Amazon Face-Off in France Serves as Worker-Rights Test Case ← Jeff's Bold head vs. French Gov.
When France ordered Amazon.com Inc. to stop deliveries of non-essential items in an attempt to protect workers, the Silicon Valley e-commerce giant responded by stopping all orders until at least Monday. The company said the order to sell only essential food, hygiene and health items and to upgrade its health-safety procedures was too ambiguous. Critics accused Amazon of playing a game of pouty hardball. Prominent French comedian Nicolas Canteloup quipped: “We are closing five days to sulk.” Amazon’s sales are surging, reflecting robust demand for groceries to video games and streaming movies to customers stuck at home during global lockdowns to slow the spread of Covid-19. But that’s required delivery drivers and warehouse workers to continue to report to work, and some have complained that they don’t feel safe. Amazon has fired three employees in the U.S. who criticized working conditions in its warehouses. France, with a history of relatively strong protections for workers and powerful labor unions, has become a flash point. The country’s actions could set a precedent for governments around the world seeking to put potentially expensive restrictions on the company. Amazon has defended itself, saying it’s already taken pains to keep workers safe. It argued the ruling was unclear. It also risked fines of 1 million euros ($1.1 million) a day if it wasn’t followed. The company is appealing. “Despite the huge efforts we’ve poured into our fulfillment centers to preserve our workers’ safety, the court handed us an order that forces us to shut down temporarily,” Amazon France chief Frederic Duval said on RTL radio, one of several interviews he did on Thursday making the company’s case. “The labor unions action will have important consequences for people in France.” Duval said he didn’t know when the company’s six distribution centers in the country would reopen. In an email to customers on Thursday, he said Amazon would attempt to fulfill French orders from warehouses outside of the country, a move that puts pressure on unions and the government as French employees sit idle. The shutdown was the culmination of weeks of conflict with the government and unions. In March, French Labor Minister Muriel Penicaud said that while it was important to preserve the supply of “necessary goods,” Amazon’s worker safety standards were “insufficient.” Inspectors were sent to check on employee conditions. Shortly before 10 p.m. on Wednesday night, Amazon sent a short email to some of its warehouses employees to warn them that the company had made the “difficult decision” to halt operations at the fulfillment centers. It told employees that they’d have to stay home, but would be given full pay, according to the message, which was seen by Bloomberg. Amazon didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the memo. It’s unclear whether Amazon will be able to rely on a state plan for compensating furloughed workers. An internal memo to employees seen by Bloomberg indicated that the company was planning to access the funds, but a spokeswoman said that it hasn’t been confirmed. “Employees during this period must continue to receive their salary from Amazon, including temporary workers. They have committed to this but it is the law anyway,” Penicaud said in an interview on on LCI. Amazon has 10,000 employees in France with 6,500 spread across its six warehouses, a spokeswoman for the company said in March. France is Amazon’s third-biggest market in Europe. The company made a coherent business choice in shutting down its activities, said Edouard Nattee, a former Amazon employee who’s now chief executive officer of data analytics company Foxintelligence. “From an operational and profitability point of view, Amazon can hardly isolate 8% of their sales -- the essential goods -- given the fact the items are dispatched randomly at its fulfillment centers,” he said. France is also challenging from a sales perspective, where they’re struggling to gain ground on competitors, Nattee said. “Globally, Amazon is a hit in this crisis, in Germany, the U.K. they perform tremendously. But in France it’s not as rosy, they are below their pre-confinement market share,” he said. “They’ve lost on delivery timing, their number-one competitive advantage to competition.” Amazon’s sales have risen 11% in Germany, it’s biggest European market, 45% in the U.K. and 56% in Spain since March 2, according to a report from Foxintelligence. But in France, Amazon’s grown just 8% and hasn’t gained market share from local competitors, such as Casino Guichard-Perrachon SA-owned CDiscount or Fnac Darty SA, the report showed. For Laurent Degousee of SUD, the labor union that lodged the lawsuit that led to the court order, “Amazon has not done nothing for employees, but they only did so under the pressure from workers, unions and the government. They piled up rules with no clear plan. This is not finished.” by Helene Fouquet - Bloomberg - They hope France will lose cause else won't make sense to them.
After Bout With Coronavirus, Czech Billionaire Finds New Targets
Locked at home in self-isolation after testing positive with coronavirus in the middle of March, Czech billionaire Daniel Kretinsky spent 12 hours a day on the phone running his businesses. He still found time to scour around for new investments as markets around the world tumbled. The owner of Energeticky a Prumyslovy Holding AS, a $7.7 billion conglomerate with interests ranging from power plants to media, Kretinsky is coy about what he found, but insists there are promising assets worth a closer look. That’s a fitting approach for a man known for scooping up energy companies across Europe and investments in German wholesaler Metro AG and French retailer Casino Guichard-Perrachon SA. “We see opportunities already now,” Kretinsky, who has since recovered from the virus, said in an emailed response to questions. “We are already investing as we simply believe that the current market is undervaluing certain very interesting and important companies.” As the pandemic crushes businesses and industries with lockdowns and closures that sap revenue, east-European companies such as software and gaming enterprises and home-delivery retailers are emerging as the potential winners of the fast-changing economic environment. On the Warsaw stock exchange, game developer CD Projekt SA has become the most valuable company. Similarly, Croatia’s Infobip d.o.o. and Belgrade’s UiPath Inc. are looking at ways to expand even during the worst market downturn in decades. “I think you will have some investors who will panic and it’s going to deter some investors, especially the myopic ones,” said Marian Bocek, the co-founder of London-registered asset manager IPM Group. “But the long-term investors see this as an opportunity. If you see it, this may be the biggest opportunity since the Internet boom of the 1990s.” Kretinsky, 44, who began his investment career as a lawyer in a local private-equity group J&T two decades ago, is among a handful of central European billionaires whose wealth doesn’t originate in the privatization schemes of the 1990s. He did partner up, though, with Petr Kellner, the richest person in the European Union’s eastern wing, to start up his own firm about 11 years ago. Since then, a debt-fueled acquisition spree turned EPH from a small Czech utility into one of the biggest power companies in central Europe and Kretinsky into a high-profile dealmaker who is now worth $1.6 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. EPH had revenue of 7 billion euros in 2018 and valued its assets in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Germany, Italy, the U.K., Hungary and Poland at about 13.3 billion euros. Kretinsky’s portfolio includes Prague’s premier soccer team, Sparta, and the publishing house of Czech most-read tabloid Blesk. Together with partners, he also owns minority stakes German media company ProSiebenSat.1 Media SE and French newspaper Le Monde. Kretinsky says all his investments are naturally affected by the global pandemic, although to a varying degree. Among businesses doing well is e-commerce, which is flooded by millions of online orders after lockdowns shut non-essential shops. On the other hand, he said media businesses are suffering more and the industry should be eligible for some form of the state support. The core energy assets have been impacted to a “lesser extent, given the essential nature of our services,” Kretinsky said.
Even in retail, the effects of the crisis differ. Metro wasn’t hit in the first few weeks, but closures of hotels, restaurants and bars in France, Italy and Spain will be “very painful.” On the other hand, Casino seems to have been buoyed as it provides vital services to the French society, he said. As businesses and governments hunker down across Europe, Kretinsky sees the role of corporate leaders to bring a rational voice to the public debate. Any crisis is a good opportunity for costs savings and optimizations, but a moderate approach should now prevail, according to Kretinsky. “Those who will not react enough will lose all or a lot, but those who will over-react will lose as well, potentially a lot,” said the billionaire, who counts the 17th century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes among his favorite authors. The length of the shutdowns will determine the impact on businesses and economies, he said, adding that there is also a potential psychological risk as fear-driven consumer behavior could bring “deep structural changes.” Efforts to deploy the right solutions are being complicated by wrong public perception of the coronavirus risks, Kretinsky said. And while the pandemic is a serious problem, he sees the numbers showing that it isn’t a life-or-death threat for standard population with no important underlying health problems. “The fight or war against the coronavirus is hence not a war to safe mankind or millions,” he said. “This is a war to prevent avoidable deaths.” By Lenka Ponikelska and James M Gomez— With assistance by Alexander Sazonov - Bloomberg
Thomas Cook Collapse Sets Up $250 Million Hedge Fund Windfall
Not everyone lost out with the collapse of 178-year-old Thomas Cook Group Plc that put 21,000 jobs at risk and left travelers around the world stranded. Speculators including Sona Asset Management and XAIA Investment GmbH stand to earn as much as $250 million from the bankruptcy.
They invested in derivatives that pay out when a company defaults. The fate of those securities was at the heart of the battle over whether Thomas Cook lived or died. Thomas Cook will be the latest of several big payouts this year for hedge funds and traders who bought these so-called credit-default swaps. The list includes U.K. fashion retailer New Look and Rallye SA, parent of French supermarket chain Casino Guichard-Perrachon SA. More are set to follow as Europe’s economy slows and a growing number of companies come under stress.
Grocery chains have long awaited the right conditions to charge more for their products, and a broad view of the U.S. would suggest this is their moment: Unemployment is near historic lows, consumer confidence is high and inflation is inching upward. But companies are finding they’re losing the power to hike prices. That’s because Amazon.com Inc. and Walmart Inc. are engaged in a battle to the death on consumer spending, while low-cost chains Aldi and Lidl pressure brick-and-mortar companies. At the same time, shoppers are becoming less loyal to legacy brand names than ever before -- meaning they’ll go generic instead of paying up for labels. “Retailers took advantage of lower food costs to push down prices, and customers became acclimated to that environment,” said Jennifer Bartashus, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence. “Now that inflation is returning, not only is competition in play, but customers are no longer used to seeing marginal price increases come through.” The forces at play are illustrated by General Mills Inc., which has acknowledged that attempted price hikes for its Progresso soup and Yoplait yogurt ultimately hurt sales. The misstep exacerbated a slump in those key businesses, as shoppers migrated to other brands. Nestle SA has also experienced difficulties in getting price increases to stick. It’s not just big food. Consumer companies are finding they’re being pinched by the same forces. Reckitt Benckiser Group Plc’s hygiene and home division, which sells brands such as Lysol spray and Air Wick air fresheners, showed solid volume gains in the most recent quarter, but suffered because of lower prices, sending its shares plummeting. Kimberly-Clark Corp., maker of Huggies and Kleenex, reported flat or lower prices across its categories in its latest quarterly results. In the U.K., Tesco Plc and its competitors have started to push up prices to compensate for the post-Brexit weakening of the pound -- but it hasn’t been able to fully pass on higher costs to shoppers. In France, competition has prevented Carrefour SA and Casino Guichard Perrachon SA from implementing price hikes.
The article also mentions about Aldi and Lidi expanding into the US. I also remember a Hormel engineer talking about the pressure to cut costs in the manufacturing area, and the challenges that go along with it. With the news of PM being hit hard by stagnating e-cig sales, RIP my $VDC (and Unilever) holdings.
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