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China Expands Crackdown on Western Retailers Refusing To Buy Materials From Xinjiang

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  • China has extended a massive crackdown it originally placed on Swedish retailer H&M to include other foreign retailers, such as Nike, Adidas, Calvin Klein, and more.
  • The crackdown is in response to the companies’ refusals to source material from the Xinjiang region, where more than 1 million minority Muslims are being held in forced labor camps. 
  • Products for those companies have been blocked from appearing in online searches, and potential customers have even been prevented from hailing rides to their physical stores.
  • While most brick-and-mortar stores do remain open, some were forced to shut down and have had their logos covered. 
  • Meanwhile, other foreign companies — including MUJI, Zara, and Hugo Boss — have seemingly reversed their stances on using materials from Xinjiang in an apparent attempt to avoid the crackdown. 

China Widens Retailer Crackdown

After blocking online search results for Swedish clothing retailer H&M on Wednesday, China extended its crackdown on Western retailers to include Nike, Adidas, Burberry, Calvin Klein, and more. 

Amid other restrictions, Chinese residents are unable to hail taxis to brick-and-mortar stores for the companies as of Friday. While most physical stores remain open, some have been shuttered. In fact, one photo from a Chinese media agency shows an H&M outlet in Urumqi, Xinjiang, closed with its logo covered.

China is targeting each of these companies because of their refusal to buy materials made in the Xinjiang region, where over a million minority Muslims have been detained in “re-education” camps. Those camps, more commonly referred to as internment camps outside of China, have been widely condemned for forced labor practices, for sterilizing women, and for genocide. 

Frustrations Began With H&M

The boycotts started Wednesday when Chinese state media singled out H&M over a statement it made in September.

“H&M Group is deeply concerned by reports from civil society organisations and media that include accusations of forced labour and discrimination of ethnoreligious minorities in” Xinjiang, the statement read. H&M added that its third-party suppliers would no longer be sourcing cotton from farms in the region. 

It’s unclear exactly why state media resurfaced these comments, but it may be connected to a fresh round of sanctions against Chinese officials made by Britain, Canada, the European Union, and the United States on Monday. 

When China first launched its assault again H&M, it initially blocked searches for the retailer on the country’s largest online shopping platforms, including Alibaba. Searches for brick-and-mortar stores on online maps also no longer pulled up results. The same day, two Chinese brand ambassadors for H&M said they were cutting ties with the company, arguing that it was smearing lies against China.

Along with China’s more official crackdown, many social media users also began calling for full boycotts of the company.

In an online statement, H&M China said it respects Chinese consumers and that its practices as a brand “do not represent any political position.”

That statement didn’t seem to calm the rage, as calls for boycotts began extending to other brands, such as Nike, Adidas, Tommy Hilfiger, Converse, and Calvin Klein. Notably, like H&M, all five have also lost brand ambassadors. 

Meanwhile, British luxury retailer Burberry was forced to give up a video game partnership it had with Tencent. 

On Thursday, those brands all seemed to fall under the same online restrictions that had been employed against H&M. Now, many in China are urging consumers to only buy from domestic retailers that source materials from Xinjiang, including companies like Li Ning, Anta, Peak, and Meters/bonwe. 

In the last two days, many of these companies have even trended positively on Weibo, China’s popular social media platform. Both Li Ning and Anta have also seen their stock shares surge amidst support from Chinese consumers.

Some Foreign Retailers Seemingly Change Stances on Using Xinjiang Materials

Among the foreign brands facing calls for a boycott was Japanese retailer MUJI; however, its Chinese branch stressed Thursday that it currently uses — and will continue to use — Xinjiang cotton. 

In another move that has been interpreted to avoid a boycott or crackdown, Inditex — the parent company of Spanish retailer Zara — has reportedly deleted a previous statement it made calling reports of forced labor in Xinjiang “highly concerning.”

While German retailer Hugo Boss told NBC News in September that it requires its suppliers to prove they don’t use Xinjiang cotton, this week, the Chinese arm of the company seemingly reversed course when it told its Chinese market that it currently uses Xinjiang cotton.

Xinjiang’s long-stapled cotton is one of the best in the world,” the company said on Chinese social media. “We will continue to purchase and support Xinjiang cotton.”

As a result, some have accused all three companies of hypocrisy and turning a blind eye to human rights abuses in order to continue operating in China’s massive consumer market. 

See what others are saying: (BBC) (NBC News) (South China Morning Post)

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Facebook Is Reviewing More Than 2,200 Hours of Footage for Next-Gen AI 

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The project, which could prove to be revolutionary, is already raising some big privacy concerns. 


Facebook’s Next-Gen AI

Facebook announced Thursday that it has captured more than 2,200 hours of first-person video that it will use to train next-gen AI models.

The company said it aims to make the AI, called Ego4D, capable of understanding and identifying both real and virtual objects through a first-person perspective using smart glasses or VR headsets. In effect, that could potentially help users do everything from remembering where they placed forgotten items to recording others in secret. 

Facebook listed five key scenarios the project aims to tackle and gave real-world examples of how each may look for people who will eventually use the AI.

  • “What happened when?” With that scenario, Facebook gave the example, “Where did I leave my keys?”
  • “What am I likely to do next?” There, Facebook gave the example, “Wait, you’ve already added salt to this recipe.”
  • “What am I doing?” For example, “What was the main topic during class?”
  • “Who said what when?” For example, “What was the main topic during class?”
  • “Who is interacting with whom?” For example, “Help me better hear the person talking to me at this noisy restaurant.”

Facebook said the amount of footage it has collected is 20 times greater than any other data set used by the company.

Privacy Concerns

In the wake of recent controversy surrounding Facebook, it’s important to note that the footage wasn’t reaped from users. Instead, the company said it, and 13 university partners, compiled the footage from more than 700 participants around the world.

Still, that hasn’t alleviated all privacy concerns. 

In an article titled, “Facebook is researching AI systems that see, hear, and remember everything you do,” The Verge writer James Vincent said that although the project’s guidelines seem practical, “the company’s interest in this area will worry many.”

In addition to the recent testimony and data leaks from whistleblower Frances Haugen, Facebook has also faced other privacy issues, as well as billions in fines

Vincent pointe out that the AI announcement doesn’t mention anything in the way of privacy or removing data for people who may not want to be recorded.

A Facebook spokesperson later assured Vincent that privacy safeguards will be introduced to the public in the future.

“For example, before AR glasses can enhance someone’s voice, there could be a protocol in place that they follow to ask someone else’s glasses for permission, or they could limit the range of the device so it can only pick up sounds from the people with whom I am already having a conversation or who are in my immediate vicinity,” the spokesperson said.

Among positive reception, some believe the tech could be revolutionary for helping people around the house, as well as for teaching robots to more rapidly learn about their surroundings.

See what others are saying: (The Verge) (CNBC) (Axios)

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FDA Issues Its First E-Cigarette Authorization Ever

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The authorization only applies to tobacco-flavored products, as the FDA simultaneously rejected several sweet and fruit-flavored e-cigarette cartridges. 


FDA Approves E-Cigarette

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved an e-cigarette pen sold under the brand name Vuse on Tuesday, as well as two tobacco-flavored cartridges that can be used with the pen.

This marks the first time the FDA has ever authorized the use of vaping products. In a news release, the agency said it made the decision because “the authorized products’ aerosols are significantly less toxic than combusted cigarettes based on available data.”

“The manufacturer’s data demonstrates its tobacco-flavored products could benefit addicted adult smokers who switch to these products — either completely or with a significant reduction in cigarette consumption — by reducing their exposure to harmful chemicals,” the agency added. 

The company that owns Vuse, R.J. Reynolds Vapor Company, also submitted several sweet and fruit-flavored pods for review; however, those were all rejected. While the FDA did not specify which flavors it rejected, it did note that it has yet to make a decision on whether to allow menthol-flavored e-cigarettes, including ones sold under Vuse.

FDA Is Reviewing All Vape Products Still on the Market

In January 2020, the FDA banned pre-filled pods with sweet and fruity flavors from being sold. While other e-cigarette related products, including some forms of flavored vapes, were allowed to stay on the market for the time being, they were only able to do so if they were submitted for FDA review.

The FDA’s primary issue with fruity cartridges stems from statistics showing that those pods more easily hook new smokers, particularly underage smokers.

In fact, in its approval of the Vuse products, the FDA said it only authorized them because it “determined that the potential benefit to smokers who switch completely or significantly reduce their cigarette use, would outweigh the risk to youth, provided the applicant follows post-marketing requirements aimed at reducing youth exposure and access to the products.”

While some have cheered the FDA’s decision, not everyone was enthusiastic. Many critics cited a joint FDA-CDC study in which nearly 11% of teens who said they vape also indicated regularly using Vuse products. 

See what others are saying: (Business Insider) (Wall Street Journal) (The Washington Post)

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Kaiser Permanente Health Workers Vote To Authorize Strike Over Pay, Staffing, and Safety

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The vote could inspire unioned Kaiser workers in other states to eventually approve strikes of their own. 


Workers Approve Strike

Over 24,000 unioned nurses and other healthcare workers at Kaiser Permanente hospitals voted Monday to authorize strikes against the company in California and Oregon.

The tens of thousands of workers who cast a ballot make up 86% of the Kaiser-based healthcare professionals represented by either the United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals (UNAC/UHCP) or the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals. An overwhelming 96% voted to approve the strike.

According to both unions, the list of workers includes nurses, pharmacists, midwives, and physical therapists.

The vote itself does not automatically initiate a strike; rather, it gives the unions the power to call a strike amid stalled contract negotiations between Kaiser and the unions. If the unions ultimately tell their members to begin striking, they will need to give a 10-day warning. 

The California and Oregon contracts expired Sep. 30, but several more Kaiser-based union contracts are rapidly approaching their expiration dates as well. That includes contracts for more than 50,000 workers in Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Virginia, Washington state, and D.C. Notably, the demands from those workers echo many of the demands made by California and Oregon’s union members. 

The Demands 

At the center of this potential strike are three issues: staffing problems, safety concerns, and proposed revisions to Kaiser’s payment system. For months, nurses have been publicly complaining about long shifts spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic, staffing shortages, and an over-reliance on contract nurses.

Because of that, they’re seeking to force Kaiser to commit to hiring more staff, as well as boost retention.

But the main catalyst for any looming strikes is pay. According to UNAC/UHCP, Kaiser wants to implement a two-tier payment system, which would decrease earnings by 26% to 39% for employees hired from 2023 onward. On top of that, those new employees would see fewer health protections.

The unions and their members worry such a system could lead to an increased feeling of resentment among workers since they would be paid different rates for performing the same job. They also worry it could exacerbate retention and hiring issues already faced by the hospital system. 

Additionally, the workers want to secure 4% raises for each of the next three years, but Kaiser’s currently only willing to give 1%, citing a need to reduce labor costs to remain competitive.

See what others are saying: (Los Angeles Times) (The Washington Post) (KTLA)

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