CEOs Hail Business Benefits of AI, But Employees Remain Skeptical

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In their rush to grasp the business benefits offered by artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, are companies missing the ethical risks in deploying these technologies? Evidence of that oversight abounds, not least in a recent study of 450 C-suite executives in which AI was viewed nearly exclusively from an opportunity lens.

Aside from a mention of cybersecurity as a threat, a recent report—Maintaining the Human Connection in an age of AI, from the consulting firm A.T. Kearney—showed 50 percent of executives who are looking at the adoption of new technology in the long-term selected AI and machine learning as their best opportunity, up from just 27 percent last year.

The absence of reflection on the ethical aspects of AI is all the more striking in light of the observation from Paul A. Laudicina, founder and chairman of A.T. Kearney’s Global Business Policy Council and co-author of the report, who said in a press statement that the results “suggest that the C-suite believes corporate social responsibility is shifting from an optional activity to a central requirement for successful corporate leadership.”

While they recognize new skills are needed in an age of automation, more than 90 percent of executives surveyed in the study do not anticipate a reduction in workforce size as a result of technological displacement—at least not in the next five years. 

The benefits of AI bring new risks, along with opportunities

As they rush towards AI’s “game-changing potential,” as A.T. Kearney put it, CEOs would be wise to weave ethical considerations into their AI strategy, said Elaine Weidman Grunewald, co-founder of the AI Sustainability Center, a multi-disciplinary hub launched earlier this year to promote responsible and purpose-driven technology.

AI will deliver undisputed revenue gains and dramatic cost-saving possibilities to companies,” Weidman Grunewald told TriplePundit. “What it will also deliver is a whole host of new risks, such as privacy intrusion, bias and discrimination. AI is different because it is self-learning and self-scaling, yet governance frameworks that address issues like transparency, explainability and accountability are lagging.”

The term “explainability” refers to machine learning techniques that make it possible for human users to understand, appropriately trust and effectively manage AI, as defined by the Harvard Business Review.

Without building and maintaining trust in an increasingly transparent era, companies embracing AI “may compromise all the benefits gained,” Weidman Grunewald noted.

Employees are still wary of AI

But while 85 percent of senior executives classify themselves as AI optimists, according to an EY study in May, the same survey revealed that employees may not be so keen. According to respondents, employee trust (33 percent) is one of the greatest barriers to AI adoption even though 87 percent of CEOs and business leaders completely or somewhat trust this technology.

One of employees’ more prevalent concerns is what has been called “snooptech,” the ability of employers to start using AI to monitor their employees. As Jeffrey Hirsch, a law professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, recently reported in Fast Company, “Lots of workers are under automated surveillance from their employers.” Hirsch noted that such analyses could affect who is hired, fired, promoted or given raises. In addition, some AI programs can mine and manipulate data to predict future actions, such as who is likely to quit their job.

Can labor laws keep up?

Labor laws in the U.S. and other parts of the world have not kept up with technological advances and are not ready to deal with this new reality. In Sweden, however, the national Public Employment Service already has their eye on this issue. In a three-year partnership with the AI Sustainability Center, the agency is working to ensure that that their increasing use of AI in job matching and other services is done in a way that accounts for societal risks early in the process.

“As a public-sector agency, the stakes are high and being a first mover will be crucial in maintaining public trust,” says the AI Sustainability Center’s other co-founder, Anna Felländer.

Both policymakers and companies will have to step up their game in including social and ethical considerations in the use of AI. As 3p has reported, a growing number of companies are taking note and action to mitigate the risk and, in the process, finding opportunities to offer solutions, including IBM, Microsoft, Google and Accenture which through its new Applied Intelligence practice recently launched the AI Fairness Tool.

Today all companies have become data driven. Yet there is a huge maturity spectrum when it comes to understanding the risks and pitfalls of AI,” Felländer says. “Maintaining a human connection requires an in-depth understanding of how the use of AI can impact not just on the bottom line, but people and society. That impact can be both positive or negative, but understanding the impact enables you to take action and mitigate risks before they occur.”

Image credit: Gerd Altmann/Pixabay

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CEOs Hail Business Benefits of AI As Employees Are Skeptical
In their rush to grasp the benefits of artificial intelligence and machine learning, are companies overlooking the ethical risks that come with deploying these technologies?
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From Goat to Zero: EV Redemption for Volkswagen with ‘Affordable’ ID.3 EV

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Fans of the German automaker Volkswagen experienced a serious letdown almost exactly four years ago, when the company was forced to admit it had doctored the results of U.S. emissions tests for its diesel cars. Well, that was then. Now, the company is banking on zero-emission electric vehicles (EVs) to restore its brand reputation, and it is not cutting any corners.

A fresh start for a tarnished brand

Since last Friday, Volkswagen has rolled out a series of three announcements aimed at cementing its position as a global leader in the EV revolution.

The most recent announcement appeared on Monday, on the eve of the International Motor Show in Frankfurt, Germany, to introduce the company’s new ID.3 electric vehicle.

In the announcement, Volkswagen made it clear that the new car signals a fresh start in terms of the company’s corporate culture, right down to a new logo:

“This vehicle is the symbol of a new era for the brand," a company statement reads. "The ID.3 extends the Volkswagen offering as the first model of a completely new generation of pure electric vehicles—featuring zero local emissions, outstanding efficiency, and full connectivity. At the same time, the ID.3 reflects the realignment of the Volkswagen brand, and is also the first model with the new Volkswagen logo.”

It's also noteworthy that Volkswagen is focused on EV affordability. Though the ID.3 is not particularly cheap at a starting price of just under 30,000 euros (around US$33,000 at the current exchange rate), that is lower than the current average cost of a new car in the U.S., which hovers around the $36,000 mark.

The prospect of lower fuel and maintenance costs compared to diesel- and gas-powered vehicles can also help take the sting out of the sticker price, regardless of whether or not tax incentives are available.

Emissions transparency is part of the Volkswagen reboot

To round out its brand reputation do-over, Volkswagen was also careful to note that the ID.3 has “zero local emissions.” By specifying “local,” Volkswagen makes an important distinction between zero tailpipe emissions and emissions involved elsewhere in the EV supply chain. That includes emissions from power plants as well as emissions related to manufacturing and shipping.

By referencing the difference, Volkswagen could contribute to a broader public understanding of mobility’s carbon footprint. That transparency is a far cry from the company’s self-inflicted wounds as “dieselgate” unspooled in the fall of 2015. Though Volkswagen was far from the only company to be accused of tampering with emissions test results, it bore the brunt of public wrath from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Kickstarting the EV revolution

Volkswagen expects the ID.3 to launch in Europe in limited quantities next year. In the meantime, the company is building a new high-volume EV battery factory in Salzgitter, Germany, to help scale up production in the years to follow.

Last Friday, Volkswagen announced that the new mobile energy storage venture will involve a partnership with the Swedish battery manufacturer NorthvoltThe choice of Northvolt dovetails with Volkswagen’s decision to distinguish between local emissions and the rest of the EV footprint. Northvolt bills its lithium-ion energy storage platform as “the world’s greenest battery,” with a low manufacturing carbon footprint and “the highest ambitions” for recycling.

The new factory is expected to launch by the beginning of 2024.

Volkswagen preps for the EV revolution

A third announcement in the series, also released last Friday, covered Volkswagen’s soup to nuts, efficiency-based conversion of its existing Zwickau manufacturing facility from an all-internal combustion lineup to an EV-only lineup.

The conversion began in 2018 and is expected to be completed before 2021. With other production lines in addition to the ID.3, Volkswagen is billing Zwickau as Europe’s “largest and most efficient electric vehicle plant,” partly due to a high degree of automation.

The Zwickau location also supports Volkswagen’s efforts to reduce its carbon footprint beyond vehicle emissions. The Marienthal sector of Zwickau has been selected for an energy transition study involving heat pumps, energy storage and solar power, as well as EV charging.

As further evidence that Volkswagen is shedding its diesel past, the company anticipates that 33 models based on its new EV platform will commence production in the next three years, as the first group in a wave that will eventually total 70 EV models over 10 years. That will add up to 22 million new EVs on the road from Volkswagen alone.

Those scaled-up numbers are badly needed if the global transportation sector is to decarbonize. Last November, for example, the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) estimated that there were only 1 million EVs operating on U.S roads in 2018. The organization also anticipates that EVs will still account for only 7 percent of cars and light trucks in the U.S. by 2030.

In light of the new Volkswagen announcement, it looks like EEI and other industry watchers may need to revise their outlook in a more optimistic direction.

Image credit: Volkswagen

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EV Redemption for Volkswagen with ‘Affordable’ ID.3 EV
Volkswagen is banking on zero-emission electric vehicles to restore its brand reputation following the "dieselgate" scandal of 2015, and the German automaker is not cutting any corners.
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Industry Leaders Discuss Whether Sustainable Fashion is Possible

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Can the fashion industry ever really be sustainable? Five industry leaders recently came together to make the case of how sustainability could become a reality within the world of fashion. These industry leaders shared their expertise on the risks and opportunities associated with a more sustainable fashion industry, and how various actors can play their part. There has been a lot of talk about the idea of sustainability in fashion over the last several years. It’s clear to apparel companies, however, that now is the time to dig into the tactics of how sustainability can be better identified, measured and benchmarked.

Fashion’s global impact is massive, and not always in a good way

Sustainability has become a buzzword over the last several years for good reason. The climate crisis, for one, is undeniable—and the fashion industry is a major contributor to the problem. The apparel industry is now valued at over $1 trillion, accounts for 2 percent of the world's GDP, and is believed to employ more than 1 in 10 of all workers globally. And as a leading United Kingdom sustainability news site recently reported, the apparel industry accounts for a tenth of the world’s annual carbon emissions, 5 percent of global water use, and has been identified as one of the sectors with the highest risk of modern slavery in supply chains.

Fast fashion is often seen as the culprit—retailers like H&M, Zara and Forever 21 (which is reportedly preparing a bankruptcy filing) have often been accused of perpetuating production practices that don’t support authentic sustainability in the industry. While the actual production of fashion is detrimental to the earth, consumer shopping patterns also continue to fuel the cycle. The truth of the matter is: Shoppers are buying more and more clothes—and the outlook doesn't look promising. According to the 2018 State of Fashion report from McKinsey and Business of Fashion, more than half of all fast-fashion items that consumers purchase are thrown away in less than a year.

Can fast fashion really evolve to become sustainable fashion?

Both H&M and Zara have been proactive over the last several years in developing strategies to become more sustainable and socially responsible brands. In 2016, H&M outlined an aggressive set of goals in its annual sustainability report, including a commitment to using 100 percent recycled or other sustainably-sourced materials by 2030.

Hendrick Alpen, H&M’s sustainability engagement manager, was among those who spoke out about the fashion industry’s ongoing evolution as he shared some insights on the progress the company has made around some of its initial goals. He insisted that becoming a 100 percent circular business is important to the Sweden-based company and explained what 100 percent circular would mean to H&M’s business:

“​Creating a circular production module means ultimately coming to the point where we do not have to use virgin cotton or virgin polyester ... but actually use old garments as a resource, and recycle it into new products. We are investing heavily in that recycling technology.” 

H&M now uses about 57 percent of materials that are organic, recycled or sustainably sourced cotton, Alpen said.

What apparel companies must do going forward

Apparel companies keep saying that they are looking to make changes, but such talk is not enough. To that end, these companies also discussed how genuine industry progress and government regulations together are key.

On the industry front, various tools are available to measure a company’s sustainability performance. The Higg Index is one such tool. Developed by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, ​the Higg Index​ is a suite of tools that enables brands, retailers, and facilities of all sizes to accurately measure and score a company or product’s sustainability performance.

As for government involvement, China—which oversees the apparel industry’s largest production operation—is now focused on building a greener supply chain as part of the country’s five-year plan. In January 2019, the China National Textile and Apparel Council outlined its plan for “Technology, Fashion and Green​” to address environmental issues.

If sustainability is to become the norm in the fashion industry, we’ll need to see more partnerships across all stakeholder groups and sectors. Brands, manufacturers, and governments must work together to deploy more aggressive goals and targets—and make them public in the interest of transparency and accountability.

With new advances in technology coming out every day, it’s equally as important to find innovative ways to disrupt the lifecycle of apparel, including developing next-generation processes that can turn old clothing into something new. If H&M or any of its competitors can crack the code that allows them to become 100 percent circular businesses, we’ll witness an industry that will set the bar for circularity high—and will motivate other industries to move quickly in order to keep up.

Image credit: Brunel Johnson/Unsplash

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Industry Leaders Discuss If Sustainable Fashion is Possible
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Most Of Us Are Waiting On the World to Change: You Don't Have to Be One of Them

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This story is part of an editorial series featuring speakers, organizations and themes we will discuss in depth at the 2019 3BL Forum: Brands Taking Stands—What’s Next, a two-day event on Oct. 29-30 that delves into the "why" and "how" behind corporate responsibility. You can follow the series here

Americans overwhelmingly agree that addressing social and environmental issues such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is important to our future. New data released from a 2019 State of Conscious Consumer Study revealed that over 70 percent of U.S. adults feel that addressing public health, sustainable development, environmental issues and planet health, workplace quality, equal access to prosperity, and gender equality issues are important to the future. So, why aren’t they doing more to impact these issues?

The study revealed that only 23 percent of Americans actually believe in their individual impact, leaving 77 percent of U.S. adults feeling paralyzed amid a sociopolitical climate consumed by fake news, mega-companies funding political campaigns, and alarmist assessments of our planet and society’s health. This assumed inability to make change has led to a nation overcome by the “not it” or bystander effect, which can have dangerous consequences and keeps people’s desire to impact change merely that, a desire. 

There are many ways that individuals can contribute to making an impact that, when compounded, will change the world. Walking or biking to work instead of driving, switching to energy-efficient light bulbs, unplugging your appliances when they’re not in use, purchasing organic or sustainable food products, replacing single-use plastics with reusable products, volunteering, raising awareness, or making donations are just some of the small, but impactful, ways individuals can make a difference. 

But while lifestyle changes, volunteering and donating are all great ways to give back, they aren’t the only ways to support the causes you believe in. There is a way to drive progress and diversify your personal income for a sustainable future. Values-driven investing empowers people to make a difference by using investment dollars to support the change they want to see in the world.

The Conscious Consumer Study also found that 56 percent of U.S. adults believe investing in companies supporting the issues they care about is an impactful action that can drive progress, yet 1 in 4 believe they don’t have enough money or information to take action. 

To address this issue, providers are paving the way for individuals—regardless of income levels—to take the future into their own hands and really make a difference. In a world that skews negative, new solutions are addressing the bystander effect and creating transparency to modernize the way we approach investing, especially for those that are just getting started. At COIN, we are fulfilling this ambition by laying out a path for a more conscious-led investing strategy. Our platform allows consumers to choose from varying impact areas—such as Clean Water to Better Health—that align with the United Nations Global Goals for sustainable development and invest in a custom portfolio of companies that make an impact in those areas. 

By investing with their values, individuals can send a clear and powerful message that companies making a positive impact on the world appeal to consumers, now and in the future. Environmental scientist David Suzuki once said, “In a world of more than 7 billion people, each of us is a drop in the bucket. But with enough drops, we can fill any bucket.” 

Individuals can take change into their own hands by using their voice, time and money. With these new solutions making values-driven investing more available and affordable than ever before, we do not need to remain paralyzed. 

We must believe in the power of compounding individual behaviors if we want to see true progress and positive global, societal impact. Let’s become a country of conscious consumers— because with enough drops, we can fill any bucket. 

Megan Schleck, co-founder and CEO of COIN, is among the speakers who will take the stage at the 2019 3BL Forum. Together, 80-plus speakers promise this two-day event one that is fast-paced, high-octane and invaluable with their perspectives on the latest in the environmental, social and governance (ESG) community.

We’re pleased to offer TriplePundit readers a 25 percent discount on attending the Forum. Please register by going to the 3BL Forum website and use this discount code when prompted: NEWS2019BRANDS.

Image credit: Emma Matthews/Unsplash

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CEO Says, "Stop Waiting on the World To Change"
A recent study revealed that only 23 percent of Americans actually believe in their individual power to drive social and environmental impact, leaving 77 percent feeling paralyzed. But individuals can take change into their own hands by using their voice, time and money, this CEO says.
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Businesses and Educators Come Together to Transform the High School Experience

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This article series is sponsored by the SunTrust Foundation and produced by the TriplePundit editorial team.

Four years ago, things did not look good for Banneker High School in Fulton County, Georgia, about 15 miles south of Atlanta.

It was performing in the bottom 5 percent of all schools in the state. Six out of 10 students did not graduate. Teacher retention was abysmal, and an estimated 97 percent of students lived in poverty. The future for many of the students was bleak, and they knew it.

“It just seemed as though there wasn’t anything here for kids that would provide a real solution,” reflects Banneker’s principal, Dr. Duke Bradley. “School—the very place created to build opportunity and hope—was actually fueling this epidemic. The community had lost confidence in the school.”

Fast-forward to 2019 and things at Banneker are very, very different. The graduation rate has increased by 47 percent—the highest growth in graduation rates among all 16 traditional public high schools in Fulton County. And, in less than two years, Banneker dropped off the state’s failing school list and is no longer eligible for state intervention.

“When I walk the halls, I can feel it,” Dr. Bradley says. “There is pride.”

This is the story of how a school failing its students, its teachers and its community was reborn, transformed by passionate and innovative organizations and individuals united around the belief that equitable access to high-quality education is the gateway to economic mobility. Together, these partners—the Fulton County School System, local businesses and a new organization called 3DE—continue to systemically re-engineer the education system not only at Banneker, but  also at an expanding number of schools, to better reflect the real world and prepare students for life beyond the classroom.

Schools failing students: How corporate America gets involved

There is no simple answer to why schools fail. Lack of budgets, over-crowded classrooms, the digital divide, and outdated teaching practices are just a few leading culprits cited by pundits on both sides of the aisle.

What is clear is that there is a problem in the U.S. education system.

Take for example, that only two U.S. states have high-school graduation rates above 90 percent, and 15 states graduate less than 80 percent of their students. American high-schoolers are also more likely to be absent from school compared to their peers in other developed countries, with chronic absenteeism rates exceeding 30 percent in some cities.  For schools in low-income communities, the rates are even more staggering. And where there is innovation, it often happens in pockets and not in a systematic way across schools and education systems.

The result doesn’t just affect students—it also affects corporate America, which is facing a growing shortage of skilled workers.

Just down the road from Banneker High School are gleaming buildings with manicured grounds, global headquarters of companies such as Chick-fil-A, Coca-Cola, Home Depot, SunTrust Bank and Delta Air Lines.

As far back as 2014, each of these companies had identified education as a critical focus. They realized that their local schools—and schools across the nation—were in trouble.

For these companies, getting involved wasn’t simply a nice way to give back; education had become a business imperative. They realized that if U.S. communities fail to thrive, so would they. To operate successfully, companies need vibrant communities with consumers ready to purchase their products and services, as well as a steady pipeline of skilled workers to fill their offices, fulfillment centers and manufacturing sites. Increasingly, this is becoming a struggle. According to the youth development nonprofit Junior Achievement, 49 percent of U.S. employers say that talent shortages affect their ability to serve clients and customers.

Businesses around Banneker were hungry to engage in education, but were searching for a meaningful way that would drive outcomes. 

An idea emerges from a simple conversation 

It all started in 2013 with a conversation with then-superintendent of Fulton County Schools, Dr. Robert Avossa, and Junior Achievement of Georgia President Jack Harris. Junior Achievement (JA)—founded exactly 100 years ago this year—is one of the nation’s largest and most successful nonprofit organizations dedicated to strengthening student achievement. Both Dr. Avossa and Harris saw an opportunity to work in partnership to develop a solution to address systemic issues. 

Their vision became 3DE: a joint venture between school districts, 3DE by JA, and the broader business community. Together, they set out to re-engineer high school education and, in the process, improve student engagement, accelerate academic outcomes and develop competencies necessary to excel in today’s workforce.

“Our goal was to develop a solution to catalyze transformation that would significantly drive economic opportunity and economic mobility in communities across the country,” says Jack Harris, president and CEO of 3DE. “We challenged ourselves to develop a model within the public education system so that we could reach a critical mass of students through learning that engages and prepares students for high-growth careers.”

3DE knew there was a lot of work ahead, including a complete re-think of school structure, curriculum design, and teacher development in a way that would thoroughly integrate career preparation into the high school experience. But there was no time to lose; Banneker High School was selected for the initial pilot in 2015.

improve graduation rates at U.S. schools

Charting a course of interdisciplinary learning 

Under the3DE approach, every five to nine weeks, small teams of 3DE students receive a new case challenge. The challenges are designed with input from local businesses to reflect real-world situations. For example, students might be asked to come up with a solution to help Delta Air Lines improve the boarding process and the customer experience, or to support a cybersecurity firm in expanding usage of its simulated training program. 

“Case methodology helps students build cognitive skills, think independently, move strategically and work collaboratively, while discovering their passions along the way,” explains Callie Majors, senior vice president of brand strategy and investor relations at 3DE. “In the end, we believe it will help them develop the transferable skills they will need to enter the workforce and move more quickly from entry-level to manager- and leadership-level positions.” 

Each challenge is kicked off by a business professional who introduces the case situation to the students.  From there, teachers weave the challenge into the everyday curriculum—from geometry class to world history—to create a truly interdisciplinary approach. 3DE provides two full-time, onsite advisors who help coach the teachers and serve as the link between the business partners and the school. 

Student teams work together on research and ultimately present their solutions to their peers, debating and defending their recommendations. At the end of the project, the business representatives hear presentations from the top teams and offer feedback and coaching.

For most students, this is a whole new world. “This is not like any school I have experienced before,” said a student identified as Frances, as quoted on 3DE's website. “Case challenges make learning fun—even math.”

By senior year, students have completed 16 case challenges and move on to a year-long immersion project—which could be a consulting project, field research or an internship with a local business.

A focus on results 

Since 3DE launched, it has expanded to six schools across four school districts, and to 35 corporate partners. The results are consistently impressive and, so far, show that the model works:

  • Positive academic outcomes: 100 percent outperformance on percentage of students scoring proficient or above on 2018 Georgia Milestones for all content areas compared to host school comparison.
  • Elevated levels of engagement: 38 percent fewer chronically-absent students on average compared to host school peers.
  • Success moving on to college: Of the graduating cohorts at Banneker, 88 percent have enrolled in two- or four-year colleges, and 100 percent of those who applied to college were accepted.

Nowhere to go but up

Over the next five years, 3DE plans to expand to 55 schools in 20 districts across seven states, reaching 20,000 U.S. students annually. By 2030, its goal is to be in 500 schools, eventually growing to 2,500 locations. 3DE’s Majors says this will represent about 10 percent of the nation’s high-school population and could constitute the tipping point where aspects of the approach are integrated across the education system. 

So far, 3DE has secured more than $27 million to fund its expansion efforts, including a three-year, $2 million grant issued in July by the SunTrust Foundation, which has been a 3DE supporter since the beginning.

For Majors, there is no question as to the program’s and the students’ potential.

“Our students are graduating with a vision for their future, confidence in their abilities, and a path to achievement,” she says. “Our students will be able to walk in and solve problems.”

Image credits: Element5 DigitalOluwakemi Solaja and Charles DeLoye via Unsplash

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Businesses, Educators Work to Transform U.S. High Schools
Across the country, high schools failing their students, teachers and communities are being reborn thanks to an innovative public-private partnership that brings career readiness into the classroom.
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California’s AB5 Could Transform the Gig Economy in Favor of Workers

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Something incredible is happening in California. Despite opposition, lobbying, and millions in spending by Uber, Lyft and Doordash, Assembly Bill 5 (AB5), which would force gig workers who met certain work standards to be classified as regular employees with benefits, is looking more and more likely to pass and be signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom.

“Lyft and Uber are fighting this bill like crazy,” said Bob Reynolds, member of UberPeople, a ride-hailing driver community, in public post. “They have pulled out all the stops in an effort to not have to pay the drivers an honest day's pay for an honest day's work.”

AB5 is, in actuality, a modest bill that would give gig workers basic labor protections, such as a guaranteed minimum wage. It explicitly excludes several categories of workers, including medical professionals, architects, financial advisers, or hair stylists – genuinely independent workers. The target is clearly those who work for gig apps.

This bill, which is the first of its kind in the United States, would address a real and growing problem. The Uber gig model is built on top of worker exploitation. There is clear evidence that gig worker wages have fallen year after year, as platforms reduces their workers’ take. Some drivers barely make minimum wage and often find they have to work long shifts to make ends meet. There’s also no clear system for disputes, meaning that drivers, including those who have invested in vehicles to use with Uber or Lyft can be deactivated for any reason, anytime.

These companies regularly violate even the weak existing labor regulations for contract workers. Uber has amassed an astounding array of fines: $20 million for misleading “prospective drivers with exaggerated earnings claims and claims about financing through its Vehicle Solutions Program” to the Federal Trade Commission; $11.4 million in Pennsylvania for operating without approval; $7.3 million by California for failing to provide mandatory data to the state’s Public Utility Commission; and many, many more.

“We cannot sit by while companies pass off their own costs of doing business onto California’s taxpayers and responsible businesses, while depriving millions of workers of the labor law protections that they are rightfully entitled to,” said Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), who introduced the bill, in a press statement.

Lyft, despite getting less attention, is hardly better and often stands alongside its competitor when it comes to restricting workers voices. In fact, it’s hard to find a gig economy start-up that treats workers well – even Juno, which promised to give 50 percent of its equity to its drivers, ended up giving them nearly nothing when it was acquired by competitor Gett two years ago.

Gig economy platforms were able to continue exploiting workers and avoiding labor laws due to their lobbying efforts. Uber, in particular, has long resorted to shady tactics to push politicians. When New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio was considering restricting the number of app-based drivers in 2014, it created a fake “de Blasio’s Uber” feature so that every time New Yorkers logged on to order a car, they were reminded of the mayor’s threat with a message reading “NO CARS — SEE WHY” and were sent directly to a petition opposing the new rules. It worked.

So, what has changed? Workers are starting to organize, and cities are no longer allowing themselves to get bullied. Four years after initially failing, New York City did pass both a minimum wage and driver limits laws, with support from the Independent Drivers Guild. App-based drivers groups have sprung up across the country, including in California where the California App-based Drivers Association is affiliated with the Teamsters Union.

Unfortunately, Uber, Lyft, Doordash and other platforms, none of which are profitable, won’t sit back despite the demands of workers and politicians. They are already planning to challenge AB5 in court, and are gathering signatures to try to revoke the bill in a ballot referendum. This, more than anything, shows the true colors of the gig economy. Instead of working to address the real concerns and needs of workers, they are trying to rig the system to benefit their exploitative practices. Thankfully, the labor movement is ready to stand up and defend workers’ rights.

“This announcement lays bare the real motivation of multi-billion dollar gig companies,” said Art Pulaski of the California Labor Federation in a press statement. “They never cared about their drivers or workers. The only thing they care about is their bottom line and making their executives even richer than they already are. The California labor movement is unified in opposing this cynical measure.”

If California succeeds in passing, implementing, and maintaining AB5, it could herald a new chapter for the workers who make the gig economy possible – and the future of Uber, Lyft, and other gig platforms’ already struggling stock prices.

Image credit of protest at Uber offices in San Francisco: Phil Dokas/Flickr

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Despite lobbying by Uber, Lyft and Doordash, California's Assembly Bill 5—which would grant gig economy workers basic labor rights—is on track to become law.
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3p Friday: The Latest Sustainability Moves From the World's Largest Automakers

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Labor Day weekend has passed, and therefore goes another summer—well, at least unofficially if you are holding out till the Equinox. So now that your last summer road trip of the year has wrapped up, we thought we’d update you on the some of the leading automakers’ latest sustainability moves. Of course, the big automotive news of the week was Bugatti setting the new record in becoming the world’s fastest car—a feat summed up best by Seth Meyers—but we’d like to think the following updates on six of the world’s leading car manufacturers will have more long-term impact.

Toyota looks to low-emissions vehicles for the 2020 Olympics 

The world’s largest automotive manufacturer announced that at least 90 percent of all the cars it will provide for next year’s Summer Olympics in Tokyo will be low-emissions vehicles. The fleet will include at least 500 Mirai cars powered by hydrogen. The company also recently announced its commitment to reducing emissions across its U.S. operations by 40 percent.

GM goes renewable, offers a boost on the Bolt 

Next year’s Chevy Bolt model will have 259 miles of range on a full charge, a boost of 21 miles over previous model years. The Detroit-based automaker is also touting the recognition it recently received for its contribution to advance the U.S. renewables market. According to an emailed statement to TriplePundit, the company has more than tripled its original renewable power goal, which currently stands at 416 megawatts.

Honda's long-range electric vehicle hits Europe

Long venerated by car owners for its reputation for reliability, the second largest Japan-based automaker hasn’t quite attracted the same buzz for its all-electric models as Tesla, Nissan, BMW and even Chevy. But the new Honda E, which for now will be marketed in Europe, has made more than a few reviewers swoon over its design—and for city drivers, its 136 miles of range is respectable.

Ford eyes an expanded EV lineup

The company that a century ago launched the automobile industry that we know today generated plenty of buzz last year when it announced it was phasing out most of its compact-sized cars and sedans. Other than its SUVs and trucks, the only models we can soon expect to see are the Mustang and a Focus crossover. Nevertheless, Ford insists it is focused on developing a robust lineup of all-electric vehicles (EVs)—and in fairness to the automaker, there is a steadfast “perception gap” in what electric cars can currently do, as opposed to how most consumers think they perform. The company’s head of electrification just shared his perspective on this ongoing challenge yesterday.

FCA is pushing toward its long-term sustainability goals 

Fans of the 500 minicar series will not be happy that some of those models will no longer be sold in North America after 2019, and the all-electric 500e is one of the four models that will be axed after this year. From an operations perspective, however, FCA appears on track to meet its long-term sustainability goals, especially when it comes to waste, water and emissions. Let’s give props to some of their Detroit employees for doing their part to keep parks in southeastern Michigan pristine.

New EV models soon to come from BMW 

Have you seen the all-electric BMW i3 models? Seeing one charging at the local Whole Foods made me wish . . . I had spent that money on an i3 instead of at Whole Foods. Other reviews have generated more mixed feedback. Well, more all-electric news is coming from BMW this November: The company’s line of Mini Cooper-branded EVs will hit the roads, with 45,000 customers already on its waiting list.

Image credit: Chevrolet

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The Chicken Sandwich Craze Was Brutal for Fast-Food Employees

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The infamous Popeyes chicken sandwich sparked a “frenzy the likes of which we haven’t seen,” at least according to the foodie blog Eater. Long lines, memes and celebrity testimonials (one even by Cardi B) all added to the buzz. 

However, two weeks after its debut, Popeyes ran out of the $3.99 chicken sandwich.

“Y’all. We love that you love The Sandwich. Unfortunately we’re sold out (for now),” Popeyes tweeted on August 27.

The news led to headline-grabbers including a man suing Popeyes for the missing sandwich and a man pulling a gun on a Houston employee, which brings into question the responsibilities of a company associated with creating such a firestorm.

The $65 million earned media exposure win elevated the fast-food chain’s brand, but at a cost. 

While the marketing ROI of doubling Popeyes’ Twitter followers is exciting for a brand with a smaller market share than its rival, Chick-fil-A, the marketing goal of going viral does not take into account the toll on operational efficiency and employee well-being.

A dismal working experience is the norm in fast food

The boom in consumer demand led many Popeyes’ employees to work 60-hour weeks and to face an ever rising tide of angry customers as chicken sandwiches sold out earlier each day—not that it was reflected in the company’s public statements.

“Popeyes restaurants experienced unprecedented volumes over the last couple of weeks,” a company spokesperson told Business Insider. “All restaurant employees have worked very hard. We are grateful for all that they do for Popeyes guests.”

However, one Popeyes employee, Wanda Lavender, wants a monetary gesture from Popeyes. “The corporation made all this money—millions—off of these sandwiches, she shared with Vox. “But where’s our cut?”

Low employee satisfaction and high turnover is not new for the fast-food industry. The lack of workers’ autonomy, the physical demands of being on one’s feet every day, and unpredictable schedules all contribute to the high turnover rate, as detailed in Harvard Business Review.

In 2015-2017, the Labor Bureau of Statistics concluded that the turnover rate for the restaurant sector was 81 percent. Unfortunately, those within the industry estimate the turnover rate has surged to as much as 100 percent to 200 percent a year.

Fast-food companies continue to churn through employees

“Because turnover is getting so serious and because chains have the ability to do the HR analytics, they can begin to cost out turnover and say, ‘This is not a cost we have taken seriously, because historically we were counting on high turnover model as acceptable,’” explained Rosemary Batt, chair of HR studies and international and comparative labor at the Cornell School of Industrial Labor Relations, to Business Insider.

Both McDonald’s and In-N-Out say they are taking steps to curb high turnover. McDonald’s USA recently announced the launch of training around safe and respectful workplaces to empower employees to work through unconscious bias and bullying. In-N-Out, meanwhile, is a leader in the fast-food space for employee engagement. It never refers to frontline workers as employees but rather as associates, offers a starting wage of $12 per hour, and provides various levels of benefits to full-time and part-time employees, according to its website.

“I think overall, to retain employees is to not have a transaction of ‘I pay you, you work for me’ but a transaction of shared values and respect,” a respondent to an employee engagement survey conducted by 7shifts, a software company for restaurants, explained.

What’s next for Popeyes after that chicken sandwich craze? 

It’s time for Popeyes to learn from the examples set by some of its competitors.

While a summary on Glassdoor found some positive reviews, there were also plenty of comments about low pay that came with the high stress of working at Popeyes. And less than half of reviewers said they would recommend working there to a friend.

By bringing humility to its conversation with employees, Popeyes should communicate, with authenticity, that it valued the stores’ employees who worked late, made thousands of chicken sandwiches and dealt with disrespectful customers over the past month, so they feel as if they are more than a number on the profit and loss statement. 

Image credit: Popeyes

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Chicken Sandwich Craze Was Brutal for Fast-Food Employees
The Popeyes chicken sandwich craze was a huge boost for the brand, but it came with a massive cost to employees.
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Corporate Leadership Must Include a Commitment to Reproductive Health

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With its recent “Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation,” the Business Roundtable (BRT) affirmed that there should be new standards for corporate leadership.

Business leaders have the opportunity to create change wherever they work - both within their company and in the states where they do business.

Building on this new direction, companies are now poised to further these trends and demonstrate their commitment to the BRT Statement of Purpose when it comes to sexual and reproductive health (SRH).

For decades, the private sector in the U.S. has been notably silent when it comes to SRH. This trend has been ongoing despite widespread support from employees, whose contributions have increased in recent years to organizations such as Planned Parenthood and the ACLU.

Research from The Harris Poll and NARAL also reveals the extent to which employees want their company to support SRH as well when it comes to public policy. In addition, a survey from Greenwald & Associates and Planned Parenthood Federation of America shows that 90 percent of millennials say reproductive health is an important issue to them, while more than two-thirds say it is very or extremely important.

If the recent Soulcycle debacle has shown us anything, it is that there is an appetite among customers and employees for companies to lead by promoting inclusion and respect while fighting exclusion and hate.

Furthermore, companies are already supporting access to SRH care in their global operations. For example, the United Nations Foundation and the ExxonMobil Foundation joined forces years ago to create a roadmap to catalyze program and policy action for women's economic empowerment. The directive states:

“Whether a program works depends on the economic situation of the woman and the context in which she lives...including access to quality family planning and reproductive health services.” 

Companies like Levi’s have been investing in their female employees, and women-owned suppliers, for years. There are also existing initiatives, such as the P.A.C.E. program and Business for Social Responsibility’s (BSR) HERHealth, which are straightforward ways for companies to plug into this work.

Because of the surge in legislation to curtail access to SRH, there is a new sense of urgency, desperation and empowerment among employees, executive champions, customers and shareholders. It was a watershed moment this past June when over 180 leaders of publicly traded, private and B-certified businesses stood up for access to reproductive health care access for their employees in the wake of numerous state level abortion bans. The Don’t Ban Equality ad, which ran in The New York Times, has since been signed by nearly 400 business leaders nationwide. 

How can companies continue the trend and demonstrate their commitment to the BRT Statement of Purpose when it comes to SRH?

Include SRH as part of the workplace gender equity conversation: SRH is a value many companies share, even if it has not been explicitly called out. To successfully create the conditions for gender equity in the workplace, recruit top talent across states and build diverse and inclusive pipelines – access to SRH is fundamental.

Make public statements of support: Through public partnerships, or signing onto amicus briefs - corporate allies can signal visible support to current and prospective employees, customers and a growing cadre of increasingly vocal investors.

Make employee benefits inclusive of comprehensive SRH the norm: Ensure your company considers access to the full range of sexual and reproductive health services (including abortion, contraception, IVF and adoption) in their insurance and benefit offerings as well as in all the geographies where employees live and work. For example, Equileap has begun to track and rank companies according to gender focused measures including SRH healthcare access. Also, companies must consider the implications of legislative and regulatory efforts on access, and both adjust their policies to address restrictions to access and lend their support to preserving access.

End political contributions to anti-SRH elected officials/candidates: Companies that make political contributions to candidates who oppose SRH are taking action that runs counter to their stated corporate values and efforts to support gender equity as well as build a diverse and inclusive workforce. A recent report by Equity Forward focuses on dozens of companies that boast about their commitment to gender equality. But each of these companies contributed to support lawmakers who sponsored oppressive SRH legislation.

In The CEO as Urban Statesman, the author, Sam Williams, offers that a CEO’s touchstone when deciding which issues to tackle is simple: "Is this something I could stand in front of institutional investors and defend?” The BRT statement of purpose, the surge in legislation and regulation to demolish access to SRH and the impact that has on its workforce make an affirmative answer to this question necessary and more feasible than ever for companies and brands.

Image credit of 2018 Women's March in Phoenix, AZ: Josh Johnson/Unsplash

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Corporate Leadership Must Include Reproductive Health
Companies are poised to demonstrate a strong commitment to their women employees by making it clear they support reproductive health.
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Justice Remix’d is Ben & Jerry’s Flavor for Criminal Justice Reform

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This story is part of an editorial series featuring speakers, organizations and themes we will discuss in depth at the 2019 3BL Forum: Brands Taking Stands—What’s Next, a two-day event on Oct. 29-30 that delves into the "why" and "how" behind corporate responsibility. You can follow the series here

Never doubt Ben & Jerry’s ability to take swift action to raise awareness about the most pressing social and political issues of our time.

The popular ice cream brand is now drawing attention to the need to enact meaningful criminal justice reform with its new “Justice ReMix’d” flavor.

Let’s address the flavor profile first: Justice ReMix’d boasts cinnamon and chocolate ice creams swirled with chunks of of cinnamon bun dough and spiced up fudge brownies. That blend alone should be an easy sell.

But take note of those brownies tucked into these pints of Ben & Jerry’s; they help sum up the mission of this ice cream. The brownies are sourced from Greyston Bakery, the Yonkers, NY supplier which has been an important part of Ben & Jerry’s supply chain for years. Since the early 1980s, the bakery has provided jobs and training to people who face barriers to joining or reentering the workforce, including the formerly incarcerated.

Partnering with Ben & Jerry’s to launch Justice ReMix’d is the nonprofit Advancement Project National Office, which for 20 years has advocated for human rights and social justice causes including criminal justice reform. Among the causes the Advancement Project has taken on includes its “Close the Workhouse” campaign, which has been determined to close a notorious St. Louis jail that critics say has a long history of accepting abusive prison guard behavior in addition to its reputation for providing inadequate health care.

Ben & Jerry’s has a long history of developing flavors in the name of political and social activism. Past flavors have raised attention to voter disenfranchisement, a “Pecan Resist” blend promoted as a way to speak out against various Trump White House policies – and, a temporary rebranding of a cookie dough flavor to “I Dough, I Dough” to celebrate the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to cement marriage equality as U.S. law.

Whether it’s to raise awareness about where Ben & Jerry’s on certain social issues or to support nonprofits’ work in pursuing a certain cause, the Vermont-based company has made it clear it won’t stop these marketing tactics anytime soon.

“Our approach to creating social change is to raise up the work non-profits are doing on the ground,” said the company’s co-founder, Ben Cohen, in a public statement. “We bring every resource we have to support them—our business voice, our connection with fans, our Scoop Shop community and of course, ice cream. Somehow, it’s easier to talk about difficult issues over a scoop or two.”

Matthew McCarty, CEO of Ben & Jerry’s, is among the speakers who will take the stage at the 2019 3BL Forum. Together, 80-plus speakers promise this two-day event one that is fast-paced, high-octane and invaluable with their perspectives on the latest in the environmental, social and governance (ESG) community.

We’re pleased to offer TriplePundit readers a 25 percent discount on attending the Forum. Please register by going to the 3BL Forum website and use this discount code when prompted: NEWS2019BRANDS.

Image credit: Ben & Jerry’s

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Ben & Jerry’s Flavor for Criminal Justice Reform
Ben & Jerry’s is drawing attention to the need to enact meaningful criminal justice reform with its new “Justice ReMix’d” flavor.
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