Amazon pledges to be halfway to carbon neutral by 2030

Amazon pledges to be halfway to carbon neutral by 2030

Amazon, which ships millions of packages a year to shopper’s doorsteps, says it wants to be greener.

The online retail giant announced plans Monday to make half of all its shipments carbon neutral by 2030.

To reach that goal, the online retail giant says it will use more renewable energy like solar power; have more packages delivered in electric vans; and push suppliers to remake their packaging.

McDonald’s, Coca-Cola and other big companies that generate lots of waste have announced similar initiatives, hoping to appeal to customers concerned about the environment.

Amazon is calling its program “Shipment Zero,” and plans to publicly publish its carbon footprint for the first time later this year.

Seattle-based Amazon said it spent the past two years mapping its carbon footprint and figuring out ways to reduce carbon use across the company.

“It won’t be easy to achieve this goal, but it’s worth being focused and stubborn on this vision and we’re committed to seeing it through,” said Dave Clark, Amazon’s senior vice-president of worldwide operations.

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Honda to shut U.K. plant ahead of schedule amid Brexit uncertainty: report

Honda to shut U.K. plant ahead of schedule amid Brexit uncertainty: report

Japanese carmaker Honda is set to announce the closure of its Swindon car plant putting 3,500 jobs at risk, Sky News reported on Monday.

Sky News said that the announcement by Honda could come on Tuesday, and that the plant was scheduled to close in 2022.

Spokesmen for Honda were not immediately available to comment on the report.

“That’s speculation so we wouldn’t comment on that,” a spokeswoman for Britain’s business ministry said.

Honda built just over 160,000 vehicles at its British factory last year, where it makes the Civic model, accounting for just over 10 percent of Britain’s total output of 1.52 million cars.

The firm said last month that it will shut its British operations for six days in April to help it counter any border disruption from the Britain’s departure from the European Union.

It has also said it was preparing to front-load some production at its plant to ship overseas or build up inventories.

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If there’s a labour shortage, how come some people are still out of work?

If there's a labour shortage, how come some people are still out of work?

To read the headlines you’d think nearly every Canadian who wants a job would have one by now.

The country’s unemployment rate hit a 43-year low of 5.6 per cent in December, and in January the economy added 66,800 new jobs. That’s on top of the growth of 163,000 jobs netted over 2018, according to Statistics Canada data. 

Numbers like these paint a picture of a healthy job market where workers have plenty of choice. But as labour market experts explain, that doesn’t mean everyone who needs a job can find work that fits their skills, industry and location. 

Steven Tobin, executive director of the Labour Market Information Council in Ottawa, says the confusion stems from too much focus on national averages such as the overall unemployment rate or job growth.

Steven Tobin, executive director of the Labour Market Information Council, says economists tend to think too much about national averages when it comes to unemployment rates. Pockets within the labour market still have challenges finding work. (LMIC)

“Those are very good indicators, and they help us really articulate a temperature check on how things are going,” he says.

“The reality is that national figures do mask the differences in the labour market that are prevailing either by geography, obviously, in a large country, and also that there are pockets of workers where there may be differences.” For example, unemployment is higher among youth and older workers than it is overall, he says.

Even economists have failed in putting too much emphasis on net job numbers, losing sight of the fact that net figures entail some people gaining jobs and others losing them, says Tobin.

Here’s a look at why those numbers — and the headlines — might not reflect reality for all Canadians.

More skill shortage than labour shortage

There’s a lot of conversation about labour shortages, but in many cases what’s really at issue is high demand for workers with particular skills and expertise.

“Quite often we conflate a skill shortage with a labour shortage,” says Tobin. “They manifest themselves kind of in the same way, which is there’s a vacancy that goes unfilled. But they’re really quite different concepts.

“If you have a region which has high unemployment, you’re not likely to be experiencing a labour shortage. But if employers are having difficulty finding people, it’s not that people are not there, but that they’re missing the skill set.”

Workers including Jerry Dias, president of Unifor, the national union representing auto workers, gather in Windsor, Ont., on Jan. 11, protesting the planned Oshawa closure. (Carlos Osorio/Associated Press)

For instance, strong demand for app developers or marketing managers does not help a line worker from the GM plant that’s set to close in Oshawa, Ont., nor does it help an out-of-work oil and gas industry veteran. 

Some provinces have fewer opportunities

“One of the main sources of a variation in the Canadian market right now is different strengths across regions,” says Brendon Bernard, economist at job platform Indeed Canada.

“In provinces like Ontario, British Columbia, Quebec — where labour shortages and hiring difficulties have picked up — we have seen nice progress in a couple of key dimensions of the labour market.” Measures such as the average length of time it takes a person to find work are improving at “a fairly decent pace,” he says.

But these job market conditions are not present everywhere.

“That’s really the case in the oil-rich provinces, where wage growth used to be the strongest and jobless spells used to be quite low. Those labour markets haven’t recovered since the downturn in oil prices a few years ago,” says Bernard. The prospects seen at the national level are not “really being felt in provinces like Alberta and Saskatchewan.”

And not everyone can easily move to a province where the job market is better.

“Mid-career to older workers have established themselves in communities, invested in home ownership which either inhibits their ability to move, or they don’t have the desire to move because of families,” says Tobin.

Demand in a region may outstrip supply

On the opposite side of the spectrum, some geographic areas may be short on workers, not just because the economy is strong overall, but because housing prices have pushed those workers out of the area.

One Vancouver bakery, Solly’s Bagelry, famously closed shop for several weeks in 2017 because it didn’t have enough staff to operate.

Solly’s Bagelry in Vancouver closed for several weeks in 2017 due to a worker shortage. (CBC)

It may be hard for workers to get by on wages around $15 per hour in Vancouver, which has the highest housing costs in the country. The benchmark home price was $1,019,600 in January, according to data released by the Canadian Real Estate Association Friday, and rent for a one-bedroom apartment runs around $2,000 a month.

Some industries are struggling

The most notable exception to the overall good news stories emerging about Canada’s job market continues to be the oil and gas industry.

Workers prepare to load a tank car with oil at an Altex Energy terminal in Alberta. The oil and gas industry has still not recovered from losing more than 52,000 jobs in the 2015-2016 downturn. (Dave Rae/CBC)

“We lost about 52,500 direct jobs in 2015-2016,” says Carol Howes, vice-president of communications at Energy Safety Canada, a non-profit that advocates for workers in the oil and gas industry. “And while some of those have come back, certainly we’re not seeing the volume of activity or the requirement for the same number of workers as we lost.”

The result? Howes says the sector is seeing “a lot of discouraged workers” who may not want to come back to oil and gas “if and when things start to turn around again.”

Energy Safety Canada has been advising some of these workers on how they can transfer their skills to industries such as renewable energy and clean tech, says Howes.

As for the 2,500 workers facing unemployment with the closure of the GM plant in Oshawa, Ont., expected by December, Bernard says that, while there’s been some overall growth in auto manufacturing jobs in recent years, that comes after a long period of decline. It won’t be easy for Oshawa workers to find other jobs in the industry, he says, “given that new opportunities aren’t just springing up like they might be in other sectors of the economy.”

Not all jobs are good jobs

When we hear of job vacancies, it suggests there’s lots of choice for workers. But not all unfilled positions are ones that people can afford to take, because those jobs may not offer the salary, stability or benefits workers need.

“It’s definitely the case that jobs being plentiful doesn’t necessarily mean they’re good jobs,” says Bernard.

Over the past 10 years or so there’s been “a growing prevalence of term or contract employment and away from permanent employment. While jobs might be out there, they might not necessarily be everything that workers are looking for.”

Someone who loses a job in a decent-paying sector with low turnover could, in theory, take a lower-paying food services job, but that might not be the best decision for long-term career prospects, says Bernard.

“In that case, it might be better to hold off and look for the right fit, even if finding that match isn’t quite immediate.”

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‘A bit messy on the other side’: Dutch economy braces for Brexit shockwave

'A bit messy on the other side': Dutch economy braces for Brexit shockwave

The Brexit stakes are high for Chayenne Wiskerke, who owns and manages an onion packing and exporting firm in Kruiningen, near the Netherlands’ border with Belgium.

Wiskerke Onions, a fourth-generation family business, says it packs an eye-watering 185,000 tonnes of onions a year and ships them to more than 100 countries. A whole 20 per cent of production, though, is destined for the United Kingdom.

But what will happen as the U.K. moves to leave the European Union, particularly if there is no deal for the divorce by the March 29 deadline?

Wiskerke worries about her company’s trucks being stopped at the border for inspection, leading to delays for supermarkets that can’t stockpile fresh produce.

“That’s the most difficult thing — you don’t know how to prepare,” Wiskerke said.

As is happening in the U.K., politicians and executives in the Netherlands are working to alleviate the economic fears that could haunt businesses such as Wiskerke Onions while Britain’s uncertain political future sends shockwaves to continental Europe.

The Dutch government says it’s been in talks with 250 foreign firms considering moving or expanding operations into the Netherlands in the wake of Brexit. At least 42 made the move in 2018, according to figures recently published by a Dutch foreign investment organization.

The European Medicines Agency is in the process of relocating from London to Amsterdam. Electronics giants Sony and Panasonic have announced plans to move their European hubs from Britain to the Netherlands.

Not a good outlook

But the outlook overall is hardly positive, even for this country.

While some Dutch entrepreneurs see it as a business opportunity, government officials here use stark language to warn of domestic economic trouble as a result of Britain’s EU breakup. Trade with the U.K. accounted for $43 billion US of the Netherlands’ exports in 2017, according to World Bank data.

The uncertainty is also affecting operations for British firms looking beyond March 29, and prompting them to take action on the continent.

In a conference room in the suburban Dutch city of Breda on a recent morning, Brian McKenzie handed over his British passport to a notary to be photocopied. Both of them signed paperwork.

The Rotterdam skyline spreads out from the city’s World Trade Center, where offices are being renovated to handle U.K. businesses that want a foothold in Europe after Brexit. (Stephanie Jenzer/CBC)

What may have seemed like a mundane interaction highlighted both the fears and business opportunities Brexit represents in the Netherlands, a top trading partner for Britain.

McKenzie acts as chief operating officer for Process Systems Enterprise (PSE), a London-based tech firm developing tools and services for petrochemical companies such as Shell and pharmaceutical giants like GlaxoSmithKline.

His recent visit to the Dutch notary’s office was a step in the process to legally set up a European mainland subsidiary for PSE — a plan to avoid disruptions caused by Brexit.

“It feels like we’re moving away from where our roots are,” McKenzie said later. “But it’s a necessity.”

Gateway to the mainland

McKenzie said other British companies seeking international contracts or staff would plan to keep a foothold in an EU member state such as the Netherlands.

“I don’t think there’s a business in the U.K. that’s not considering it,” he said.

Dutch businessmen Melvin van Esch, left, and Bjorn Wagemakers help British-based companies set up Europe-based subsidiaries in the Netherlands. (Stephanie Jenzer/CBC)

Brexit represents a boon for Bjorn Wagemakers, the Breda-based businessman who helped PSE move some operations to the Netherlands. Wagemakers said business is “great, because of Brexit.”

He said his firm, Intercompany Solutions, has been receiving an increasing number of inquiries from companies with British operations seeking to move ever since Britain voted to quit the 28-member bloc in 2016. He says he’s received 15 such requests just this year

Jeroen Redder manages the business hub at the World Trade Centre in the middle of Rotterdam. (Stephanie Jenzer/CBC)

Rotterdam, a 40-minute drive from Breda, already presents itself as a gateway to the European mainland. It’s home to the continent’s largest port, adjacent to the North Sea. Local business promoters say it stands to reason that Rotterdam would also act as an entryway to EU-based trade.

“When forced to leave Great Britain, Rotterdam is the first port where they arrive, literally,” said Jeroen Redder, who manages the business hub at the towering World Trade Centre in the middle of Rotterdam. The building is undergoing renovations and hoping to attract businesses with U.K. operations seeking greener pastures on the mainland.

A warning to businesses

A top economic policy maker in the Dutch government told CBC News the worst is yet to come.

“The effects on the Dutch economy will be big,” said Mona Keijzer, the Netherlands’ state secretary for economic affairs. “We say to our Dutch entrepreneurs: Prepare yourselves.”

Mona Keijzer, Dutch state secretary for economic affairs and climate policy, worries about what Brexit will mean for her country because the British and Dutch economies are intertwined. (Stephanie Jenzer/CBC)

Indeed, the government recently released uniquely colourful imagery in a bid to underscore the potential risks Brexit poses to Dutch companies with international supply chains and trade links.

Foreign Minister Stef Blok tweeted a photo featuring a giant fuzzy blue monster lying on his desk, wearing a T-shirt marked “Brexit.”

“Make sure Brexit doesn’t sit — or lie — in your way,” the tweet warned, with a link to a government website that lays out potential pitfalls for Dutch firms.

The longer parliamentarians in London grapple over the best way forward, the greater the odds Britain crashes out of the EU on March 29 without a divorce deal. It could leave the U.K. bound to impose — and suffer — tariffs and trade delays.

“It’s a bit messy on the other side and that’s a shame because our economies are very intertwined,” Keijzer said.

For Wiskerke, the uncertainty is very real.

Produce ordered from Wiskerke Onions one day can be on the shelves of British grocery stores the next day. (Stephanie Jenzer/CBC)

As it stands, British grocery stores can order Dutch onions one day and have them on shelves the following day. In the event of a disorderly Brexit, she says there’s “absolutely” a risk British supermarkets will run out of onions.

Wiskerke hopes Dutch produce trucks can be pre-screened before reaching Britain to avoid any delays in supply. She’s confident governments will eventually agree to plans to avoid the worst Brexit-induced trade disruptions.

“They will always need onions,” she said.

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Investors say ‘fake’ experts on local radio shows conned them out of millions

Investors say 'fake' experts on local radio shows conned them out of millions

Dozens of investors in Ontario say they were conned out of millions of dollars after fraudsters using fake names were featured as investment “experts” on their favourite radio stations — on shows they say sounded like news but were actually infomercials.

“I trusted what I was hearing on the radio,” said Tracey Conrad, who lost $15,000 after listening to the so-called financial experts on a popular Global News radio show in her hometown of London, Ont.

The supposed foreign exchange experts were regularly featured on at least five local radio stations — owned by Corus Entertainment and Bell Media — that ran in southern Ontario between 2016 and part of 2017.

During the segments, the “experts” would often call into the radio shows from locations like London, U.K., to give financial advice, encouraging listeners to invest in what they claimed was a reputable foreign exchange investment company: Trans-Atlantic Direct. 

Conrad said she “couldn’t breathe” after getting a letter in August from her provincial securities regulator, notifying her that the men she’d listened to on the radio — regularly being interviewed by her favourite on-air personalities — are being investigated for operating what’s believed to be a “fraudulent enterprise” that was “promoted on local radio programs.”

The whole area of paid content is an ethical quagmire.– Media ethicist Stephen Ward 

“At first, I didn’t even believe the letter,” said Conrad.

The case highlights the increasingly blurred line between programs that sound like news but are actually paid advertising, and how disclaimers often do little to inform audiences of the difference, says media ethicist Stephen Ward.

Media ethicist Stephen Ward says media organizations have an even greater obligation to vet who they’re putting on air when it involves financial matters. (Joe McDonald/CBC)

“The whole area of paid content is an ethical quagmire … Cases where it’s blurred cause false stories,” he said.

By the time the so-called experts were pulled off the air, Canadian investors were out more than $6 million, according to a class-action lawsuit filed against the fraudsters, their companies and Corus Entertainment. Corus owns the Global News radio stations that featured the so-called experts on segments titled “Ask the Experts” and “The Global Market.” 

Corus says it pulled the programs as soon as it heard about the concerns.

The class action was filed on Jan. 22. The allegations haven’t been proven.

‘All they had to do was make a phone call’

The so-called experts weren’t registered with the Ontario Securities Commission (OSC), so they weren’t allowed to operate in the province. The OSC believes they used fake names and had a fake company. 

Conrad and about 30 other investors who are part of the lawsuit believe the radio stations are partly to blame for their financial losses, according to court documents.

“All they had to do was make a phone call to the security commission to find out if they [Trans-Atlantic Direct] were legally able to operate in Ontario. And if they had done that, they would have been told no and I would have all my money,” Conrad said. 

The programs sounded factual, she said, and the hosts interviewing the “experts” were the same people who covered the news. 

“I trust the people that are my local news reporters, that when they’re talking to somebody every single week and they’re making claims like that, that they are legitimate.” 

Fraudsters disappear with money

According to the lawsuit, the radio shows aired throughout 2016 and into part of 2017. Listeners were told there was minimal risk to investing and were urged to call Trans-Atlantic Direct with investment questions.

While on air, the so-called investment experts called themselves Stewart Price and Martin Schwartz. The OSC alleges they are actually Mark Lee Singer and Bernard Justin Sevilla. According to the allegations set out in OSC documents, the men never invested the money, as promised, instead keeping it for themselves.

A web archive shows Trans-Atlantic Direct’s website in July 2017. The site is now down and emails to the company are undeliverable. (Wayback Machine)

Trans-Atlantic’s phone number is now disconnected and its website has been taken down. Go Public reached out to Singer and Sevilla through multiple email addresses and phone numbers associated with the men, but neither returned the requests for comment.

Other investors tell Go Public they haven’t recovered any of their money and haven’t been able to reach anyone at Trans-Atlantic in over a year.

Corus calls shows ‘infomercials’

Corus declined an on-camera interview with Go Public and instead issued a statement.

Trans-Atlantic Direct purchased an hour of weekly airtime on two Corus radio stations in Ontario — AM900 CHML in Hamilton and AM980 CFPL in London — “for the purposes of airing a regular infomercial,” the company said. The program began airing in January 2016.

“The program was paid advertising,” said Corus spokesperson Rishma Govani, “and was clearly identified as such.”

“Each broadcast included clear disclaimers before, after and during the program, advising listeners that it was paid-advertising programming and that the opinions expressed during the program were TAD’s alone, and not those of Corus or its affiliates.”

However, Govani admits Price or Schwartz appeared on other radio programs, “providing opinion or commentary.” In those cases, she says, “it is likely that no disclaimer would have been provided.”

Two investors Go Public spoke with say they never heard the disclaimers on any of the programs they heard.

Some of the investors who gave money to Trans-Atlantic Direct heard about the company through local radio shows, which gave the infomercials names like ‘Ask the Experts.’ (Twitter)

Corus also said Trans-Atlantic Direct was obligated to “ensure that the scripts, recordings or instructions submitted to [the stations] are in accordance with commercial and trade ethics, applicable codes and laws or bylaws in force at the time of broadcast,” and that the stations “relied on the company to comply with those obligations.”

The shows were pulled in 2017 after Corus received “certain information” and a small number of listener complaints, Govani said. Corus wouldn’t elaborate on what information it received, or provide details about the complaints.

It said it wasn’t aware of any investigation into Trans-Atlantic until several months after it pulled the program. 

Corus also said it intends to defend itself against the lawsuit, saying it “is confident it acted diligently and responsibly in removing the program from the air when it did, based on the information available to it at the time.”

‘Fake experts allowed to create fake’ show

Trans-Atlantic Direct also aired on three Bell Media radio stations in southern Ontario from late May 2017 until November 2017 as part of a one-hour paid program, according to Scott Henderson, vice-president of communications for Bell Media.

Cheryl Hanstke first heard about what she thought sounded like promising investment opportunities with Trans-Atlantic on one of those stations, NewsTalk 610 CKTB.

Cheryl Hanstke, of St. Catharines, Ont., said she often listened to so-called expert ‘Martin Schwartz’ while driving in her car. She invested $20,000 with Trans-Atlantic Direct. (Tina Mackenzie/CBC)

“They were presented as foreign exchange investment specialists,” Hanstke said.

By December 2017, she’d invested $20,000. She didn’t get a cent of it back, she says.

“I never once believed it was an ad. I always believed it was a gentleman who was being interviewed by the host,” said Hanstke, noting she had been listening to the the same radio host ever since moving to St. Catharines, Ont., in 2013. 

“I have said again and again that the ‘fake’ experts allowed to create this ‘fake’ investment show through the various radio stations … failed to do their due diligence,” Hanstke said.

Bell Media didn’t respond to Go Public’s questions about how it vets the people on its shows, but in an email, Henderson wrote: “The program had aired on other non-Bell Media-owned radio stations, with no indication of concerns about the individuals involved with the program. When we became aware of legitimate concerns regarding TAD’s activities, we removed the program from our stations and terminated our relationship with TAD.”

Bell Media’s policies and practices related to advertising and paid programming are continually reviewed and updated, he said.

Lawyer Michael Ellis is representing investors in the class-action lawsuit. He says the radio stations that aired the paid segments should have called the OSC to check if Schwartz and Price were licensed to trade in Ontario. (Tina Mackenzie/CBC)

Michael Ellis, the lawyer representing investors in the class action against Corus, told Go Public he’s also preparing a lawsuit against Bell Media. 

“This all gets back to the fact that these media companies were putting people on the air that were not licensed, that had no ability to do what they said they were going to do,” he said. “If they had just done a small degree of research, they would have been able to find that … and they could have kept them off the airwaves.”

Prison sentence, history of fraud

Go Public’s investigation found that the men alleged to be behind Trans-Atlantic Direct, Singer and Sevilla, have a history of theft and investment fraud in the U.S. — long before allegedly targeting Canadian investors. 

In 2000, the United States Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) found that Singer committed fraud while part-owner of another Florida-based investment company, Lexus Financial Group. In that case, 90 per cent of investors lost money, according to public documents. 

In the early 2000s, Sevilla was sentenced to four years in a Florida prison for eight grand theft convictions. During that period, he was also ordered to stop running an investment scam in that state after the CFTC took him to court. Sevilla is currently wanted in Florida after failing to report to his probation officer.

An undated Florida prison photo of Bernard Justin Sevilla is shown. The Ontario Securities Commission believes Sevilla is one of two fraudsters who were featured as investment experts on at least five radio shows. (Florida Department of Corrections)

‘Moral obligation’ to be reliable 

According to Ward, what’s now happening in Canada may have been avoided if the media organizations that aired the segments had done a better job of vetting who they put on air, and had been clear with listeners about which programs are paid advertising and which are news.

Disclaimers are often confusing, he said, especially if the tone of the programs are newsy.

“There’s great responsibility when you’re dealing especially with financial information,” Ward said. “There is a moral obligation to do as much as you possibly can to make sure the information is reliable and truthful.”

He said he’d like to see media companies clearly disclosing online their relationships with the people and businesses appearing on their programming.

Radio stations silent with listeners 

Conrad said her favourite radio programs ultimately went silent on the topic of Trans-Atlantic Direct, without ever explaining why Price and Schwartz were no longer on air.

“I’m really disappointed. They have an obligation, even just to be a good human being. Why has nobody over there done something? And that’s where I think they need to be held accountable,” she said.

Hanstke tried to get answers from her local station and said she was told that someone from Bell Media’s legal department would call her back — but that call never came.

It’s been more than two years since each woman invested their money, and both say they’re still working to dig themselves out from under the loss.

NOTE: According to CBC’s journalistic standards and practices, those appearing on CBC News programs are not allowed to promote a specific financial product or solicit business either for themselves or a financial company.

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Machines vs. cashiers: Why shoppers are so divided over self-checkout

Machines vs. cashiers: Why shoppers are so divided over self-checkout

More than a million people clicked on a CBC News story last week about some retail stores removing their self-checkout machines. Thousands of readers also left comments, many staunchly taking a stand either for or against self-checkout.

The machines are now ubiquitous in many large retail stores, yet self-checkout remains a divisive issue among Canadians.

So what’s driving the debate? Turns out, age can be a factor as well as one’s view on whether the technology represents progress or a step backward as shoppers — aided by machines — do the work of cashiers.

“A lot of people do see self-checkout as a threat to workers,” said Sylvain Charlebois, a professor at Halifax-based Dalhousie University specializing in food distribution and policy.

“That’s probably why the debate is so emotional for a lot of people.”

These tweets in reaction to a CBC News story on self-checkout show how divided readers are.

The age factor

Self-checkouts are supposed to cut costs for retailers and provide choice for consumers. A recent U.S. survey suggests age can influence who’s drawn to them. 

Forty-six per cent of respondents aged 18 to 34 said, when given a choice, they prefer using self-checkout over a cashier.

That preference declines with age: 35 per cent of respondents aged 35 to 54 said they favour self-checkout, and only 19 per cent of those 55 and older would choose the machine over a cashier. 

CivicScience, a U.S. data collection and market research company, surveyed 1,969 adults online in July 2018.

“Obviously, they haven’t created [technology] that boomers want to adopt, so maybe that’s a user-experience issue,” said Casey Taylor, of CivicScience.

Although the machines have improved over the years, they’ve frustrated many shoppers, especially when they involved extra steps like weighing produce or applying a discount.

Consumer behaviour expert Brynn Winegard says that tech-savvy millennials may be more willing to accept such challenges.  

“They’re not daunted,” she said. “Troubleshooting a self-checkout terminal is not an issue for them. It doesn’t ruin their day.”

A recent study suggests that age might be a factor when it comes to choosing self-checkout over a cashier. (CBC)

David Ruta, 65, of Napanee, Ont., was turned off self-checkout about four years ago when, after scanning the only item he had, the machine insisted he scan a second item.

I didn’t have one,” he said. “Then it stopped working for the [employee] who tried to help me, and that’s when I left the store.”

In contrast, 34-year-old Matthew Easter, of Ottawa, says he’s found self-checkout machines quite seamless and believes they speed up the process.

“Why would I wait 10 minutes, maybe more, when I can check myself out in 30 seconds?” said Easter, who will only shop at grocery stores that offer the machines.

“It’s a more convenient option, especially if you’re a busy person.”

Matthew Easter of Ottawa will go out of his way to shop at a grocery store that offers self-checkout. (Submitted by Matthew Easter)

What about the jobs?

Many people believe self-checkouts are part of an inevitable shift to automation.

“There’s always going to be progress. There’s always going to be technology that’s going to come along to make things better, smarter, faster,” said Easter.

But those who prefer to use cashiers often fear the machines will lead to fewer of them and longer lineups — and they don’t see that as progress.  

Although he’s a senior, Ruta says he’s not intimidated by self-checkout technology but instead is concerned about its effect on retail workers. 

“I just would rather interact with a person,” he said. “You put in these self checkouts, you’re going to eliminate jobs.”

Nadine MacKinnon, 59, of Toronto, agrees.

“They shouldn’t be able to take away jobs from workers, force the customer to do that work for them for free.”

Nadine MacKinnon of Toronto says she avoids self-checkout machines when shopping. (Submitted by Nadine MacKinnon)

Although it has added more self-checkouts to many stores, Walmart Canada told CBC News the move hasn’t resulted in any job losses. Instead, some employees were re-deployed to other positions such as customer support for self-checkout.

But that may not always be the outcome. U.K.-based research and consulting group RBR said the number of self-checkout kiosks shipped to Canada tripled in 2017 compared to 2016, though it declined to provide exact figures. RBR attributed much of the growth to “labour pressures” created by recent minimum wage increases in some provinces.

Over the past couple of years, grocery chain Metro and retail giant Loblaw both announced they would increase their self-checkouts in select stores to help offset the higher cost of wages.   

According to the World Economic Forum’s 2018Future of Jobs report, many jobs that can be replaced with automation, including cashier positions, are “expected to become increasingly redundant” over the next four years.

However, the study suggests that the job losses could be more than offset by the emergence of many new positions. But the questions remains what type of jobs will emerge and what happens to less-skilled workers. 

Walmart Canada says some cashiers have been re-deployed to other positions such as customer support for self checkout. (CBC)

Self-checkout fan Kyle Ross, 19, of Summerside, P.E.I., points out that even self-checkout kiosks generate jobs.

“You have the people that are creating the self-checkouts, the people that come and repair the machines when they need updates.”

That doesn’t placate shoppers like Ruta and MacKinnon, who still worry about displaced workers and how automation will change the shopping experience.

“I prefer to be served by a human being,” said MacKinnon.

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British airline blames Brexit for sudden collapse

British airline blames Brexit for sudden collapse

Hundreds of passengers throughout Europe have been stranded by the abrupt collapse of the British regional airline Flybmi.

British Midland Regional Ltd., which operates as Flybmi or bmi, said it’s filing for administration — a British version of bankruptcy protection — because of higher fuel costs and uncertainty caused by Britain’s upcoming departure from the European Union.

“Current trading and future prospects have also been seriously affected by the uncertainty created by the Brexit process, which has led to our inability to secure valuable flying contracts in Europe and a lack of confidence around bmi’s ability to continue flying between destinations in Europe,” the airline said on its website late Saturday.

The airline thanked workers for their dedication and said “it is with a heavy heart that we have made this unavoidable announcement.”

376 thrown out of work

The airline operated 17 jets on routes to 25 European cities. It employed 376 people in Britain, Germany, Sweden and Belgium and says it carried 522,000 passengers on 29,000 flights last year.

Pilots union chief Brian Strutton said the airline’s collapse came with no warning and “is devastating news for all employees.”

“Our immediate steps will be to support Flybmi pilots and explore with the directors and administrators whether their jobs can be saved,” he said.

Britain is scheduled to leave the EU on March 29 but there are serious doubts about whether the British Parliament will approve the Brexit withdrawal deal that Prime Minister Theresa May negotiated with the EU. That is making it more difficult for businesses to plan for the separation.

Many passengers stranded

Flybmi said all flights will be cancelled and advised passengers to seek refunds from credit card issuers, travel agents or travel insurance companies.

Passengers were told not to travel to the airport Sunday, unless they had made arrangements directly with other airlines. Flybmi said it would not be rescheduling passengers on other airlines’ flights.

Many passengers were left stranded by the shutdown. Hannah Price told Sky News she was planning to return Monday to Britain from Brussels on Flybmi.

Hundreds of passengers have been stranded by the abrupt collapse of the British regional airline. (PA via AP)

“Unfortunately for me, I was supposed to be flying home with them in less than 48 hours to Bristol. I don’t think that’s going to happen now,” she said.

The collapse will have a major impact on the Northern Ireland city of Derry, also known as Londonderry, which will lose its only air connection to London. Officials at the City of Derry Airport said they were urgently seeking a new carrier to keep the link open.

Flybmi was still seeking customers up until the day before its collapse, urging people in a tweet to book flights to Germany for a winter sports holiday.

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Banning Huawei from Canada’s 5G networks could be costly for taxpayers

Banning Huawei from Canada's 5G networks could be costly for taxpayers

As the Trudeau government decides whether to join its security and trading partners in banning Huawei Canada from supplying technology to build Canada’s 5G wireless network, it risks an expensive lawsuit under the terms of a foreign investor protection agreement signed by its predecessor.

Stephen Harper’s Conservative government concluded negotiations on the Canada–China Agreement for the Promotion and Reciprocal Protection of Investments in 2012. At the time, it was seen as a necessary precursor to the comprehensive free trade talks the two countries hoped eventually to explore.

Now, those trade talks are on ice due to tense diplomatic relations with Beijing. And the investor protection treaty now threatens to complicate any plans the Liberal government has to keep Huawei out of Canada’s high-speed 5G network.

That might explain why Canada is taking so long to make a decision about Huawei — even as the U.S. and other members of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance, as well as major European players like Germany, have moved to shut the company out of their wireless infrastructure, despite warnings about increased costs and rollout delays.

Under Canada’s investment agreement with China, Huawei Canada — as an existing investor that already owns assets and has business relationships here — “can bring a claim at any time against Canada, for any kind of regulatory action,” said Gus Van Harten, a professor at Osgoode Hall Law School who specializes in the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanisms in treaties like this one.

“If you’re dealing with a big company in a high-value asset, it can be a very serious deterrent. Unlike other areas of international law … they can access an extraordinarily powerful remedy, which is an uncapped damages award that includes compensation.”

That award could take into account not just a ban’s impact on current investments, but also Huawei’s reasonable expectation of future earnings from 5G as well, Van Harten said. If Canada blocks Huawei from 5G, taxpayers could face a lawsuit claiming hundreds of millions of dollars — possibly billions.

The most dangerous part of the treaty from Canada’s perspective is Article Four, which requires “fair and equitable treatment and full protection and security” for Huawei’s investments, Van Harten said.

“It sounds benign,” he said, but “those protections have in many cases been interpreted very broadly to require compensation for even general regulatory measures that didn’t target a specific investor in any way.

“If Huawei could show that they were operating normally and then, out of the blue, they were simply barred from future operations, I think they’d have a pretty good Article Four claim. [Federal ministers] have to be considering this liability.”

Telus seeking compensation

Public Safety Canada, which is leading the federal government’s review of the “associated security and economic considerations” of 5G technology, is careful not to comment on specific companies.

But it’s an open secret that a Huawei ban is being considered by the Trudeau government. The U.S. Defence Department and various American officials have warned that future relationships are at stake if countries like Canada don’t follow its lead.

Recent media reports suggest the White House, which accuses Beijing of cyber-spying, is preparing a broad executive order to bar Chinese telecommunications technology from U.S. networks. It might be an attempt to force concessions in ongoing trade talks, but U.S. carriers have already received the message: shun Huawei equipment.

Canada’s Telus and BCE, on the other hand, have relied on Huawei gear for their radio access networks.

Telus CEO Darren Entwistle had a closed-door meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Vancouver on Monday.

Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Minister Ralph Goodale is overseeing Canada’s review of the security challenges and potential threats in Canada’s future use 5G technology. It’s unclear how much longer Canada will take to conclude this review. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

“A decision prohibiting the deployment of Huawei technology, without compensation or other accommodations being made by the government of Canada, could have a material, non-recurring, incremental increase in the cost of Telus’s 5G network deployment, and, potentially, the timing,” Telus said in its quarterly results report Thursday.

That report did not say what sort of compensation or accommodation Telus wants.

Last month, as Huawei executives were promoting their technology and defending their security reputation at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Canada’s Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains was also at the Swiss resort finalizing a $40-million deal with rival Nokia to fund 5G research by the Finnish-owned competitor.

Hiding ‘chill’

Van Harten, a sharp critic of the Harper government’s treaty, said this could be the first use of the agreement’s arbitration measures — but he can’t be sure because the agreement allows for more confidentiality than any other ISDS treaty Canada has signed since the North American Free Trade Agreement’s Chapter 11 came into force.

The government is not required to disclose anything until it’s forced to pay compensation.

Van Harten said that, in his experience, the government won’t discuss what ISDS critics call “regulatory chill” — the threat of government decisions being driven by the risk of being sued.

“They are very coy about chill,” he said. “They go out of their way to hide chill.”

“We will be taking appropriate decisions in due course,” said Scott Bardsley, a spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale. “It is premature to speculate on the outcome of the review.”

In a separate statement, International Trade Diversification Minister Jim Carr’s office said Canada has not received a notice of potential arbitration from Huawei Canada or the Chinese government.

That doesn’t mean there haven’t been informal and confidential exchanges between Canadian and Chinese officials on the possibility of arbitration. Last month, Chinese Ambassador to Canada Lu Shaye urged Ottawa to “make a wise decision” and suggested “there will be repercussions” if Huawei is banned. He did not specifically mention a lawsuit.

No broad security exemption

Luke Eric Peterson, a Canadian based in California who writes for the Investment Arbitration Reporter, reported Monday on a threat Huawei recently made to sue the Czech government. The Czech Republic’s cybersecurity authority asked companies in sensitive sectors to weigh the risks of Chinese technology.

Huawei objected to being deemed a security threat merely because of its country of origin. The Czechs were accused of harming Huawei’s reputation in other jurisdictions without real evidence or regard for the steps the company takes to prevent state interference with its technology and equipment.

The bilateral investment treaty in place between the Czech Republic and China does not have a broad security exemption.

Neither does Canada’s agreement with China. Like the Czech Republic, Canada probably would not be able to defend itself in this kind of arbitration by citing national security concerns.

Article 33 of Canada’s investment agreement with China does exempt from penalty “any actions that [Canada] considers necessary for the protection of its essential security interests,” but goes on to define those interests in military terms, citing arms trafficking and nuclear weapons.

“This exemption is probably too narrow” to permit a Huawei ban justified only by espionage risks, Peterson said.

The onus would be on Canada to prove that Huawei has a relationship with the Chinese military and security services. Based on Huawei’s reaction to other spying allegations, Canada could expect a vigorous denial.

“If it’s just a suspicion or a precaution, I’m not sure this treaty would allow them to [ban Huawei],” Peterson said.

By comparison, the U.S. insists on broad security exemptions in its treaties and makes them self-judging: if the Americans say something is a security risk, it is, with or without public evidence.

Canada did not negotiate that kind of language with China.

As this article was being prepared for publication, Huawei Canada had not responded to inquiries from CBC News on whether it’s considering its options under the investment treaty.

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Public agencies paid millions to national translation firm that stiffs its workers

Besieged by workers and the CRA, this once-mighty translation agency is facing financial ruin

Government agencies have given millions of dollars in business to one of Canada’s biggest translation firms in recent years in the face of mounting evidence the company was shortchanging its contract workers — and, in some cases, despite warnings from their own staff.

From 2014 to 2017, federal, provincial and municipal governments and agencies spent at least $4.7 million on language services from Able Translations, public records show — everything from interpretation at legal proceedings to translation of medical records. 

Over the same period, the Mississauga, Ont.-based company weathered multiple news stories about its non-payment of freelancers, coupled with a mounting toll of lawsuits, largely from those very workers.

The cautionary signs came as early as 2013 that Able Translations was starting to stonewall the freelance translators and interpreters to whom it parcels out work.

But a number of those agencies only cut ties with the company last year, while some continue to use its services even as it’s on the brink, according to a CBC investigation into the firm’s financial delinquency.

They can see by their own eye that [Able] hurt workers, but they don’t care– Sunny Zhang , Mandarin interpreter

“That’s the ridiculous part of it,” said Sunny Zhang, a Mandarin interpreter and translator from Calgary who won a court judgment and is owed $8,300.

Most of Zhang’s unpaid invoices to Able Translations are for work she did for public-sector clients such as Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), the Alberta Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) and Alberta Health Services.   

Government agencies “can see by their own eye that [Able] hurt workers, but they don’t care.”

‘Keeps coming up’

As CBC revealed earlier this week, Able Translations owes more than $1 million to dozens of translators and other suppliers from as far afield as Korea and Egypt, as well as to the taxman. It has been sued 245 times in the last five years by translators and other creditors — among them, the Canada Revenue Agency, which obtained seizure orders for the company’s assets and put liens on the president’s home and luxury cars.

Able’s office, in a business park in Mississauga, Ont., is closed to visitors except ‘By appointment only,’ according to a sign posted in the window. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

While most of those developments arose out of the public eye, a number of the biggest public agencies using Able had their own indications all was not well, judging from more than a thousand pages of records CBC obtained under access-to-information laws.

“We are hearing more and more interpreter concerns regarding not being paid for their services. This issue keeps coming up,” wrote Fahreen Rayani, an Alberta WCB employee, to Able’s vice-president and co-owner, Annabelle Teixeira, on Feb. 17, 2016.

The previous autumn, CBC News and the Toronto Star had published stories about workers’ troubles in getting paid by Able. The stories were cited in complaint emails a number of interpreters sent to the WCB.

“They are notorious for late payments,” one wrote. “I have sent numerous letters of complaint regarding pay … I have never received a response to my emails.”

Able provided the WCB with a variety of explanations for why interpreters weren’t getting their money. Vice-president Teixeira wrote that sometimes, Able would mail out a cheque, but an interpreter just wouldn’t cash it. Other times, “either Canada Post does not deliver it or the interpreter moves and does not inform us.” In yet other cases, interpreters hadn’t invoiced yet, Teixeira said.

She attributed at least one non-payment to “irregularities” with a cheque, and said that generally, mail is slow getting to Alberta from Ontario.

In total, there were at least 10 complaints to the Alberta WCB about Able’s payment practices by fall 2016, when the WCB decided to extend Able’s contract to provide language services by six months.

‘Cheques have bounced’

Still more complaints arrived through the end of 2016 and into the new year, including one in February 2017 from a group of interpreters who stated, among several grievances, that “the company cheques have bounced.”

Teixeira responded at length to the Alberta WCB, concluding, “Finally, we have never had a cheque returned NSF” (non-sufficient funds).

In fact, that was not true. Court records from a lawsuit against Able in Ontario show that nine months earlier, it had bounced a cheque to a Mandarin interpreter from Toronto.

Despite all the complaints, at the end of March 2017, the WCB again extended Able’s contract  — along with those of its five other translation suppliers — this time by two years.

The organization said in a statement to CBC News that it has “significant demand” for translators for its clients, who often develop “long-standing, trusting relationships” with their interpreters, all of which weighed on the decision about whether to keep using Able’s services.

The WCB added that Able was “responsive” when presented with translators’ complaints about not getting paid, “so we chose to work on resolving complaints while allowing their contractors to continue working with our clients.”

The public agency said its global budget for language services is about $1.4 million a year, and of that, Able Translations’ slice ranged from as high as 65 per cent in 2016 to a more typical 20 per cent since then.

That is, until it prematurely terminated its agreement with Able Translations last May. “We determined they could not consistently deliver on their commitment to ensure their contractors were paid promptly,” the WCB statement said.

Ontario board had warnings, too

Ontario’s workers compensation agency, meanwhile, was aware of potential payment issues at Able as early as October 2013, when a translator wrote in. “Able Translations have not been paying for my services since May,” they said. “I have been sending emails asking for payments and they have ignored and not respond[ed] to my emails. I am not the only service provider that they are not paying.”

The WSIB’s manager of language services then emailed a colleague: “I spoke to the owner and president of Able Translations and he will investigate. I don’t believe there is anything more for us to do … It is an internal issue for them, not us.”

A handful more complaints trickled in in 2014 and 2015. About five months later, in April 2016, the WSIB extended its contract with Able Translations for two more years.

Then, in early 2017, another news report came out about Able’s workers struggling to get paid. It prompted a senior WSIB manager to suggest “we should be cancelling the contract,” internal emails show.

But that didn’t happen, at least not right away. The WSIB finally terminated its agreement last April. All told, from 2014 through the end of 2017, it gave $448,892 in business to Able Translations.

“We expect all of our vendors to conduct business in an ethical manner, which includes fair treatment of employees and proper payment practices,” the WSIB said in a statement.

Hospital looking elsewhere

CBC emailed Able Translations a list of questions about its business relationships and practices in November. Teixeira replied that “your research is incorrect in many details. I will provide further details for your review later this week.”

Despite weekly reminder emails and calls, she never did.

Over the years, the company has had contracts with numerous public bodies, including the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, Employment and Social Development Canada,  Alberta Employment and Immigration and Ontario’s Finance and Natural Resources ministries, but no longer.

It still does business with the University Health Network (UHN) in Toronto, one of the country’s largest hospital and health research organizations.

‘We should not be doing business with companies that don’t pay their workers,’ said Gillian Howard of the University Health Network in Toronto. But she also said, ‘there aren’t lots of companies that provide the breadth and depth of translation that Able does.’ (CBC)

Access-to-information records show UHN paid $2.4 million to Able between 2014 and 2017 for interpretation services, largely at its network of workplace injury clinics.

UHN spokesperson Gillian Howard said the health organization recognizes “we should not be doing business with companies that don’t pay their workers,” and is diverting as much business as it can to other firms. 

But she said UHN needs access to interpreters in more than 100 languages, and “there aren’t lots of companies that provide the breadth and depth of translation that Able does.”

Have a tip on this or any other story? Email or call 416-205-7553.

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Oversold flights, the safety of breast implants and self-checkouts: CBC’s Marketplace consumer cheat sheet

Air Canada employee says staff trained to 'dupe' passengers at risk of being bumped from oversold flights

Miss something this week? Don’t panic. CBC’s Marketplace rounds up the consumer and health news you need.

Want this in your inbox? Get the Marketplace newsletter every Friday.

‘Duped’ by oversold flights?

It’s no secret many airlines overbook flights, but industry insiders told our colleagues at Go Public passengers are deliberately “duped” into thinking they’ll get a seat. Agents said they are told to send passengers to the gate knowing they may not have a seat. Air Canada has said overselling affects less than one per cent of passengers.

Re-examining the safety of breast implants

Health Canada has reopened a safety review of textured breast implants after CBC’s Implant Files investigation raised awareness of possible risks. Since the stories were published, Health Canada said there have been 44 confirmed or suspected cases of breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma.

Our investigation looked at how breast implants are marketed by plastic surgeons, and followed a woman getting her implants removed because she believes they made her sick.


Health Canada said there have been 44 confirmed or suspected cases of breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma since the Implant Files stories were published. (Terri McGregor)

Self-checkouts: convenient of infuriating?

Self-checkouts have become increasingly popular, but some retailers are pulling the plug. Several Toronto Canadian Tire locations have replaced the self-checkout with a more “efficient” single-line system. But one business consultant said shoppers shouldn’t expect the end of self-checkout anytime soon.


Some Canadian Tires removing their self-checkouts and using a single-line system instead. (Canadian Tire/Facebook)

Diabetes Canada makes changes after volunteer notices missing donations

When Garth Mallett noticed his cheque to Diabetes Canada hadn’t been cashed, he found out a donation kit containing $325 had gone missing. Two years later, the money hasn’t been found. But Diabetes Canada now has volunteers take donation kits directly to a bank instead of a local businesses.


Garth Mallett still doesn’t know where the money he collected for Diabetes Canada went. (Dave Laughlin/CBC)

What else is going on?

Problems with labelling mean you may not be eating the fish you think you purchased. Research from the University of Guelph found mislabelling compounded at each stage of the supply chain.

The latest in recalls

These Ford pickup trucks could suddenly downshift into first gear because of a glitch sending a signal from the transmission speed sensor. The recall affects 1.26 million vehicles in the U.S. and 221,000 in Canada.

Plus: These bakery products could be affected by a mice infestation; This pool gate could be a drowning hazard and this heater could be a fire hazard if it tips over.

This week on Marketplace

We’re on a break this week, but will be back Feb. 22 with a new episode.

This week we’re re-airing Filthy Flights: When you board a flight, do you ever wonder how clean it really is? From the seatbelts and tray tables, to bathrooms, and blankets, we swabbed and tested three major airlines — Air Canada, WestJet and Porter.

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