Friday. 26/3/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Stefan Ruiz

Opinion / Christopher Cermak

Stumbling bloc

Working at the United Nations takes a certain type of person. Anyone who comes in as an idealist will quickly have to face reality: the UN is an entity of 193 nations with competing interests. This has never been more apparent than today with autocratic nations becoming bolder at challenging long-standing values on human rights. Just this week, Russia and China called for a UN Security Council summit in a direct challenge to what they view as western nations interfering in their domestic affairs.

For those on the far right, such autocratic boldness is a reason to leave multilateral institutions such as the World Health Organization that are deemed beyond repair and under the thumb of China. And for some on the left it’s equally seen as a reason to throw up your hands and chastise the UN for failing to more aggressively defend universal values.

In my recent interview with the UN secretary-general António Guterres (pictured) for Monocle’s April issue, I asked him why China and Russia should be allowed to sit on the Human Rights Council. In his response, he characterised the UN more as a forum than a place for settled debate. “The worst thing countries can do is to say that because some members are spoilers, those that behave will leave,” he said. “In politics, whenever someone leaves a space, others inevitably occupy that space. So those countries that are human-rights minded should occupy as much space as possible.”

Occupying “space” isn’t about shouting down the other side; it’s about confronting them in frank debate, rather than retreating into your own bubbles. The mistake is to assume that universal values are so obvious that they no longer need explaining or defending. Autocratic nations are on the up because they see democracies divided and on the defensive. So, why not a Security Council summit? Let’s welcome the clash of ideas and fill that space with a more hopeful message.

For our full interview with António Guterres, pick up a copy of Monocle's April issue and listen to tomorrow's episode of the Foreign Desk on Monocle 24.

Image: Getty Images

Retail / China

Cotton off

Since Wednesday evening H&M products have been dropped from mainland China’s major e-commerce platforms. It comes after furious commentators on the microblogging platform Sina Weibo seized on a statement from the Swedish retailer last September that it wasn’t using cotton from Xinjiang: “We do not work with any garment manufacturing factories located in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and we do not source products from this region.”

The latest fallout for H&M comes as western nations on Monday imposed sanctions on China for its inhumane treatment of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang. Repercussions for the world’s second-largest fashion retailer won’t be mild: China is its fourth-largest market and home to 520 of its stores. Nike, which made a similar statement that attracted criticism from China this week, might be the next one to be penalised. H&M and other retailers have to decide which customers (and values) they serve. They presumably have little choice but to call China’s bluff.

For more on this story from fashion journalist Dana Thomas, listen to today’s edition of ‘The Globalist’ on Monocle 24.

Image: Getty Images

Diplomacy / EU

Euro vision

The EU attempted to portray itself as tough and decisive during its summit yesterday evening, convened to try to speed up vaccination supply and immunisation across the 27-member bloc. A lot is at stake as a third wave of the pandemic grips countries including Germany – where Angela Merkel recently backtracked over an Easter lockdown – and Italy. The latter’s prime minister Mario Draghi (pictured) has promised 500,000 vaccinations a day by April and is pushing the European Commission to block jab exports if necessary and to make further deals with US big pharma.

Like other EU leaders he’s walking a fine line between advocating French-style, pan-European leadership and adhering to domestic concerns. “He has to prove to an Italian audience that he’s not a European technocrat who doesn’t care about national interests,” Stefano Feltri, editor in chief of Domani newspaper, tells The Monocle Minute. The challenge, says Feltri, is to show that a “strong Europe and national interests are not mutually exclusive”.

Image: Shutterstock

Society / Japan

Flickering flame

The torch relay for the Tokyo Olympics began yesterday in Fukushima. In the next 121 days, around 10,000 runners will pass the baton across Japan’s 47 prefectures from Hokkaido to the southernmost island of Okinawa. It had been a popular gig – over 530,000 people applied to carry the torch, according to the Olympics Committee – but it’s now a reduced affair. Some celebrities have withdrawn, crowds are discouraged from gathering and a majority of the Japanese public opposes holding the Games at all (a group of protesters in Fukushima yesterday called for the Olympic budget to be spent on evacuees of the 2011 nuclear-plant disaster instead). Japan’s media regularly points out prime minister Yoshihide Suga’s lack of confidence in public speeches but communication is key: Suga can no longer avoid the issue and pretend he can’t hear the opposition. He needs to face the nation and engage it in conversation.

Image: Getty Images

Hospitality / UK

Chefs’ trials

It’s no secret that hospitality workers enjoy company – a fact that has made the past 12 months particularly difficult for the sector. In the national Happiness in Hospitality report by Code, a UK-based hospitality industry consultancy, 72 per cent of respondents said their mental health had worsened over the past year. Threats to jobs and social isolation have taken their toll, but there is also a silver lining: “Covid has been awful but it has also nudged employers into taking care of their staff,” Adam Hyman, Code’s founder, tells the Monocle Minute. The report found more awareness of the need for mental health support than in past surveys, while Hyman says many companies have introduced virtual staff check-ins and “cook-alongs” to keep skills sharp and morale high while spaces are shuttered. As venues in England and Wales look toward reopening service in the coming months, let’s hope this new awareness is one change they get to keep.

Image: Shutterstock

M24 / The Foreign Desk

Explainer 258: What are Benjamin Netanyahu’s options?

The results from Israel’s fourth election in two years are currently inconclusive. Andrew Mueller explains what prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu might need to do to retain power.

Monocle Films / Zürich

In praise of balconies

Look up as you stroll Zürich’s streets and you’ll see these outdoor living rooms everywhere. Monocle Films visited the city to outline this architectural feature and how it improves quality of life.

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