Posts in September
Should be a must-read for the jewellery sector and anyone who wants to make the world a better place.
It’s not often that you read a book that is so absorbing that you feel compelled to finish it in a single sitting. But then it helps if you yourself witnessed many of the events described within its pages! Subtitled Fighting for Fair Trade Jewellery, Making Trouble traces Greg Valerio’s progress from bolshie youth to campaigner and activist. His fight for a transparent supply chain in the jewellery industry isn’t over yet, but his tireless work has led an industry driven by luxury and romance to the realisation that not all in their garden was lovely. And it has spurred others to try to redress the balance of inequalities heaped on the many by the few in the pursuit of riches.
As a fellow traveller for more than a decade, I have often felt frustrated and wearied by glacial progress and the continual need to restate an argument that appears so obvious. But Greg’s book is a timely reminder of just how far the jewellery trade has come in that time. Not that trace-ability and transparency in the jewellery supply chain is a done deal yet, but at least the dam has been breached!
The repeal of the Trucks Act in the mid 1980’s changed workers’ relationship with their wages for ever. A series of Acts in force since the 15th Century were designed to protect workers from bondage to company stores. With the abolition of the Act workers lost the right to request the payment of their wages in cash, and thus began our bondage to the banks. Suddenly, people who had been accustomed to budgeting by the simple expedient of putting their rent in one draw and their housekeeping money in another, were faced with dealing with money as a concept rather than a tangible object. Of course, the change rid employers of the burden of carrying cash and saved many a man from the temptation of handing his weekly wages over the bar on pay day, but it has also inextricably linked the individual to his bank through his deposit account.
For decades, having no bank account meant effective marginalisation within society. But now banks are set to take an even more intrusive role in everyone’s lives. Not only do the banks decline to give a worthwhile return on deposits, they are also mining depositors’ data and selling it to add to the profits they make on lending their money. And the big news is that UK retailers such as Morrison’s, Argos and Pets at Home are signing up to buy consumer data in an effort to predict future spending.
According to reports in Retail Week, ‘US data analytics firm Cardlytics has partnered with Lloyds Banking Group to provide Halifax customers with targeted deals. The service, called Halifax Cashback Extras, will launch in September with offers from retailers including Homebase, New Look, Ocado, The Body Shop, Urban Outfitters and Oasis. The service is the first in the UK to use customers’ banking data to provide targeted retail offers’.
“So what!”, you might say, “I’ve got nothing to hide”; and personally I’m not too worried about privacy either. It is so far eroded already as to be almost irrelevant to this debate. I’m more concerned about the rising tide of predictable drivel coming our way as a result of their efforts.
Anyone who ever made the mistake of handing over their details is accustomed to the never-ending stream of rubbish littering their inbox. I once gave my email address and mobile number to Dwell in exchange for a catalogue and thereafter had the Sisyphean task of deleting enticements to buy their furniture. What they, and many others, can’t grasp is that just because I once made a vague inquiry about their products I didn’t fall in love with them, and their persistence makes me less likely to do so! Many other retailers – including ones I like – top up my inbox on a daily basis, and on an equally regular basis I throw their electronic rubbish away! It’s become part of my computer hygiene regime; a bit like cleaning my teeth!
I suppose the major difference with offers generated from analysis of my spending patterns is that they will focus on things I’ve already bought rather than just idly inquired about. So, unless they use their intelligence and creativity, am I going to be bombarded with offers for stuff I’ve already got? Much depends on the way they interpret the data. For instance, I recently went to Peru. If the data miners use that information in the usual way, am I going to get endless offers of woolly hats, Pisco sours, and meals in Lima?
Spending data inevitably reflects what has already happened – history – yesterday! Aren’t shoppers more interested in today, tomorrow, future possibilities, and serendipity? If we’ve got to endure this stuff from our banks, let’s hope they use their imagination. Personally, I’d rather my bank forgot all this nonsense and concentrated on giving me a decent return on my deposits! Thankfully it’s now a whole lot easier to switch!
A couple of column inches on the front page of today’s Daily Telegraph suggest that payment for carrier bags may be back on government’s agenda. Christopher Hope writes: ‘PLANS to force shoppers to pay for plastic carrier bags could be introduced across Britain after David Cameron praised the way it was working in Wales. Use of plastic bags in Wales has fallen by 80 per cent since a 5 p charge per bag was introduced in October 2011. England remains the only home nation not to have announced a charge for them.. …Zac Goldsmith, MP, who attended the event, described Mr Cameron’s comments as “reassuring”.’
It’s hardly surprising that Goldsmith could muster only a lukewarm response, because we’ve been here before. The issue has been floating around since about 2006, and in February 2010 I wrote a comment piece for Jewellery Focus magazine under the title Taxes in the Bin. I’ve reproduced the text below, and although I correctly predicted the subsequent increase in VAT imposed by this government, I held out little hope that environmental concerns would hold sway. But maybe, three years on, carrier bags will have their day!
Here’s what I wrote at the time:
Before Christmas a little note in Retail Week magazine caught my attention . Apparently shoppers in Wales are to be charged for plastic bags before 2011. The compulsory charge is likely to be between 5 – 15 pence and the British Retail Consortium (BRC) has, according to the report, ‘slammed the move’, saying that ‘the best way to achieve lasting change is to educate customers, not punish them’.
Sadly, I must admit to being interested in plastic bags, and have been trying to wean myself off them for a year or so. I am one of those irritating people who decline a store bag wherever possible; tries to take his own shopping bag with him; and considers it a personal failure to have to accept one on rare occasions in the supermarket. I know I’m not alone in this, but in my position I feel a little ambivalent about my stance because of the retail sector’s reliance on these handy pieces of plastic. After all they are the ultimate disposable convenience; a jolly handy way of promoting a brand; and make for useful bin liners too. But, I ask myself, does society as a whole pay too big a price for this throw-away convenience?
Jewellers are not particularly guilty of producing unnecessary waste packaging, their goods being small; and generally encased in a quality reusable container, but I’m sure we’ve all asked ourselves why the supermarkets feel it necessary to encase four baking spuds in a rigid plastic sarcophagus when a paper bag would do the job perfectly well, or give us yet another variety of individual dessert in an almost indestructible pot. However the plastic bag issue rages on, either because they are believed to be a waste of scarce petrochemicals; because some aren’t biodegradable in landfill; or because too many end their lives littering our highways and bye-ways. INCPEN, the Industry Council for Packaging and the Environment, dispute all of the above it has to be said, and in the Irish Republic, where a 15 cents tax was levied from 2002, a lively debate has broken out about the pros and cons.
Naturally, the subject of so-called ‘green’ taxes is a hot topic of bar room deliberation, and few among us are not now experts on the theory of ‘hypothecation’ whereby tax revenues are earmarked for a particular purpose? But I suspect it’s not the environmental issues that are vexing the BRC in this case, nor whether carrot is more effective than stick when it comes to influencing public behaviour, but why retailers have to double up as tax collectors once again. I don’t know enough about the proposed tax on plastic bags to comment on the who what and where of its collection, and I don’t want to confuse measures that
are designed to modify behaviour with ones that benefit the public purse, but it did start me thinking about indirect taxation.
Taxes on income are always unpopular, and few politicians want to be identified with them, but indirect taxation is another story. Jewellers are familiar, not to say happy, with their role as unpaid collectors of VAT on behalf of the Treasury. But if my instinct is correct it’s a job that is set to grow in the future, as government looks for fresh sources of money to fund the financial crisis. Not that I predict an increase in the rate of VAT, although I wouldn’t rule it out. What I expect is an expanding catchment area, with more goods and services gradually coming within scope. And I suspect in the first instance we will be sold the idea as a logical ‘tidying up’ of the system. (Why should chocolate covered biscuits attract VAT and not custard creams after all, or printed matter escape the tax?) But as time goes by, more and more commodities will come into scope, until finally it will be the turn of the ‘sacred cows’ such as children’s clothing and groceries. I’d like to be around to see which politician tackles that one!