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North American Edition
24th November 2021
U.S. jury finds pharmacy chains helped fuel opioid epidemic
A federal jury has found that pharmacy chain operators CVS Health, Walgreens Boots Alliance and Walmart helped fuel an opioid epidemic in two Ohio counties. Following six days of deliberation, jurors in Cleveland federal court concluded that actions by the pharmacy chains helped create a public nuisance that resulted in an oversupply of addictive pain pills and the diversion of those opioids to the black market. Mark Lanier, a lawyer for Ohio's Lake and Trumbull counties, called the verdict a "landmark decision" that paved the way for them to each seek more than $1bn from the companies to help address the deadly epidemic's toll in their communities. U.S. District Judge Dan Polster will decide how much the companies owe to abate the epidemic in the counties and is expected to hold a trial on that question in April or May. CVS, Walgreens and Walmart said they would appeal the verdict, arguing it ran contrary to the facts and that it misapplied public nuisance law to hold them liable under a novel legal theory that courts in California and Oklahoma have recently rejected in similar cases against drugmakers. "We will appeal this flawed verdict, which is a reflection of a trial that was engineered to favor the plaintiffs' attorneys and was riddled with remarkable legal and factual mistakes," Walmart said.
Citi to hire 100 people amid digital assets push
Citigroup is seeking 100 hires as part of a new push into digital assets inside the lender's institutional business. “We are focused on assessing the needs of our clients in the digital-asset space,” Citigroup said in a statement. “Prior to offering any products and services, we are studying these markets, as well as the evolving regulatory landscape and associated risks in order to meet our own regulatory frameworks and supervisory expectations.” Puneet Singhvi has been recruited to be Citi’s new head of digital assets inside the institutional-clients group, according to a staff memo seen by Bloomberg. He will report to Emily Turner, who manages business development for the broader group. “We believe in the potential of blockchain and digital assets including the benefits of efficiency, instant processing, fractionalization, programmability and transparency,” Turner said in the memo to staff. “Puneet and team will focus on engaging with key internal and external stakeholders including clients, start-ups and regulators. ”
China to respond to BRI ‘challenges’
Chinese President Xi Jinping has said Beijing will strengthen risk prevention and control in its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) infrastructure project. The international environment for BRI has become increasingly complex, Xi said, amid increased technical and industrial competition, environmental changes and the pandemic. China should "actively respond to challenges, utilise advantages and avoid disadvantages," state media quoted Xi as saying without elaborating.
Demand for recruiters is surging
Demand for recruiters has exploded and recruiting firms say it is harder than ever to hire for their own ranks. Postings for recruiter positions have more than doubled since the start of the year, according to recruiting software company iCIMS.  “There are not remotely enough recruiters to fill the demand that’s out there,” said John Arbolino, managing director at Boothroyd & Co., which recruits recruiters in the finance industry. “Everyone and their mother out there in corporate America wants recruiters.” The average number of monthly U.S. job postings for recruiters fell at the start of the pandemic but has more than doubled since February 2020 to nearly 148,000 in September, says job search platform ZipRecruiter. Jonathan Lydon, head of recruiting at Silicon Valley-based autonomous-vehicle start-up Nuro, says many employers are launching in-house recruiting teams. Outside recruiting firms that collect 20% to 30% in fees on new hires’ first-year salaries are often too expensive for the number of people that companies need to hire right now, Mr. Lydon said.
Kellogg to restart talks with union
Battle Creek, Michigan-based cereal company Kellogg is to relaunch contract talks this week with its 1,400 plant workers who have been on strike since October 5th. The scheduled negotiations with the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union that represents those workers will be the first time the two sides have convened since the beginning of last month when they were unable to reach an agreement after two days of bargaining.  The strike affects four plants in Battle Creek; Omaha, Nebraska ; Lancaster, Pennsylvania ; and Memphis, Tennessee that make all of Kellogg's cereal brands, including Rice Krispies and Apple Jacks.
Biden administration asks Appeals Court to reinstate employer vaccine rules
The Biden administration is seeking the immediate reinstatement of rules requiring businesses with 100 or more employees to ensure their workers are vaccinated or tested weekly for Covid-19. The Justice Department filed an emergency court motion on Tuesday with the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, which last week was designated as the court that would decide legal challenges filed around the U.S. to the rules. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) earlier this month formally issued the requirements. The rules cover roughly 84 million workers and are scheduled to take effect January 4th. The rules reflect “OSHA's judgment that these measures are necessary to mitigate Covid-19 transmission in the workplace, and the grievous harms the virus inflicts on workers,” the Justice Department said.
Amazon India executives charged in drug smuggling case
Senior executives at Amazon's business in India have been charged after two men allegedly used the website as part of a marijuana smuggling operation. Two men were arrested last week by police in the central state of Madhya Pradesh for allegedly trafficking 20kg of the drug to other Indian states. Police say the men had traded cannabis on the site in the guise of selling stevia leaves, a natural sweetener. Amazon said that it takes strict action against sellers found to be breaking its rules on illicit goods. "The issue was notified to us and we are currently investigating it," Amazon added in a statement in response to the case. State police said executive directors of Amazon India had been charged under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act. This was due to "differences in answers in documents provided by the company in response to police questions and facts unearthed by discussion," police said in a statement. A total of 1,000kg of marijuana, worth about $148,000, was estimated to have allegedly been sold using the website. Amazon India is also being probed by regulators over claims that they gave preferential treatment to some sellers. In September, Amazon also reportedly launched an internal probe after claims that one or more of its Indian employees had bribed officials.
DoorDash settles with San Francisco workers
DoorDash has reached a $5.3m settlement with San Francisco officials on behalf of workers who made deliveries in the city between 2016 and 2020. The settlement followed an investigation by the San Francisco Office of Labor Standards Enforcement into alleged violations of the city's health care security and paid sick leave ordinances in the wake of media reports about the company allegedly misclassifying its workers and using customer tips to subsidize workers' base pay. The ordinances require employers with 20 or more workers to spend a minimum amount on health care benefits per covered employee and to provide sick leave to all employees in San Francisco. DoorDash said it did not admit any wrongdoing as part of the settlement and is not acknowledging that a judge could have found the company to be an employer.
JP Morgan Chase becomes world's most systemically important bank
JP Morgan Chase has become the world's most systemically important bank, according to the latest annual ranking of top lenders by the Financial Stability Board (FSB). Being on the table of the FSB’s 30 most systemic banks means having to hold additional capital and undergo more intense supervision. The lenders are divided between four “buckets” in order of how systemic, international, interconnected and complex they are, with JP Morgan in a higher bucket than its nearest peers. Last year, the bank, which also was recognised as the world’s key systemic lender in 2019, shared the highest bucket with HSBC and Citigroup, but it is now alone in the next bucket up, which had been empty.
Democrats close to passing changes to international corporate taxation
The Wall Street Journal reports that Democrats are close to passing significant changes to international corporate taxation, moving toward a system that would reduce the gaps between nations’ tax rates and making taxes a less important consideration for where companies put investments, profits and headquarters. The plan would help push tax rates into a narrower band, reducing companies’ opportunities to exploit gaps across borders. The higher taxes on U.S.-based companies would take effect in 2023, and the impact on companies would depend on whether and when other countries follow through on their promises to impose similar taxes. Companies based in the U.S. would face a 6-percentage-point gap between earning income at home or abroad, down from as much as 35 points a decade ago. U.S. companies and foreign-based companies competing in a third country would face similar tax rates; now, the U.S. company has a potential tax at home the other firm doesn’t. U.S. companies choosing where to put investments and profits would face a smaller spread of tax rates in various countries, because they would likely have a 15% minimum tax no matter where they go.
SmarterSelect exposed personal data of students
Education software company SmarterSelect, which provides a platform for managing the application process for scholarships, exposed the personal data of thousands of applicants because of a misconfigured Google Cloud Storage bucket. Cybersecurity firm UpGuard found that the data included documents such as academic transcripts, resumes and invoices for approximately 1.2 million applications to funding programs, dated from November 2020 to September 21 2021. One folder hosted on the public bucket hosted 23,000 spreadsheets and 8,000 ZIP files, which contained contact information like name, email address and phone number, as well as much more probing details such as parents’ education and income, the students’ performance at school, student photos where required for application, and financial documents such as Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) forms that, in some cases, included full Social Security numbers, proof of COVID-19 vaccinations and descriptions of hardships.
Eurozone banks told to do more to tackle climate change risks
The European Central Bank (ECB) has completed its first assessment of banks’ preparedness to deal with increased climate and environmental risks and found that none was close to meeting its expectations. Although around half the 112 institutions overseen by the Frankfurt-based central bank are “contemplating setting exclusion targets for some segments of the market, only a handful of them mention actively planning to steer their portfolios on a Paris-compatible trajectory,” ECB Executive Board member Frank Elderson said in a blog post on Monday. Banks that perform badly in next year’s climate stress test may face higher capital requirements that would erode their ability to hand profits back to shareholders, notes Bloomberg.
Over two-fifths of adults have financially cheated on their partner
According to a poll from the National Endowment for Financial Education, 43% of adults with combined finances in a relationship say they have committed an act of financial deception - ranging from lying to a partner about money, to hiding things such as cash, a bill or a purchase. “As a society, we talk about money with the assumption that everyone starts at the same place in terms of understanding, and that is very untrue,” said Billy Hensley, president and CEO of the National Endowment for Financial Education, adding that this can make discussions about debt, saving and spending more uncomfortable. “At the foundation of it is that we don’t provide enough financial education in schools or in any other venues so people have the confidence necessary to approach these topics early on."

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