Friday. 2/8/2019

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Jamie Waters

Unhelpful labels

If you were going to start a company you’d imagine that being associated with Sweden, Japan or Canada was a pretty safe bet. A boost to your brand's image even, given that (to generalise greatly) all three nations tend to conjure images of transparency and quality products. Alas, with rapid shifts taking place within the international order, being linked with any country is risky.

Last week there were impassioned calls on social media for consumers to boycott Swedish stalwarts Ikea and Volvo due to outrage over Stockholm’s trial of rapper ASAP Rocky on assault charges. Meanwhile, in Seoul, shoppers are avoiding goods by Uniqlo and other Japanese players (in sectors including beer, cosmetics and cars) in response to Shinzo Abe’s tightening of import laws on South Korean products. These two incidents recall the Chinese boycott of Canada Goose products at the end of 2018 – a riposte to Canada’s arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou.

Of course, it’s not a new idea to link a brand with its country of origin. But as populist and nationalist movements become an increasingly powerful force, I wonder if there is a growing tendency for consumers to categorise brands according to their homeland – and to use them as pawns in international diplomacy. It’s certainly not a sensible step, as often brands have very little connection to the place in which they happen to be based. Instead it’s a worrying indication of the direction in which the world is heading.

Security / Russia

Bombs away?

Today marks the deadline for Russia to comply with the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) agreement. Given that the Kremlin has so far refused to destroy its stock of offending missiles, it’s likely to ignore the target date. How alarmed should the international community be? Not overly so says Mark Galeotti of the Royal United Services Institute. “The Russians aren’t going to destroy their missiles ahead of schedule,” he says. “But this isn’t going to lead to some imminent new arms race. The world is a little less safe, not because of the scrapping of the INF treaty but due to the increasingly fractious geopolitics of which this is a symptom. Nations have fewer reasons to play nice.”

Trade / Japan & South Korea

Back in the slow lane

The escalating spat between Japan and South Korea is about to get uglier. Today Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet is expected to remove South Korea from a list of countries that get fast-track treatment in buying Japan-made technology with potential military applications. It would be the first time that a country has been struck off and follows last month’s toughening, courtesy of Tokyo, of export controls on Japan-made chemicals that South Korean technology giants need. The hope is that US secretary of state Mike Pompeo, who is in Bangkok to meet foreign ministers from Japan and South Korea today, can find a face-saving solution that will allow both sides to step back from the brink.

Hospitality / Global

Squeaky green

One of the small pleasures of travel is sampling the toiletries in hotel rooms – and perhaps sneaking one or two you like into a suitcase. But due to concerns about the environment, this could soon be a thing of the past: Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG) has become the first global hospitality company to vow to rid its hotels of bathroom miniatures. The firm will be replacing them with larger versions or refillable ceramic dispensers in an attempt to reduce its plastic waste; it has also pledged to remove plastic straws from its properties by the end of the year. The move is more than a gesture: IHG franchises, leases, manages or owns more than 5,600 hotels that use 200 million miniatures every year. With the new edict, guests will have a conscience as clean as their bodies.

Industry / Toronto

Dream factory

A sudden boom in the technology sector doesn’t always bode well for a city (consider soaring house prices in San Francisco) but a Toronto development that’s due to open in 2020 aims to create jobs and revive manufacturing in the downtown area. The development will comprise two residential towers and a third building that contains Factory 6, a 60,000 sq ft space with offices and a manufacturing facility that will include metal 3D-printers, laser cutters and CNC machines. Mars Discovery District, a Toronto innovation hub and partner in the development, already supports 300 small businesses that make physical products – and many are looking to shorten their supply chain and cut commute times. Bringing developers closer to the products they make will surely be a boon for the city’s manufacturing industry.

M24 / The Urbanist

Homelessness

It’s estimated that as many as 1.6 billion people around the world lack adequate housing. And despite some serious efforts, urban areas still struggle to find a viable solution to the ongoing crisis. So what can be done? And who are the activists and civic leaders championing change?

Monocle Films / Rome

The art of restoration

Monocle Films pays a visit to a restoration firm that has saved pieces by artists as diverse as Caravaggio and John Kirby.

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