Tuesday 16 February 2021 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Tuesday. 16/2/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: The Equiano Rum Co

Opinion / Daniel Bach

Louder than words

February is Black History Month in the US. It’s a time when companies often highlight prominent African-Americans from throughout history in their marketing campaigns to show their commitment to equality and diversity, and woo customers. Alain Sylvain, CEO of New York-based brand strategy agency Sylvain, works with a host of marquee clients, including Blackrock and Google and says that while “a company’s ‘purpose’ is often bandied about like a jingle or catchphrase,” for it to ring true, “it needs to be in the bones of the company, in its DNA.”

It’s here that many smaller businesses do best. Last week, Monocle 24’s The Entrepreneurs featured two of the co-founders of Equiano, a rum-making company that donates 5 per cent of profits to equality and freedom projects. The brand is named after Olaudah Equiano, the Nigerian-born writer and abolitionist who was able to buy his freedom from slavery in the 18th century, in part by selling rum. The spirit, a blend made by Gray’s distillery in Mauritius and Foursquare in Barbados, is an Afro-Caribbean product that invites customers to consider the history of the slave trade and to know that their purchase will have a social impact in the process. “We’re trying really hard to make sure that we pay respect to the name that adorns our bottle,” says Equiano co-founder Aaisha Dadral (pictured, on right, with co-founder Ian Burrell).

And there’s another important test: consumers might be attracted by brands that seek to do good in all sorts of fields but, in the end, they will also want that product to be best in class.

Image: Alamy

Health / Japan

Injecting some urgency

Japan’s vaccination roll-out starts tomorrow, with health workers at the front of the queue along with the over-65s and those with underlying health conditions. Although Japan has signed contracts to secure more than enough doses to inoculate its population of 126 million, it is the last G7 country to approve any of the leading coronavirus vaccines; health minister Norihisa Tamura (pictured, centre) only gave the Pfizer-Biontech version the green light on Sunday. Vaccine approval can take up to two years in Japan but this one was fast-tracked in less than two months. Japan required its own clinical trial (albeit a much smaller one than usual, consisting of 160 people) to confirm the vaccine’s efficacy. Astrazeneca applied for its own fast-track approval on 5 February. It’s brighter news after a trying week for prime minister Yoshihide Suga, following the resignation on Friday of Tokyo Olympics head Yoshiro Mori over his widely reported sexist remarks. Suga will be hoping that a successful vaccination programme and economic recovery might be a shot in the arm for his election campaign in September.

Image: Shutterstock

Politics / Haiti

End of term?

Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Port-au-Prince this weekend calling for Haiti’s president Jovenel Moïse to step down. The nation is gripped by an implacable dispute between Moïse’s government and the opposition over exactly when the leader’s five-year term legally ends: the opposition claims it expired last week as elections took place in 2015 but Moïse says that his time in office began two years later, when he eventually took office after the initial vote was re-run due to allegations of fraud.

So which side will prevail? “Haiti is complicated; there’s never an easy answer,” Christopher Sabatini, senior research fellow for Chatham House’s Latin America, US and the Americas programme, tells The Monocle Minute. “But at the end of the day, it’s the international community that counts. Moïse has the US backing him.” What’s more, Sabatini adds, the impoverished nation is in no position to hold snap elections. As he says, “There’s nobody there to take Moïse’s place.”

Image: Getty Images

Travel / Germany

Border disorder

Cars and trucks were reportedly stuck waiting for more than an hour yesterday morning at the border between Germany and the Czech Republic. Daily commuters found themselves ensnared in cross-border checks imposed by Germany in an effort to prevent new variants of coronavirus from entering the country. Trains have been cancelled and the Austrian border has also been affected, although somewhat less severely. Austrian and Czech officials have lodged complaints and, though German car-makers say that they’re unaffected so far, the German logistics association DSLV warns that the economy and supply chains could soon take a hit. Better, says DSLV head Axel Plass, would be to avoid a return to “single-state solutions”, such as those seen across the EU last March. It might be challenging to limit the spread of the virus and reach deals between cities across borders but isn’t that what the EU and Schengen is meant to be about?

Image: Shutterstock

Cinema / China

Silver screenings

Although 2021 will remain challenging for many cinemas worldwide, in some countries the box office has bounced back with record-breaking numbers. In China, Detective Chinatown 3, a comedy-mystery buddy film, has just posted the largest opening weekend figures ever in a single market with takings of $398m (€328m). It’s an even more remarkable sum considering that there is a 75 per cent cap on seating in Chinese cinemas (some cities have a 50 per cent cap). Although Detective Chinatown 3 (pictured) was certainly the biggest hit, other films, including time-travel comedy Hi Mom, also did very well. Overall, the weekend brought in box-office takings of $697m (€575m). There was also positive news from other Asian countries. South Koreans seem to love the latest Pixar film, Soul, and in Japan the romantic I Fell in Love Like a Flower Bouquet remains at number one. It’s excellent news for the industry, suggesting that audiences will flock back to cinemas elsewhere when it’s safe to do so.

M24 / The Foreign Desk

Is something shifting in Russia?

​In the wake of widespread winter protests across Russia, we look at how Alexei Navalny became the figurehead for opposition to Vladimir Putin. Are the ongoing protests building momentum? And, if so, is real change becoming more likely? Andrew Mueller is joined by Nataliya Vasilyeva, Andrei Kolesnikov and Mark Galeotti.

Monocle Films / Italy & Japan

The talent-seeker: Ryutaro Yoshida

To celebrate last year’s Milano Design City – a downsized version of the annual Salone del Mobile – we take a closer look at one of our favourite exhibitors. Here we trace the collaboration between Italy’s Boffi De Padova and Japan’s Time & Style all the way to the remote region of Shimane, meeting the artisans that craft these special products.


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