Internet access for the repressed, Credit Suisse goes for equality and better plastics in sight

Google aims to open web access

A new product seeded by Google Ideas, the internet giant’s “see-do tank”, enables friends to offer each other unfettered access to the internet, providing a much needed tool for people living in repressive countries with internet surveillance and censorship.

uProxy, developed by the University of Washington and Brave New Software Project, is a browser extension for Chrome and Firefox that lets users share a secure route to the web. uProxy likens itself to a personalised virtual private network – known as VPN – service. For example, a user based in the US can provide access to a friend in Iran or Syria via email or chat, which will then route their connection through the US user’s computer to provide a safe, private pathway to the internet. Both users need to have uProxy installed on their respective computers, as it’s not a centralised service. Once one party closes their web browser or turns off their computer, the uProxy connection will be cut off.

uProxy is currently being tested by a small, trusted batch of users to ensure the service is as secure and private as possible, before a roll-out to a larger audience.

The product was unveiled at a Google Ideas summit in New York – Conflict in a Connected World –held in partnership with the Council on Foreign Relations and the Gen Next Foundation, both US organisations.

“In many countries with strict censorship, there is a real need for tools that simply work well – tools that are fast, easy to use, and don’t get blocked,” says Adam Fisk at Brave New Software. “If uProxy is able to live up to its potential, users in censored countries will learn about it quickly through word of mouth simply because it will work and provide them with access.”

Credit Suisse’s LGBT investments

 is the first bank to launch an LGBT Equality Portfolio that allows its clients to invest in companies with a track record of supporting LGBT employees and good financial performance.

The portfolio was conceived by the bank’s LGBT employee network, and resulted from the network’s development of the Credit Suisse LGBT Equality Index, a capitalisation-weighted equity index that measures the performance of US companies recognised for supporting and promoting equality for members of the LGBT community.

To be listed on the index, companies must have a score of 80 or more on the Human Rights Campaign’s corporate equality index (CEI), the US benchmark for corporate policies and practices related to LGBT employees. This year, CEI awarded 252 companies with a perfect score of 100% out of 688 surveyed, a notable increase from last year’s perfect score count of 189.

According to Eric Berger, private banking USA relationship manager at Credit Suisse, the new portfolio is available to blue chip companies with a progressive LGBT policy and strong capital appreciation potential. Berger says the goal behind the portfolio is to raise awareness and ultimately assets for the fund team, while the index will continue to serve as a platform for developing new Credit Suisse investment products.

Starbucks recruits veterans

Starbucks is ramping up its recruitment of US military veterans with a new initiative to hire at least 10,000 veterans and military spouses over the next five years.

With ambitious plans to nearly double its current workforce of 200,000 employees, Starbucks is building a robust infrastructure including a dedicated team of recruiters, partnering with Hire America’s Heroes, and expanding its Armed Forces Network, established back in 2007 to provide new employees from the armed forces with the information and resources needed to move into the private sector.

“As I look at the opportunity ahead of us, we’re going to need to hire men and women with like-minded values and the right job skills in order to continue our current levels of growth,” says Howard Schultz, Starbucks chairman, president and chief executive. “The more than one million transitioning US veterans and almost one and a half million military spouses – with their diverse backgrounds and experience – share our mission-driven sensibility and work ethic and can build long-term careers at Starbucks as they return home.”

Starbucks is also opening five “community stores” in US locations close to military bases, which will donate a portion of every transaction to a local non-profit group that provides career resources for service members and their spouses. The first two programmes involve Goodwill Industries International: Operation Good Jobs in San Antonio, Texas, and Vested in Vets in Lakewood, Washington.

“Veterans and military spouses represent one of the most underutilised talent pools in the US,” says a Starbucks spokesman.

H&M chief tackles wages in Cambodia

Karl-Johan Persson, chief executive of mega high-street retailer H&M travelled to Cambodia recently to meet with the country’s prime minister, Hun Sen, local trade unions, and the International Labour Organisation’s Better Factories Cambodia to discuss factory worker annual wage reviews and labour conditions.

The trip follows worker strikes in Cambodia against the country’s minimum wage and poor working conditions. There have been a number of allegations that factories that produce garments for global brands including H&M, Gap and Wal-Mart failed to pay workers their due wages and benefits.

While the Cambodian government recently raised garment workers’ minimum wage from $61 to $75 a month, global activists, unions, and members of the political opposition in Cambodia are still clamouring for an increase to $150 a month.

Sweden-headquartered H&M has said it has no connection to several of the factories that have been under fire, and that the country’s government controls the minimum wage. However, Persson’s trip to Cambodia is a sound acknowledgment of the pressing challenges facing the Cambodian textile industry, and H&M’s capacity to influence labour practices.

The company has been buying from Cambodian suppliers since 1998 and opened a production office in Phnom Penh in 2000. In 2012 the company made $2.6bn in profits, with Cambodia serving as an important buying market.

“We believe that the Cambodian government should conduct an annual review of the minimum wage, taking into consideration national inflation and the consumer price index,” H&M says. “If an effective review system is created and implemented, these revisions will help address the basic needs of the workers. When working conditions are more stable, both suppliers and buyers can focus on productivity and on developing the textile industry in Cambodia.”

H&M is also getting ready to launch a partnership with the Swedish embassy, the ILO and the Swedish trade union IF Metall to help strengthen industrial relations in Cambodia by sharing best practice, such as contractual agreements, negotiation and conflict resolution techniques, and collective agreements. “Our goal is to create opportunities for dialogue and strengthen the textile workers’ influence,” says H&M.

New bioplastic alliance

Eight consumer companies – Coca-Cola, Danone, Ford, Heinz, Nestlé, Nike, Procter & Gamble, and Unilever – have partnered with WWF to create the Bioplastic Feedstock Alliance (BFA) to support the responsible development of plant-based plastics.

Biobased plastics are partially or entirely made from biomass resources such as sugar cane, potatoes, corn, wheat and switchgrass. They have the potential to reduce global dependency on fossil fuels.

While many of the BFA members have already started integrating bioplastics into their products and packaging, bioplastics still represent less than 1% of the roughly 280m tonnes of plastic manufactured each year. And while bioplastic production is on the rise, there are some big hurdles that need to be addressed for the industry to truly scale up.

For one, the cost of research and development is high. And not all bioplastics are biodegradable, and when they are, bioplastics nevertheless often end up in landfills, where they break down and release greenhouse gas. The industry is young, and many companies still lack the right infrastructure to manufacture and recycle bioplastics.

To really penetrate the market, governments and industry will need to ensure the right systems are in place to support responsible bioplastic production and end-of-life recycling, and consumers will need to be better educated on how to properly discard them, experts say.

“Joining the alliance means we will be able to help build a more sustainable future for the bioplastics industry whilst addressing issues such as land use, food security and biodiversity,” says Anne Roulin, Nestlé’s global research and development sustainability manager.

Bioplastic  BrandWatch  coca-cola  Credit Suisse  Danone  Ford  google  H&M  Heinz  Internet freedom  Nestlé  Nike  Procter & Gamble  Unilever  uProxy  WWF 

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