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North American Edition
13th May 2022
Employers warned against biased AI
The U.S. Justice Department and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have issued guidance that using artificial intelligence technology to screen new job candidates or monitor their productivity at work can unfairly discriminate against people with disabilities. “We are sounding an alarm regarding the dangers tied to blind reliance on AI and other technologies that we are seeing increasingly used by employers," Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the department’s Civil Rights Division said. "The use of AI is compounding the longstanding discrimination that jobseekers with disabilities face.” Among the examples given of popular work-related AI tools were resume scanners, employee monitoring software that ranks workers based on keystrokes, and video interviewing software that measures a person's speech patterns or facial expressions. Such technology could potentially screen out people with speech impediments or range of other disabilities. The move reflects a broader push by President Joe Biden's administration to foster positive advancements in AI technology while reining in opaque and potentially harmful AI tools that are being used to make important decisions about people's livelihoods.
Report: Trump officials, meat companies knew workers at risk
A new Congressional report has concluded that at the height of the pandemic, the meat processing industry worked closely with political appointees in the Trump administration to stave off health restrictions and keep processing plants open even as COVID-19 spread rapidly among workers. The report by the House's Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis said meat companies pushed to keep their plants open even though they knew workers were at high risk of catching the coronavirus. The lobbying led to health and labor officials watering down their recommendations for the industry and culminated in an executive order President Donald Trump issued in spring 2020 designating meat plants as critical infrastructure that needed to remain open. Democratic Rep. Jim Clyburn, who leads the subcommittee, said U.S. Department of Agriculture officials and the industry prioritized production and profits over the health of workers and communities as at least 59,000 workers caught the virus and 269 died. "The shameful conduct of corporate executives pursuing profit at any cost during a crisis and government officials eager to do their bidding regardless of resulting harm to the public must never be repeated,” Clyburn said.
Tight labor market and low unemployment leads to belt tightening
The Wall Street Journal looks at how companies which saw substantial growth during the COVID-19 pandemic are starting to take a more cautious approach toward hiring and spending. From Peloton and Meta Platforms to Twitter, Uber Technologies and others, corporate belt tightening comes as the Federal Reserve is raising interest rates, global stock markets have fallen and concerns of an economic slowdown are mounting, the WSJ notes. Twitter is imposing a hiring freeze and might renege on some job offers, CEO Parag Agrawal said. Elsewhere, Carvana is cutting around 2,500 staffers, or 12% of its workforce after finalizing an expansion deal. Peloton recently logged its worst quarterly loss as a public company and raised $750m in loans to help bolster its balance sheet. Netflix laid off about 25 people in its marketing department in April and Robinhood Markets said late last month it was laying off 9% of its full-time staffers. 
Producer price gains edged downward in April
U.S. suppliers’ price increases eased a little in April as energy and food costs dropped, but producer-level inflation remained close to historic highs. The Labor Department on Thursday said the producer-price index, which generally reflects supply conditions in the economy, increased a seasonally adjusted 0.5% in April from the prior month. That marks a deceleration from the upwardly revised 1.6% gain in March, which was pushed up by surging energy prices after Russia invaded Ukraine. April’s rate of increase was the lowest since September 2021, but was higher than the average monthly gain of 0.2% in the two years before the pandemic. Producer prices rose 11% on a 12-month basis in April, its fifth consecutive double-digit gain. The so-called core price index—which excludes the often-volatile categories of food, energy and supplier margins—slipped slightly, climbing 0.6% in April from a month earlier, after jumping 0.9% in March. "The end result is that even if easing in April's PPI inflation has staying power, consumers can still expect to see rising prices for several more months based solely upon producers and services providers accounting for the higher costs they themselves have endured," said PNC senior economist Kurt Rankin.
L.A. resort agrees to $1.5m settlement in dispute over laid-off workers
The Terranea Resort in Rancho Palos Verdes, Los Angeles, has agreed to pay $1.52m to settle allegations that it violated labor laws by failing to offer laid-off workers their jobs back when it began rehiring after the pandemic slowdown. A state labor commissioner called on Terranea to pay $3.3 million in fines in March for allegedly violating legislation adopted last year that requires hotels, event centers and airport hospitality and janitorial employers to first offer positions to workers laid off because of a COVID-19 shutdown when the jobs become available again. It was the first citation for violations of that law. Terranea appealed the fines, saying the law was vaguely worded but agreed Thursday to settle the dispute by paying $1.52 million without admitting wrongdoing, according to court records. The resort also agreed to offer jobs to three former employees: a banquet server, a laundry attendant and a banquet houseperson.
Donna ISD sued over Wi-Fi tower project
The company responsible for building and installing Donna ISD’s $3.7m Wi-Fi tower project is suing the district for breach of contract, alleging it has yet to be paid over a million dollars related to the project. The district launched the tower project in August 2020 as a remedy to a significant portion of its students lacking internet connectivity needed for online learning, contracting with Alton-based company WIFIRUS LLC to design and build 12 Wi-Fi communication towers. “Throughout the Project, Plaintiff encountered numerous unforeseeable delays beyond its control, including events related to the pandemic, the arctic freeze with attendant loss of power and several District errors and/or failures to comply with the Agreement,” the lawsuit reads. “Despite being requested to do so, the District has unreasonably failed to extend the contract time, in violation of the Agreement.”
U.S. to boost baby formula imports to ease nationwide shortage
The U.S. will increase baby formula imports as part of an effort to ease a nationwide shortage, senior Biden administration officials said on Thursday. The scarcity of formula was triggered in part by the closure of a Michigan manufacturing plant after two infants who consumed its products caught bacterial infections and died. The Food and Drug Administration will announce specific actions to boost formula imports in the coming days, the officials said. The announcement followed a meeting at the White House between President Joe Biden and executives from infant formula manufacturers and retailers including Target, Walmart and Nestlé's Gerber. Administration officials said Mr. Biden has also asked the Federal Trade Commission to use its power to monitor reports of price gouging amid the shortage, and for the Justice Department to work with state attorneys general to deal with predatory behaviour by retailers. 
Tapestry predicts China troubles will start to ease over summer
Coach parent company Tapestry saw its shares rise nearly 16% on Thursday, after the retailer said it expects lockdowns in China to lift in the months ahead. Greater China revenue for Tapestry is expected to decline 35% in the fourth quarter, assuming lockdowns in Shanghai end at the start of June. That pushed the company to lower its full-year profit projection to $3.45 per share, from a prior estimate of $3.60-$3.65 per share. However, chief executive Joanne Crevoiserat said the company expected a gradual recovery in the market and was well-positioned to drive growth. "The Chinese consumer is incredibly resilient, we've seen that throughout the pandemic," she said. In the third quarter, which ended April 2nd, Tapestry's adjusted earnings came in at 51 cents per share, on revenue of $1.42bn. Analysts had been looking for earnings per share of 41 cents on sales of $1.42bn, according to a Refinitiv survey. Sales in North America rose 22% in the quarter from a year earlier, fully offsetting a mid-teens decline in China, the company said. Tapestry has tried to protect its margins against higher raw material costs by raising prices, and says it believes there is room for further increases. "While core customers at all Tapestry brands are affected by inflation their income and financial profile means they can cope with its impacts much better than the average consumer", commented GlobalData managing director Neil Saunders.
Dubai becomes a haven for wealthy Russians fleeing sanctions
Dubai has emerged as a haven for wealthy Russians fleeing the impact of western sanctions over the war in Ukraine. Russian billionaires and entrepreneurs have been arriving in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in unprecedented numbers, business leaders told the BBC. The UAE has not put sanctions on Russia or criticised its invasion of Ukraine, and is also providing visas to non-sanctioned Russians while many Western countries have restricted them. Virtuzone, which helps companies to set up operations in Dubai, has seen a huge surge of Russian clients. "We are receiving five times more enquiries from Russians since the war began," said chief executive George Hojeige, adding "They are worried about an economic meltdown that's coming. That is why they are moving here to secure their wealth."

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