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Fairtrade was going to save the world: now consumers fight to keep it going

When, in 2017, Sainsbury’s announced that it was planning to develop its own “fairly traded” mark, more than 100,000 people signed a petition condemning the move. Today, on the eve of Fairtrade Fortnight, the fact that most supermarkets have moved away from the standards developed by the Fairtrade Foundation is worrying.

While some grocery chains have sought the foundation’s stamp of approval, many have gone their own way. This means most consumers have little sense of which organisation is doing what to protect the wages and rights of developing world workers. Over the next two weeks, the foundation plans to focus its publicity efforts on cocoa farmers in west Africa and the way the Fairtrade mark can improve their lives.

Later this year, the base price of Fairtrade cocoa will increase by 20% from $2,000 a tonne to $2,400. The premium farmers put aside for community projects will also rise by 20%, from $200 to $240. This is great news for the farmers who are part of the scheme – and the higher price is easily within the pockets of chocolate lovers in the rich west.

It is a premium on today’s open market price, which stands at around $2,260 a tonne, and protects farmers from the drops in value that hit the industry in 2017, when it dipped below $2,000.

Yet the focus on cocoa reveals the limits of the Fairtrade system, which was once going to provide a popular alternative to most goods sold on the high street. There are standards for everything from cotton to gold and flowers, but such products are usually only available at specialist providers or the Co-op.

The foundation has tried to persuade some bulk buyers to buy marked goods only, and has had some success. For instance, Transport for London has made sure that the safety vests it provides to staff are made of Fairtrade cotton.

But more local authorities, government agencies and corporations need to follow this lead, ensuring that when they place orders in the thousands, it is always for a Fairtrade product.

Big businesses, with their large personnel departments, have the resources to explain to their workers why Fairtrade matters when they buy stuff, and what it means for those people at the other end of the production process.

But in other sectors, it is left to the Fairtrade Foundation to publicise its efforts and achievements – with the help of its most active members, such as Divine Chocolate.

That is a sad situation. After the great financial crash of 2008, a commodity boom that lasted from 2013 to 2017 turned into a slump that has robbed farmers and developing world governments of vital cash. Just as they were managing to stabilise their finances and set aside money to invest, the world price tumbled and wiped out their profit. Fairtrade practices protect farmers from this sort of setback and allow them to plan for the future.

Of course they have their critics. These are most mostly from the US – people who favour unfettered markets and seek to undermine the Fairtrade ideal, saying it is a form of protectionism that dampens innovation and ultimately ruins farms.

Theirs is an almost religious adherence to the free market that discounts the gains in stability and security that Fairtrade provides, and the scope of the community premium to promote universal education and the rights of women.

But without large employers making strides to adopt the standardised and transparent Fairtrade practices put forward by the foundation, it will be left to consumers to drive the project forward.

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Lawsuit alleges ‘conspiracy’ behind founding of VC-backed AAF

An entrepreneur and VC veteran named Robert Vanech has filed a lawsuit alleging Charlie Ebersol stole the idea for the newly launched Alliance of American Football, claiming Vanech and Ebersol were actually co-creators of the league and that Vanech is owed a 50% ownership stake.

The suit was filed last Friday, just a few days after the AAF received a $250 million commitment from Tom Dundon, a subprime lending tycoon and the owner of the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes. Dundon is also the creator of Dundon Capital Partners, a Dallas-based firm that invests in private equity and credit.

The AAF didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. The league issued a statement to other media outlets saying “Mr. Vanech’s claim is without merit,” and that “[t]here was never any agreement, oral or written, between Mr. Vanech and Mr. Ebersol relating to The Alliance.”

Since the announcement of its formation last year, the AAF has pitched itself as the brainchild of Ebersol (the son of famed NBC Sports executive Dick Ebersol) and Bill Polian, a longtime presence in NFL front offices. But Vanech’s lawsuit presents a different story, claiming Vanech approached Charlie Ebersol with the idea for a new football league in February 2017 and that the two had a handshake agreement to evenly divide the league’s equity. The document claims that Vanech is responsible for many of the AAF’s notable innovations, including the idea of assigning former college stars to local AAF teams, an emphasis on Big Data and the league’s focus on an in-game app.

The suit goes on to paint a picture of the AAF’s early days, with Ebersol and Vanech both seemingly caught up in the heady rush of creating a new sports league from scratch. The suit includes a screenshot dated March 2017 that allegedly shows a proposed a cap table for the AAF that includes a 50/50 split of equity between Vanech and Ebersol, as well as documents supposedly shared with possible investors that list Vanech as the league’s CFO and COO.

Vanech alleges that everything started to change in May 2017, when Ebersol met with Keith Rabois of Khosla Ventures about investing in the AAF. Ebersol allegedly told Vanech that any money from Rabois would come “with certain conditions,” including that Rabois might take over the COO position, and that Rabois wanted to re-allocate some of Vanech’s equity. Vanech believed the talks were in good faith at the time, but the suit now calls them evidence “that a conspiracy had been formed to oust Vanech.” By July 2017, per the suit, Ebersol was denying the existence of any agreement with Vanech, claiming they’d had only “exploratory conversations” and “high-level discussions.”

It’s worth noting that Rabois, who has since announced plans to leave Khosla Ventures for Founders Fund, is listed on the AAF’s website as a member of its board of directors. Kevin Freedman, who was a partner at Khosla Ventures alongside Rabois from 2015 to 2017, is now the AAF’s COO.

Rabois is named in Vanech’s lawsuit as a “co-conspirator.”

Vanech is currently the CFO at Trebel Music, an on-demand music startup that was valued at $27 million in 2017. From 2012 to 2014, he was a venture advisor at AITV, which has since rebranded as Sway Ventures.

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Doorstep lender Provident Financial receives £1.3bn takeover bid

Provident Financial, the doorstep lender that charges interest rates of 535%, has received a surprise £1.3bn takeover bid from a smaller rival led by its former chief executive.

The unsolicited bid for the “Provvy” from Non-Standard Finance (NSF), run by John van Kuffeler, has the backing of the key shareholder Neil Woodford and others who own more than 50% of the company’s shares.

Provident Financial has 800,000 doorstep borrowers – with loan payments collected weekly from their homes – and another 1.7 million holders of its Vanquis credit card that charges up to 69.9% interest.

Despite the high APRs, Provident Financial is yet to recover from a botched attempt to overhaul its 130-year-old business model by cutting staff numbers and ramping up its use of technology. Its shares plunged by two-thirds on one day in 2017 and last year it reported a £123m loss.

Van Kuffeler said Provident had “lost its way” and revealed it had rejected an approach in 2018. “[We] approached the Provident board with a proposal in January last year. That approach was rebuffed and since then Provident has further lost its way.”

Provident’s only official response so far has been to say it “notes the unsolicited offer for Provident Financial announced this morning … The board’s considered response to the offer will be announced in due course. In the meantime, shareholders are strongly advised to take no action in respect of the NSF offer.”

NSF said if successful it would keep Provident’s doorstep-lending business but sell off “non-core” Satsuma Loans and Moneybarn divisions.

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Sainsbury’s shares dive after Asda merger put in doubt

Sainsbury’s shares have dived 15% after the UK’s competition watchdog cast doubt on its plan to buy Asda.

Customers could see higher prices and less choice if the two grocers combined, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said.

It said it could block the deal or force the sale of a large number of stores or even one of the brand names.

However, it also said it was “likely to be difficult” for the chains to “address the concerns”.

Sainsbury’s boss said the findings were “outrageous”.

In its provisional report on the proposed merger, the CMA also said the merger could lead to a “poorer shopping experience”.

Stuart McIntosh, chair of the CMA’s independent inquiry group, said it had found “very significant competition concerns in a number of areas – they are to do with grocery shopping in supermarkets, grocery shopping online and the companies’ petrol stations”.

“However, if one recognises that the competition concerns are quite broadly based… putting together a package of measures which addresses those concerns is likely to be complex and quite challenging,” he said.

But Sainsbury’s chief executive Mike Coupe described the CMA’s analysis as “fundamentally flawed” and said the firm would be making “very strong representations” to it about its “inaccuracy and lack of objectivity”.

“They have fundamentally moved the goalposts, changed the shape of the ball and chosen a different playing field,” he told the BBC.

“This is totally outrageous.”


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Cathedral City maker Dairy Crest to be bought by Saputo

Dairy Crest, whose brands include Cathedral City cheddar and Country Life butter, has agreed to be bought by a Canadian company in a near-£1bn deal.

Saputo, one of the biggest dairy processors in the world, will pay 620p a share, valuing Dairy Crest at £975m.

The deal is Saputo’s first in Europe and it said Dairy Crest was an “attractive platform” for UK growth.

Dairy Crest said “virtually” all its 1,100 UK jobs are safe, including 150 at its head office in Surrey.

However, the Unite union said it would be “seeking an urgent meeting” with Saputo about assurances over job security.

Dairy Crest’s share price, which has risen steadily this week, had jumped almost 12% in late morning trading on Friday.

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Marmite-owner Unilever snaps up snack brand Graze

Marmite-owner Unilever has bought healthy snack brand Graze, which started life a decade ago as a snack box delivery service.

Graze produces nuts, seeds, trail mixes and snack bars, with no artificial ingredients and Unilever said the purchase would accelerate its presence in healthy foods.

The sale price was not given, though sources say it was less than £100m.

The boss of Graze described the deal as ‘transformational’.

Graze products are now available in stores including Sainsbury’s, Boots, WH Smith and Tesco, as well as online and direct to the consumers.

‘Growth journey’

The business was set up in 2008 by seven friends as an internet-based business. In 2009, Anthony Fletcher joined the company

In 2012 Mr Fletcher led a management buyout and became chief executive of the company.

The move, which was backed by US private equity group Carlyle taking a majority stake in the business, saw three of the seven co-founders end their day-to-day involvement in the business but remain as shareholders.

Mr Fletcher said the sale to Unilever “marks a transformational moment in Graze’s growth journey”.

“We look forward to working closely with the team to keep on inventing new healthy snacks, as well as continuing to work to understand the role technology can play in improving the food industry,” he added.

”Makes sense’

Nitin Paranjpe, president of Unilever’s food & refreshment business said: “Accelerating our presence in healthy foods and out of home this is an excellent strategic fit for the Unilever Food & Refreshment business, and a wonderful addition to our stable of purpose driven brands.

Nick Cooper, of global branding agency Landor said: “Unilever has a good track record when it comes to purchasing and then nurturing smaller brands. Its innovation and investment incubators have given it expertise in growing those smaller, more entrepreneurial brands. That’s why this deal makes sense for Graze.

Mr Cooper said in the short term Unilever would “likely leave Graze alone”.

“That’s certainly what it did with Ben & Jerry’s”.

However he added Graze would be able to “tap into” Unilever’s global distribution channels and reach new customers.


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Bottler Coca-Cola HBC buys Serbian confectionary firm

Soft drink bottler Coca Cola HBC said on Monday it would buy Serbian confectionary business Bambi for an enterprise value of 260 million euros ($294 million) from private equity investor Mid Europa Partners, expanding its portfolio of beverages and increase its presence in the Western Balkans.

The Swiss-based company, which bottles and sells Coca-Cola Co drinks in 28 countries, said Bambi had revenue of around 80 million euros in 2018.

Shares of the company fell last week after it warned of higher finance costs on its existing borrowing and weak consumer spending in several of its markets this year.


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Stock Spirits buys Italian grappa producer Distillerie Franciacorta for €26.5m

Vodka manufacturer Stock Spirits has snapped up Italian grappa giant Distillerie Franciacorta in a deal worth €26.5m (£23.2m), the company said today.

The London-listed drinks firm will take over Distillerie Franciacorta’s spirits and liqueurs business for €23.5m and pay a further €3m for land, with plans to build a new production facility.

Stock Spirits, which operates largely in the eastern European market, will also acquire the Italian company’s wine brands.

The Lombardy-based spirits company Distillerie Franciacorta specialises in grappa, which is Italy’s fourth largest spirits category, as well as the region’s sparkling wine.

Shares in Stock Spirits were up almost 2.5 per cent this morning.

Stock Spirits chief executive Mirek Stachowicz said:This is our first step in pursuing in-market consolidation opportunities in Italy, and Distillerie Franciacorta will strengthen our position in what is a fragmented but highly attractive market for us.

“It should also be seen as a clear reflection of our willingness to undertake value-creating mergers and acquisitions as part of our four-pillar growth strategy.”

The move comes just days after a major Stock Spirits shareholder launched an attack on the company’s board over low returns.

Portuguese investor Luis Amaral, whose firm Western Gate holds a 10 per cent stake in the business, called on fellow shareholders to oust chairman David Maloney and senior director John Nicolson.

Western Gate also criticised the board’s failure to offer a clear growth strategy and carry out acquisitions, and the investment firm today issued a further statement insisting the takeover is “immaterial to the company’s balance sheet”.

“This simply does not go far enough and is another example of Stock Spirits only acting under pressure from shareholders,” it said.

But Stock Spirits rebutted the claim. “This is an opportunity that we have been looking at for more than a year now, and discussions have taken place over many months,” the company said.

“It has nothing to do with shareholder pressure and everything to do with being a truly compelling opportunity that has clear and attractive synergies with our existing Italian operations.”

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Time’s up: Meet the startups fighting sexual harassment

It’s been more than a year since the #metoo movement swept across the globe, revealing the extent to which sexual harassment has infiltrated virtually every industry, as women and men have come forward to share their stories.

Despite the global outcry—and the naming and shaming of some of the culprits, which has resulted in public scandals and resignations reaching the very top of billion-dollar corporations—there is still little evidence of systemic change from companies themselves. In most cases, it appears that, for now, the movement has had consequences for individuals, rather than altering the corporate culture that has made sexual harassment permissible—or at least allowed some employees to get away with it.

When trying to understand just how prevalent this behavior is in the workplace, numbers help. According to a 2017 BBC survey, more than half of women and a fifth of men have been subjected to workplace sexual harassment in the UK. Across the pond, statistics from Statista reveal that 42% of women and 11% of men have experienced it. However, it is also crucial to note that the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission estimates that around 75% of all workplace harassment goes unreported, so as bad as these figures appear, the reality is probably much worse.

Most businesses have a set of human resources rules to deal with not only these issues, but all forms of discrimination, alongside the more mundane tasks of day-to-day working life. However, normalized HR practices to tackle sexual harassment are more often than not based on antiquated laws that are in need of an update to deal with the problems that appear in the modern workplace as society evolves.

As with any industry nowadays, when there’s a need for disruption, a good place to turn for innovative solutions is the startup world. Over the past couple of years, a rash of new companies have cropped up to not only help those who have been affected by sexual harassment, but also to try to prevent it in the first place.

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Spotify buys podcast firms Gimlet and Anchor

Spotify has bought two podcast firms and plans to spend up to $500m (£385m) on further acquisitions in an attempt to move beyond its music streaming roots for new growth.

The Swedish company has acquired Gimlet, the firm behind a string of popular podcasts including Homecoming, which was adapted into an Amazon TV series starring Julia Roberts.

It has also acquired Anchor, a platform that allows individuals and companies to create, publish and monetise podcasts. No price was disclosed for either deal, but Gimlet reportedly cost Spotify $230m.

Daniel Ek, the founder and chief executive of Spotify, said his company needed to break into the small, but fast-growing podcasting market in order to tap revenue streams beyond its core music service.

“We believe it is a safe assumption that, over time, more than 20% of all Spotify listening will be non-music content,” he said in a blog post. “This means the potential to grow much faster with more original programming.

“Our core business is performing very well. But as we expand deeper into audio, especially with original content, we will scale our entire business.”

News of the deals came as Spotify revealed its first ever quarterly profit. Operating profit for the final three months of 2018 was €94m (£82m), but it expects to slip back into the red this year. The company said its loss guidance for 2019 had increased from €200m to €360m, despite paid subscriber numbers being projected to rise from 117 million to 127 million.


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