $5 for every man, woman and child in the state, $4m altogether, and convinced voters to reject the tax. They also succeeded in Colorado, where they spent $7m.

States were awarded billions in damages from tobacco companies in recognition of the public health consequences. Yet they largely fail to spend the money they were awarded to prevent smoking. States collected $26.6bn from tobacco settlements in 2016, but spent only 1.8% on smoking prevention, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. Tobacco companies, by comparison, spend $9.1bn a year on marketing, or $1m an hour, according to an analysis of Federal Trade Commission data.

North Carolina, Americas dominant tobacco-producing state, receives $139m annually from such tobacco settlements. Initially, the state set up three trust funds to spend that money: one to prevent smoking, one to help rural communities hit by a decline in smoking and one to help tobacco farmers.

The fund to prevent smoking was dismantled in 2011; all of that money was sucked into the states general fund. However, lawmakers allowed the settlement to continue to fund tobacco growing efforts.

Between 2000 and 2004, another $41m of North Carolinas tobacco settlement went to retrofit tobacco curing barns, a move that researchers called arguably counterproductive to tobacco control, and which some farmers believed was at the behest of tobacco manufacturers.

From our very first day there was a constant struggle with the legislature, said Vandana Shah, the first person to head the tobacco use prevention fund in North Carolina. She now works for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. Id be doing the rounds of begging and pleading that they dont take our money away, and explaining the value of the program.

Winston-Salem, AKA Camel City

Reynolds Americans hometown of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, has developed a relatively strict tobacco policy. Smoking an after-dinner cigarette in Camel City will need to be done outside, and finding a hotel room to smoke in will be a task.

The regulations are reflective of how cities have handled smoking in recent years. Even Reynolds employees who smoke must use smoking lounges away from their colleagues.

Tobacco companies, said Gayle Anderson, the head of the Winston-Salem chamber of commerce, really didnt fight these laws at all There just didnt seem to be that kind of pushback. She worked for Reynolds from 1976 to 1987.

Once North Carolinas largest city, Winston-Salem enjoyed a golden era on Reynolds wealth. The moneyed families that ran the factories and mills shared their wealth with the community, endowing it with high schools, auditoriums, hospitals, stadiums, parks and recreational facilities bearing their names, the local history From Tobacco to Technology said about the 1930s. Their executives chaired the charities and the capital campaigns to raise money needed to achieve the communitys objections, be it a new terminal at the airport, an arts council for the city or assistance in relocating a college to the city.

Reynolds still employs about 5,000 people in Winston-Salem, according to Anderson. For many years the notion was: If you could get in at Reynolds, you were set for life, she said.

Reynolds recently donated a 70,000 sq ft, immaculately maintained research facility to the town for redevelopment. Reynolds, Anderson said, is still probably the single largest philanthropic company.

I cant imagine how many hundreds of millions of dollars thats worth, said Anderson. Theyre benevolent and care a lot about the community, but its more like a partnership. If Reynolds were to ever leave, it would be a real blow to our ego, for sure.

Tobacco
Tobacco grows on state highway 222/111 outside Dudley, North Carolina. Photograph: Justin Cook for the Guardian


Were down here getting sick, going hungry

If the company is seen by some as benevolent, that does not necessarily translate to automatic financial security for farmers and their workers. One twentysomething farmer stood by a running tractor as he described the start of each tobacco season in eastern North Carolina. It begins, he said, with a loan from the bank that you dont know if youre gonna pay back.

He started cutting tobacco in a friends field when he was about eight years old, the farmer said. As he smoked a Camel menthol, he acknowledged: I shouldnt, as much shit as I spray on it.

For farmers, the tobacco system has changed considerably since the 1990s. Auctions are obsolete. Now, farmers contract directly with cigarette manufacturers or leaf buyers. This farmers entire crop is contracted to Alliance One, one of two major leaf companies.

Labor disputes are common here. Farmers can face cash shortfalls mid-season, making it difficult to pay workers on time. Farm laborers have no collective bargaining rights in the US, and child labor is legal on farms. Children as young as 12 can start working unlimited hours outside of school, and children of any age can work on a family-owned tobacco farm.

With only a handful of companies left to sell to Philip Morris International, Altria, BAT, Japan Tobacco International and two leaf buyers who serve the same companies farmers feel at the behest of tobacco companies, those interviewed by the Guardian said. This year, some tobacco buyers didnt offer farmers formal contracts until spring, when tobacco was already growing in greenhouses.

Nevertheless, after a long fight with the Mount Olive Pickle Company, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (Floc) secured a collective bargaining agreement with farmers in the North Carolina Growers Association. Several tobacco companies used farmers in the association, thus some tobacco workers were also covered. Last year alone, Floc handled around 500 total labor complaints, often for wage violations. But their influence is small: the union represents just 7% of North Carolinas 100,000 workers.

The group has asked BAT to recognize a right to organize for all farm workers worldwide, and blames low pay for frequent disputes.

I think they should pay more, said Sintia Castillo, a labor organizer for Floc, whose accent reflects her heritage. Some words come out North Carolina country, others with a snap of second-generation Spanish. Youre rolling in money at the top, and were down here getting sick, going hungry.

Castillo has six brothers and sisters, and started working in the fields with her family at age seven. She moved to tobacco around 13 and into packing houses at 18. Now shes 24, a woman whose work has acquainted her with the paradox of organizing people without rights.

Theres been times I fire people up, and then they get fired, she said.

Catherine
Catherine Crowe, 23, and Sintia Castillo, 24, who work with the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (Floc). Photograph: Justin Cook for the Guardian

She tells a story about Brent Jackson, a state senator and tobacco farmer. Jackson was forced to repay several thousand dollars in back wages after he was sued in federal court by migrant workers. The union then alleged he blacklisted the seven farmworkers. Jackson pulled out of the growers association.

Last week, he sponsored a bill to make it illegal for farmers to deduct union dues from paychecks, or for growers to end a dispute with farmworkers by signing a union contract. The bill is currently on the governors desk. Campaign finance records show Jackson received $9,400 in donations from tobacco companies.

Child labor exists because of poverty wages. Theres no way that a family can live off of $7.25 per hour, said Catherine Crowe, an organizer with Floc. Forcing children not to work without increasing wages, the union contends, would only leave struggling families worse off.

Philip Morris International and Alliance One have said they do not buy tobacco from farms that employ children under 18 for most tasks and, in general, tobacco companies have said growers are not our employees. Nevertheless, tobacco company audits have identified many instances of child labor in the supply chain.

In the past, Crowe and Castillo said, BAT has shown more willingness to work with the organizing committee, promising to encourage Reynolds to listen to union demands. As for how the unified company will act in the future: That, said Crowe, is the question.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jul/13/tobacco-industry-america-poor-west-virginia-north-carolina

Inside the murky world of Nairobi’s smoking zones

The Kenyan government has cracked down on cigarettes with a ban on advertising and smoking in public, driving the habit into the shadows

There is a wooden shed in the middle of Nairobi city centre, dark, full of fumes, crowded and deliberately built beside the public toilets. It feels like a place of shame.

Jairus Masumba, Nairobi countys deputy director of public health, calls it in jest the gazebo. Its the public smoking place, created by his department. It is claustrophobic and filled with smoke, some of which drifts out through slats, but most of which hangs heavily in the fugged air inside.

Those who enter have to be desperate and theyre usually men. A 27-year-old woman, who comes from the south of Kenya, is a rarity. She is heavily made-up and stands in the doorway. She smokes seven to 10 cigarettes a day. Its bad for you, no? she says several times, though she knows the answer.

The men inside, barely visible as you enter because of the darkness and the fug, are smoking hard, standing up like a football crowd, all facing the same way though there is nothing to look at except the wooden slats of the far side of the shed. Music blares but nobody is dancing. They are grim faced, doing what they have to do. A young man, high probably on khat and cigarette in hand, chases some of the butts and the ash out with a broom, seeking money from the other smokers for cleaning up. He says he has a diploma in business marketing and another diploma in substance abuse counselling.

A
A woman stands at a smoking zone in Nairobi, Kenya. Smoking openly on the street can incur a hefty fine. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

At the door are two cigarette sellers, doing a busy trade. Its rare for anyone to buy whole packets. Packs of cigarettes in Kenya are broken up and sold by vendors as single sticks. That makes them cheap for women, children and the poor, despite manufacturers being banned from producing packets of less than 10. One of the two sellers sitting passively inhaling smoke is a woman who taps a packet of 20 and shakes them deftly out, one at a time, exchanging them for small coins. Men buy one, sometimes a couple, sometimes three. They will not all be smoked here. The sellers sit at the large red wooden boxes, with open lids that become the display cabinet. Most popular and cheapest is Sportsman at 100 shillings a pack (75p, 97 cents) or 5 shillings (less than 4p, 5 cents) for a single. Smokers buy sweets too, to take away the smell of tobacco when the worker goes back to the office.

Tobacco: a deadly business

The shed is vile, but few dare smoke even on the pavement outside in the cleaner air in the knowledge that the plain clothed official public health enforcers will be circling, ready to impose fines on anyone they catch. Nairobi city has got tough on smoking. The Kenyan government has banned advertising and marketing and smoking in public places, but it is up to the individual counties to interpret and enforce that and they all do it differently. Nairobi county has cracked down hard. Lighting up on the open street in the city centre can result in a stiff fine of 50,000 shillings (374, $485) or even arrest. But its not so everywhere, or even outside of the city centre.

deaths

Yusef, 58 and from Kenyas second city Mombasa on the Indian Ocean coast, says people smoke openly in Mombasa. He has been smoking since the 1970s. His 28 year-old daughter died recently from colon cancer. That gives him a different perspective. Im more worried about GM foods, he says.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jul/12/nairobi-kenya-smoking-zones-cigarette-crackdown

Uber’s scandals, blunders and PR disasters: the full list

The company has had a seemingly never-ending string of missteps, from its controversial CEO to questionable tactics and sexual harassment claims

Uber has been rocked by a steady stream of scandals and negative publicity in recent years, including revelations of questionable spy programs, a high-stakes technology lawsuit, claims of sexual harassment and discrimination and embarrassing leaks about executive conduct.

The PR disasters culminated in CEO Travis Kalanick taking an indefinite leave of absence this week and promises of bold reform that largely ignored the ride-hailing companys strained relationship with drivers.

Here is a timeline of some of the most consequential controversies.

Boob-er backlash, February 2014

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick faced backlash for a sexist joke about his increasing desirability, telling an Esquire reporter: We call that Boob-er.

Targeting the competitor, August 2014

Uber faced accusations that it booked thousands of fake rides from its competitor Lyft in an effort to cut into its profits and services. Uber recruiters also allegedly spammed Lyft drivers in an effort to recruit them away from the rival.

The God View scandal, November 2014

Uber executive Emil Michael suggested digging up dirt on journalists and spreading personal information of a female reporter who was critical of the company. He later apologized. It was also revealed that Uber has a so-called God View technology that allows the company to track users locations, raising privacy concerns. One manager had accessed the profile of a reporter without her permission.

Spying on Beyonc, December 2016

A former forensic investigator for Uber testified that employees regularly spied on politicians, exes and celebrities, including Beyonc.

Self-driving pilot failure, December 2016

Regulators in California ordered Uber to remove self-driving vehicles from the road after the company launched a pilot without permits. On the first day of the program, the vehicles were caught running red lights, and cycling advocates in San Francisco also raised concerns about the cars creating hazards in bike lanes. The company blamed red-light issues on human error, but the New York Times later claimed that the companys statements were false and that the autonomous technology failed.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/jun/18/uber-travis-kalanick-scandal-pr-disaster-timeline

Uber silent on CEOs future as it adopts Holder proposals

Taxi app service tight-lipped on Travis Kalanic leave of absence as it responds to accusations of culture of harassment

Ubers board of directors has adopted a series of recommendations about the companys corporate culture from former US attorney general Eric Holder, but it was silent late on Sunday on whether it would approve a leave of absence for the taxi-hailing app services embattled CEO.

A spokesman confirmed that the board met Holder and Tammy Albarrn, both partners with Covington & Burling LLP, a law firm hired to investigate complaints of widespread sexual harassment and other deep-seeded cultural problems at Uber.

Board members voted unanimously to adopt all of the firms recommendations, which were to be released to employees on Tuesday, the spokesman said.

He would not comment on any further actions taken by the board, including whether it discussed the future of the CEO, Travis Kalanick. Multiple media outlets reported on Sunday that the board was considering a leave of absence for Kalanick.

Uber has been rocked by accusations that its management has fostered a workplace environment where harassment, discrimination and bullying are left unchecked.

Uber announced last week that it fired 20 employees for harassment problems after a separate investigation by a different law firm.

Under Kalanick, Uber has shaken up the taxi industry in hundreds of cities and turned the San Francisco-based company into the worlds most valuable startup. Ubers valuation has climbed to nearly $70bn (55bn).

However, Kalanick has acknowledged his management style needs improvement. The 40-year-old CEO said earlier this year he needed to fundamentally change and grow up.

In February, former Uber engineer Susan Fowler wrote on a blog that she had been propositioned by her boss in a series of messages on her first day of work and that superiors ignored her complaints. Uber set up a hotline for complaints after that and hired the law firm of Perkins Coie to investigate.

That firm checked into 215 complaints, with 57 still under investigation.

Uber has been plagued by more than sexual harassment complaints in recent months. It has been threatened by boycotts, sued and subject to a federal investigation that it used a fake version of its app to thwart authorities looking into whether it was breaking local laws.

Kalanick lost his temper earlier this year in an argument with an Uber driver who was complaining about pay, with Kalanicks profanity-laced comments caught on video.

Travis Kalanick argues with his Uber driver

In a March conference call with reporters following that incident, board member Arianna Huffington expressed confidence that Kalanick would evolve into a better leader. But Huffington, a founder of Huffington Post, suggested time might be running out.

Hes a scrappy entrepreneur, she said during the call, but one who needed to bring changes in himself and in the way he leads.

The board meeting follows a personal tragedy for Kalanick. His mother was killed in late May after the boat she and her husband were riding in hit a rock. Kalanicks father suffered moderate injuries.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday that the chief business officer, Emil Michael, was planning to resign as soon as Monday.

The company has faced high turnover in its top ranks. In March, Ubers president, Jeff Jones, resigned after less than a year on the job. He said his beliefs and approach to leadership were inconsistent with those of the company.

In addition to firing 20 employees, Uber said on Tuesday it was hiring an Apple marketing executive, Bozoma Saint John, to help improve its tarnished brand. Saint John was most recently head of global consumer marketing for Apple Music and iTunes.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/jun/12/uber-silent-travis-kalanick-future-adopts-holder-proposals

Ultimate Fighting Championship: the fight of our lives?

Mixed martial arts is the fastest-growing sport on Earth. Beloved by Vladimir Putin and its so-called godfather, Donald Trump, what does this bloody spectacle say about the world we live in? We took a seat cage-side

For an event that presents itself as the most exciting combat sport in the world the Ultimate Fighting Championship involves many long minutes in which, to the untutored eye, nothing much happens at all. The UFC is the dominant promoter of mixed martial arts, the fastest-growing sport on Earth, measured both by participation and audience. At the O2 arena in London last Saturday I sat in a sellout audience of 16,000 people and tried to work out why exactly that might be the case. There were, it turned out, plenty of moments for such stray thoughts.

The combatants in a mixed martial arts (MMA) fight are permitted not only to punch but also kick, elbow and knee their opponent within the octagonal cage in which they fight. In an effort to avoid any of those eventualities fighters can also wrestle their opponent into powerlessness, mostly using the technical holds and joint locks of jiu-jitsu. Like the change of overs in a cricket match, the resultant longueurs, which can go on for minutes, allow you to step out from the action, think about what it is exactly that you are watching.

During one of those interludes early last Saturday evening, while Tim Johnson, a hairy 18st man from Fargo, North Dakota, held Daniel Omielanczuk, a flabby Pole, in an awkward-looking embrace against the mesh fence a hug that involved him thrusting his head into the Poles armpit while occasionally trying to force a knee into his thigh, or slap a fist into his paunch I looked around at the faces of the audience. Though the real action of the night hadnt got going, I was surprised to see that the majority of these 16,000 people who had paid an average of 100 for their tickets seemed happily gripped by the spectacle of the two overweight men in Bermuda shorts pressed against the cage wall.

I had come to the O2 as a UFC virgin to try to see what they see. Id not witnessed the sport in the flesh before, but I had, in preparation, along with apparently every other youngish male on the planet, watched more YouTube clips than seemed healthy. These clips 2bn views and counting tend not to show the minutes in which the fighters are in deadlock. They show instead, on a concussive loop, the many bloody ways in which UFC fights come to a brutal end, dwelling in particular on the knockout blows of the sports superstars: the Irish lightweight Conor McGregor, Jon Bones Jones (currently suspended for a failed drug test) and the former Olympic judo medallist Ronda Rousey (who has singlehandedly popularised womens UFC). The UFC is a sport made for the internet. Fights are short and do not offer much in the way of narrative, but they can deliver in terms of gifs. The clips do not need subtitles. As Lorenzo Fertitta, one of the brothers who bought the UFC brand for $2m in 2000, explained: What makes UFC so great is that every single man on the planet gets it immediately. Its just two guys beating each other up. Last June, the Fertitta brothers proved that lucrative point by selling UFC to Ari Emanuel, chief executive of WME-IMG for $4bn. The new owners have the ambition to make their championship bigger than the World Cup.

The entertainment we choose to watch tells us something about the world in which we live. Id come to the O2 with a theory that, in the same way that Victorian rules of football and rugby codified an attitude towards team play that made sense in the factory and on the battlefield, so the UFC looked something like a symbol of a more atomised, red-in-tooth-and-claw society. Within its cage MMA emphasises a binary, zero-sum world: for one man to succeed, another must be humiliated. It seems, along the way, to appeal to that unreconstructed nostalgia for a time before political correctness: when men could say what they wanted, and watch what they wanted, and celebrate the fact.

The contours of this cultural shift were neatly exposed at the end of last year in the brief war of words between Meryl Streep and Dana White, the bullish president of the UFC. Streep, you will remember, had used her Golden Globes acceptance speech to take a stand against the America that was emerging under the 45th president. Hollywood is crawling with outsiders and foreigners, and if we kick them all out, youll have nothing to watch but football and mixed martial arts, which are not the arts, Streep said.

Conor
Conor McGregor stands on a scale during a weigh-in. Photograph: Julio Cortez/AP

To Dana White, that sounded like fighting talk. He came out from the opposite corner in that perceived cultural divide, throwing punches of his own.

The last thing in the world I expect is an uppity 80-year-old lady to be in our demographic and love mixed martial arts, White said (referring to the 67-year-old actor). Of course [MMA] is an art, he added. These fighters, these men and women, are so talented. They train their whole livestobe the best in the world.

Though some of the fighters on the undercard at the O2 offer scant evidence of that latter claim, as the night progresses you begin to see some of that art and dedication on display. The thoughtfulness and strategy of some of the UFC fighters seems at odds with the attention-deficit tone of the presentation. I find myself intrigued by the style and charisma of the bearded Icelander Gunnar Nelson, who feints and fends for a round or two, upright and alert, before laying out his opponent with a single judicious blow.

White and his organisation have worked very hard, at least on the surface, to emphasise such skills. In the early days of the UFC the sport made a virtue of its lawlessness. The UFCs first show was in Denver in 1993. Taking its cue from videogames like Mortal Kombat, it threw fighters from different traditions and weights into a ring and had them fight until someone was beaten to a standstill, or worse. In the first tournament, a French kickboxer struck a sumo wrestler so hard in the face that two teeth had to be removed from his foot. Hardly anything was off-limits. In 1996 Republican senator John McCain, the Vietnam war hero and 2000 presidential candidate, branded UFC human cockfighting and it was banned almost everywhere.

White, who was installed as president of the organisation by the Fertittas, strived to change that perception, enforce rules, get the UFC licensed and recognised. The new rules outlawed butting, eye-gouging and striking the throat, groin, spine or back of the head. Weight categories were imposed. Women, excluded from UFC in its first two decades, became headline acts in the sport, led by Ronda Rousey. Even McCain was eventually won over. The UFC now makes much of its safety record. The fact that fighters only wear rudimentary gloves (mostly to protect their hands from being crushed against the cage) is presented as a virtue. The absence of padding makes knockouts cleaner, the argument goes, as opposed to the repetitive pounding of boxing, and unlike in the latter sport there are no 10-second counts; any loss of consciousness ends a fight.

The marketing genius of the UFC seems to lie in the fact that despite making itself acceptable to almost every regulatory code (only in France does MMA remain banned) it retains, in a few ways, the tone of its original streetfighting roots. For one thing, if a fighter is cut, blood is allowed to flow. And if a fighter is knocked down, but not knocked out, his opponent can continue to rain blows down on his head while he is on the floor.

In spirit, the UFC exists somewhere between the rigour of traditional martial arts and the contrived drama of pro wrestling. The fights are not fixed, but the narrative of them seems to be. The UFC has 520 fighters contracted to it from 45 countries, and unlike the complicated world of boxing, where fighters from different federations can avoid each other, it insists on the matches that are made. In this way, it builds up heroes and villains, trades on a sense of us and them.

During a fight at the O2 between Irish Joe Duffy and an Iranian fighter with Swedish nationality called Reza Madadi, all of that intention seems clear. Early in the fight Madadi suffers a bad cut above the bridge of his nose after Duffy has straddled him while on the ground and landed punches to his head (the ground and pound tactic that is the UFC at its most brutal). For the remainder of the fight a great deal of blood flows out of Rezas wound and into his eyes, making his best defence to hold the free-swinging Duffy in a desperate clinch. As a result, by the end of the bout Duffys pale skin is bathed in Rezas blood, a sight that all other sports have outlawed for 30 or more years, but in which the UFC appears to revel.

In large part, the crowd, mostly men, seemed nonplussed by the spectacle. For a few, however, the sight of blood seems to loosen inhibition. Unfortunately I am seated in front of one of the more vocal of those individuals, who keeps up a running commentary that relies on two observations the first a general plea for Irish Duffy to fuck that motherfucker up; the second, slightly more precise in its demands, is a suggestion to put him on disability and Ill pay your bail, son. (In between rounds, the same character, a man in his mid-30s, cant seem to contain himself at the sight of the bikini-clad woman who holds up a sign for the number of the next round. No matter how often she circles the ring, he offers the same pair of thoughts: I want your babies! Dont tell the wife!)

Not everyone attracted to MMA shares those particular passions, but sitting beside the cage it seems hard to ignore the idea that the tremendous popularity of the sport speaks to something of a crisis in masculinity, a nostalgia for more traditional gender roles, a nostalgia that also fuels populist politics.

Grayson Perry, in his recent television quest to define British masculinity, talked to some MMA fighters in the north-east. Their stories were framed by the annual Durham Miners Gala, and Perry made the argument that the demise of the old masculine ideals, rooted in physical work to put food on the table, had left a vacancy that had not been filled. Watching one of the mixed martial arts fights on a more brutal, local scale than the UFC the artist suggested persuasively that hard labour [had been] reinvented as leisure spectacle. In a place in which men had gone in a generation from digging coal underground to packing sandwiches in a factory, there was a desperation for the heroicnarrative.

Brad
Brad Pitt as Tyler Durden in David Finchers 1999 film of Fight Club. Photograph: Allstar

The narrative that the UFC presents is a carefully stage-managed form of heroism, one in which its not hard to see the artifice. Whenever there is a lull in the action in the O2 cage, big screens around the arena run through their concussive highlights packages. The effect is a bit like going to watch Grimsby Town and having shots of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo playing on a loop. Conor McGregor may not be here in person, but we see almost as much of him on screen as we do of the fighters in the cage. Those in the crowd who wear full beards in the style of the Irishman, the undisputed cock of the walk, seem to enjoy the virtual proximity in the same way as if he were here.

The argument for ritualised, rule-bound martial arts has always been that it helps fulfil a Darwinian need in men to test themselves against each other while minimising the carnage. It gets them off the streets. The UFC not only trades on those impulses, however, it also trades on the idea that they are essential features of manliness. While the rules of traditional martial arts were social constructs, demanding submission, the mythology of MMA feels closer in spirit to the nihilistic tenor of Chuck Palahniuks book Fight Club, written in 1996, and David Finchers subsequent 1999 film, starring Brad Pitt as the no-holds-barred hero Tyler Durden. Durden presented a world in which only in fighting did men truly find status: Were the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great Wars a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives. Weve all been raised on television to believe that one day wed all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we wont. And were slowly learning that fact. And were very, very pissed off

Palahniuks novel, and Finchers film, in part satirised this anger and the anarchy that resulted but they also seemed prophetic of a powerful impulse in western societies: the impulse of insecure alpha males to reassert their strength. It is no surprise that the so-called alt-right likes to quote liberally from Tyler Durden to give their bigotry a Nietzchean veneer. The catch-all insult to liberals snowflake, for example, derives from Durden, a hero for whom men are not a beautiful or unique snowflake. Like the UFC, Fight Club dramatises a life of instinct above one of thought. It suggests that man is at his best when he is in thrall to his animal nature, and what is wrong with that?

Read through this lens, the rise of Donald Trump his special adviser Steve Bannon refers to the campaign and the administration as his own personal fight club might be viewed as an expression of this reasserted biological determinism. Trump makes no effort at all to hide his masculine urges, and is rewarded for it. He is all instinct. He boasts about sexual assault. He licenses beauty pageants because he likes to display his control over a harem. And, inevitably, perhaps, he is celebrated as the godfather of the UFC.

When Trump accepted his nomination as Republican candidate, Dana White offered the GOP convention a public endorsement. White explained how, in the darker days of the sport, after Senator McCain had criticised the UFC as cockfighting and no one would license or put on MMA bouts, Trump stood alone in support of it. He personally hosted and endorsed two UFC shows in 2000 at the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, a commitment that probably saved UFC from bankruptcy. State athletic commissions didnt support us, White recalled. Arenas around the world refused to host our events. Nobody took us seriously. Nobody except Donald Trump.

Donald
Donald Trump in action against Vince McMahon at WrestleMania in 2007. Photograph: Sam Greenwood/WireImage

Trump not only embraced the sport, he explored the possibility of himself developing a rival to the UFC called Affliction. He signed up a famous Russian fighter, Fedor Emelianenko, close friend of Vladimir Putin, to star in his events. The experiment ended after a couple of promotions but for all his efforts, Trump was inducted as a visionary into the New Jersey State Martial Arts Hall of Fame (Trump is known to have fought just once in public himself: at WrestleMania XXIII in 2007, he body-slammed the wrestling promoter Vince McMahon outside the ring before, bizarrely, shaving his hair (an encounter preserved for historians on YouTube).

In the opening skirmishes of his political war on nuance, Trump seems to have identified the UFC, or at least fans of it, as likely fellow travellers. Its sort of like somebody dies! he said, when asked about the sports appeal. Ive never seen anything like it Its not like, Oh, how are the judges voting? Its like, you know, somebody just succumbs.

That particularly adolescent now presidential fantasy is never quite as simple in reality. Watching the UFC up close, without the edits and the highlights, you have a strong sense of the vulnerability of the fighters as well as their prowess. They look as likely to have been bullied as to be bullies. The strangest moment in a long evening at the O2 comes with the farewell fight of 38-year-old Brad Pickett, a native East Ender, who has been a stalwart of the UFC for nearly a decade, and who has earned the nickname One Punch.

In case you were in any doubt of his cockney connections, Pickett enters the arena to Chas and Daves song Wallop, wearing a string vest, braces, his customary trilby, and reading a paper (Im guessing not the Observer). He is, given the valedictory nature of his performance, also in tears. He is fighting a lithe Ecuadorean kickboxer, Marlon Vera, who is at least a foot taller than him and just over half his age. For a couple of rounds the farewell fight seems to be going to plan; in the third, however, as Pickett tries to land a trademark punch, Vera knocks him out with a vicious kick to the jaw. Pickett tries to get up and fight on, but is stopped by the referee. In tears again, he leaves his trilby in the centre of the Octagon. Later in his press conference, he is still bemoaning the way that the fight ended. He doesnt believe he had lost consciousness. Hed told the referee: If you are going to stop it make sure Im stiff, but he hadnt listened. Still choked, he speaks a little about his long history with the sport, how at his first MMA fights on Portsmouth pier he didnt even get paid: Just a free seat for my mum and dad. It wasnt even a sport really, at all then, he says, but look at it now, all around the world.

Pickett is not wrong in that evaluation. In its apparently unstoppable growth, the UFC now broadcasts in more than 152 countries to more than a billion households worldwide. In Europe, more people, 237 million, watch the UFC than Formula One. New owner Ari Emanuel bought the organisation with a view to extending that reach still further.

Brad
Brad Pickett of England punches Marlon Vera of Ecuador in their bout at the O2. Photograph: Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

To this end, in the months since taking over the sport, he has been doing the rounds of key political figures. Emanuel has history with Trump: he bought the Miss Universe Organisation from him in 2015, and prior to that acted as his Hollywood agent. When the pair met two weeks after the presidents election in November, on a golf course in New Jersey, Trump referred to his friend as the king of Hollywood.

Emanuels immediate ambition appears to be to expand the UFCs reach into what has become a spiritual homeland of MMA, Vladimir Putins Russia. Like Trump, the Russian president is a great admirer of the sport for what it reveals about men. A former judo champion himself, he has often watched bouts at ringside, particularly those involving his great friend Fedor Emelinenko. His enthusiasm is outdone perhaps by the hardline leader of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, who was recently chastised for staging a televised MMA night in Grozny in which his three sons aged 8, 9 and 10 prevailed in one-sided bouts against terrified-looking schoolboys. Kadyrov cheered them on at the side of the cage, in an event aimed at popularising the sport in Chechnya. Though there are no childrens cage fights in Russia itself, the appeal of creating a generation that grows up fighting finds ready advocates in a parliament that has passed laws allowing wife-beating and considered the proposal of turning football hooliganism into a recognised sport.

In December Emanuel had a productive meeting with the Russian deputy prime minister Vitaly Mutko, and a deal for a UFC event in Moscow seems likely. Theyve shown me their presentation, Mutko said. I was shocked when I saw what they were doing. The revenues, how much they get from the TV The march of UFC shows no signs of stopping.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/mar/26/ultimate-fighting-championship-fight-of-our-lives-mma-donald-trump-vladimir-putin-conor-mcregor

Got it covered: fashion wakes up to Muslim womens style

With the Islamic economy growing at double the global rate, mainstream designers are jumping on the modest wear bandwagon

A year or so ago the term modest wear would have drawn puzzled looks. But what a difference a year or, in fact, a few weeks makes.

This month, Vogue Arabia launched its first ever print issue, with Saudi Arabian princess Deena Aljuhani Abdulaziz as its editor in chief. Days later, Nike pioneered a hi-tech hijab for Muslim female athletes. London has seen its first modest fashion week. Big brands such as DKNY, Mango, Dolce & Gabbana, Oscar de la Renta and Uniqlo have all offered modest fashion lines to women, and Debenhams has just become the first department store to sell hijabs on the high street.

Yet the latest talking point in fashion circles has been the appearance of The Modist, a luxury e-commerce venture which launched, quite intentionally, on international womens day. Fashion that caters to women who want to combine their faith or modesty with contemporary style has emphatically arrived.

The founder and CEO of The Modist is 38-year-old Ghizlan Guenez, of Algerian background, who presents her new company more as a philosophy than a fashion destination. And of course Guenez, who has a private-equity background, knows this is where the big money lies. Global Muslim expenditure on fashion is set to rise to $484bn (398bn) by 2019, according to Reuters and DinarStandard, a research and advisory firm.

The Modist could not have launched at a better time, says Guenez. The stars were aligning for us. We saw Halima Aden, the first Muslim model in a hijab on the catwalk at New York fashion week, modelling for Yeezy, Kanye Wests fashion line; were seeing big brands reaching out to Muslim audiences even more, and we had the womens march, which was incredibly empowering for women all over the globe.

Halima
Halima Aden wore a hijab during New York fashion week. Photograph: Luca Bruno/AP

Guenez sees social media as pivotal to the modest fashion industry. Social media has played a significant role in bringing women together so a Malaysian fashionista can be inspired by a student in London. Theyre informed by an online community of women who want to combine faith values with fashion.

The Modist curates outfits that range from around 200 to 2,000, from coloured maxi dresses to wide-leg trousers, and dynamic-cut tops. Yet when it comes to gauging what modesty really means, Guenez is measured. Modesty is a wide spectrum that involves personal choice, she says. But we do respect certain parameters, through lowering hemlines, avoiding sheerness and low necklines. We want to provide something that is inspiring, fashionable and relevant.

Yet modest fashion, particularly when it comes to Muslims, has not been without controversy. Vogue Arabias front cover caused a Twitter backlash for depicting 21-year-model Gigi Hadid in a jewel-encrusted veil. She was criticised for giving religious offence, for cultural appropriation and for using her Palestinian roots as a fashion gimmick.

And of course there was the global outcry when burkinis, the full-piece Islamic swimsuits, were banned last summer from a string of French coastal towns and bizarrely linked to terrorism.

Reina Lewis, professor of cultural studies at the London College of Fashion, observes that when modest fashion mixes with major brands and Muslims, it can prompt controversy. The fashion industry is broadly secular and there is an anxiety associated with Muslims and Islam in particular, she says. Muslims are often seen to be outside western-perceived cultural production.

But that negative attitude is shifting, says Lewis. When she started researching her book Muslim Fashion: Contemporary Style Cultures, she found the Muslim female designers, bloggers and entrepreneurs she spoke to could not get the attention of the big brands. Now modest wear is seen as an asset because of Muslim spending power, she says.

According to Reuters and DinarStandard, the Islamic economy is growing at nearly double the global rate. Muslim consumer spending on food and lifestyle reached $1.8tn in 2014 and is projected to reach $2.6tn in 2020.

And so modest wear continues to draw major brands: Dolce & Gabbana created a luxury hijab and abaya range in 2016; DKNY and Mango launched exclusive modest wear lines for Ramadan and Eid targeting the UAE; H&M featured its first Muslim model in a hijab, Mariah Idrissi, and Uniqlo joined forces with British-Japanese designer Hana Tajima to create their LifeWear collection. Debenhams is collaborating with a Muslim-run company, Aab, to sell kimono wraps, silky jumpsuits and elegant hijabs.

Deena
Deena Aljuhani Abdulaziz, Vogue Arabias new editor. Photograph: Edward Berthelot/Getty Images

Just weeks before the release of Nikes Pro Hijab, aimed at Muslim athletes, the company launched a video for Middle Eastern audiences. It featured a diversity of Muslim women ice-skating, boxing, horse-riding, and fencing. The voiceover, in Arabic, says: What will they say about you? Maybe theyll say you exceeded all expectations.

Its long overdue, according to Rimla Akhtar, the first Muslim woman on the Football Association council, and chair of the UKs Muslim Womens Sports Foundation. Modest sports gear and sports hijabs are nothing new, but to have something from such a giant as Nike is significant.

Akhtar, who has been competing since her teens, finds the sharp spotlight on Muslim women over the past few years to be both positive and negative. Its encouraging to see Muslim women recognised, but much of this advertising pushes the narrative of breaking stereotypes, she says. I look forward to a time when we can normalise Muslim women in sports, not constantly make them a political or social statement.

Nabiilabee has been a blogger for seven years, and is among the pioneers of modest fashion. She started her eponymous clothing brand for anyone looking for something modest, but still fun and quirky. The 21-year-old belongs to the Mipster generation (Muslim hipster), which comprises urban, tech-savvy millennials who are confident in their faith and fashion choices.

Hijabi bloggers and influencers werent really being seen by advertisers or companies, so we had to create a platform which united other Muslim women who were facing fashion dilemmas, she says. The problem still exists today; however, there is a lot more choice and those women who were once isolated by the high street have launched their own collections, like Arabian Nites, Aab and Verona Collection and my own Nabiilabee.

So does this mean women who want stylish modest wear are finally being catered for? The answer, for Nabiilabee, is mixed. She feels that while recent moves are encouraging, there is still a long way to go in penetrating the high street and treating Muslim female shoppers as a sought-after commodity.

Its important that brands and marketing campaigns try to have an authentic conversation with this audience rather than simply sticking a modest sticker on everything and hoping it will sell, she says.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2017/mar/11/got-it-covered-fashion-wakes-up-to-muslim-womens-style

Swedish supermarkets replace sticky labels with laser marking

Food retailers aiming to cut plastic packaging by ditching stickers on fruits and vegetables, instead using hi-tech natural branding

The humble fruit sticker may seem an unlikely cause for environmental concern but removing it from produce could create huge savings in plastic, energy and CO2 emissions.

In response to consumer demand for less packaging, Dutch fruit and veg supplier Nature & More and Swedish supermarket ICA have joined forces to run a trial to replace sticky labels on organic avocados and sweet potatoes with a laser mark.

M&S are also using it on coconuts in the UK.

Dubbed natural branding, the technique uses a strong light to remove pigment from the skin of produce. The mark is invisible once skin is removed and doesnt affect shelf life or eating quality.

By using natural branding on all the organic avocados we would sell in one year we will save 200km (135 miles) of plastic 30cm wide. Its small but I think it adds up, says Peter Hagg, ICA business unit manager.

The laser technology also creates less than 1% of the carbon emissions needed to produce a sticker of similar size.

Stephane Merit, business development manager of the Spanish company behind the technology, Laser Food, says with millions of stickers used on food produce around the world everyday, the technology could make a significant reduction in the amount of paper, ink, glue being used as well as the cutting the energy used to produce and transport them.

Ethical shoppers

The sustainability saving is particularly important for organic shoppers, who now account for almost a fifth of all ICAs fruit and veg sales, says Hagg. Organic sales are driven by environmental awareness, like climate change and belief in health benefits. Younger shoppers also choose products depending on the environmental impact of the packaging. And we know that this will be very important in coming years, he says.

Switching from plastic to cardboard is a bonus, but selling organic produce as loose is even better says Hagg. Yet under EU rules all items need to be marked hence the need for stickers if selling loose.

This is a solution that permanently marks the skin of the product, so its better from a sustainability perspective, but also avoids the problem of stickers falling off.

Laser Foods technology has been around for several years but has previously been used for marketing or branding, without being explicitly linked to sustainability.

Up to now, no one has used this technique with the specific aim of cutting packaging. It was used for novelty which is nice, but a gimmick at Easter or Christmas isnt going to pay off, says Michal Wilde, sustainability and communications manager at Nature & More. What we are saying is, by buying this product youre saving plastic.

Laser
Photograph: Guardian

The cost of a laser machine is considerable, but after that initial investment, Wilde says it is almost more cost-effective than stickers. You have to invest in an extremely expensive machine, so its very much an investment for the future. This is something we believe more and more supermarkets will take on. It saves resources, CO2 and energy, so it does calculate.

M&S lasered coconuts

While the ICA trial has begun with sweet potatoes and avocados, products where sticking labels to skin is challenging, the supermarket is already preparing to expand onto other products.

The next step will be to use natural branding on edible skin products, such as apples or nectarines, says Hagg. If consumers react positively there is no limit. We are planning to try it with melons in summer, as there is a problem there at the moment with stickers attaching to the skin.

Although ICAs involvement is the largest retail trial to date, the technology has been used in various other European markets.

Last year UK supermarket M&S trialled it on oranges, saving several tonnes of packaging according to fruit technologist Andrew Mellonie, who supervised the project. However, citrus skins ability to heal itself meant the laser mark wasnt as effective so the trial was suspended, but the retailer now uses it on coconuts and has plans to extend to other products.

The reaction of shoppers to laser-branded produce is one of the only concerns for Hagg and Wilde, but, they say, so far feedback on Swedish social media has been positive.

For Hagg, no matter how small the story, nowadays sustainability is always good news for consumers and he is hopeful that other supermarkets will follow ICAs example.

The calculations are that it costs the same, but sustainability for our consumers and ourselves is the biggest gain. I hope it will take off with more products and also non-organic. I can only imagine what a bigger retailer would be able to save. I really hope it spreads.

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Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2017/jan/16/ms-and-swedish-supermarkets-ditch-sticky-labels-for-natural-branding