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Secondhand no longer second-best for UK’s ‘circular economy’ consumers | Money

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Furloughed from her hospitality job during the first lockdown, Hannah Russo was trying to sell her child’s baby clothes when she found many other mothers trying to do the same. From there has come Babybundle, a website where parents can buy and sell bundles of often unused clothes to each other.

“Many mums are gifted baby clothes, or have seen how quickly their babies outgrow clothes, with some not even worn due to size and seasonality. The mums share the interest to pass on these clothes. Secondhand is no longer second best – it comes with many benefits: economically, sustainability, and also mums supporting one another,” she says.

Russo has tapped into a growing appetite for the “circular economy” – the idea that products such as clothes and furniture, or materials such as paper and plastic, are constantly reused and regenerated to reduce pollution. It’s a concept that has gathered momentum during lockdown. Earlier this month the government announced an investment of £22.5m in five research centres to reduce waste and boost recycling.

The trend is extending to everyday brands. Next year, Ikea is expected to launch a “buy-back” initiative in UK and Ireland stores, where it will buy unwanted furniture from customers to resell as secondhand. Customers will get vouchers to spend in store, the value dependent on the condition of the items they return. Clothes retailer Cos recently launched its resell scheme, while in the US, jeans brand Levi’s has a secondhand service under which used pairs can be sold back.

The lockdown effect

The idea of the “circular economy” has been developing for years but has accelerated recently with the increased focus on sustainability.

The pandemic has focused minds on what is, and is not, important, says Samantha Valentine, co-founder of online secondhand children’s clothes site dotte, which went live last week. It is a marketplace for buyers and sellers with 15% commission per transaction.

“The pandemic has forced people to take a look at their day-to-day: what’s important, what isn’t, what’s just fluff. A lot of people are gaining a greater perspective into what it is that brings them joy,” she adds. “They have been forced to slow down, to sit in a room with themselves, and look at how they live their lives. With this natural reflection has come a shift in importance for how they are behaving and the impact that is having on the planet.”

Joe Metcalfe, founder of online charity retailer Thrift+, says people are making a “moral decision” to shop for “less new” clothes. His site takes clothes donations from the public and sells them online, with part of the profits going to charities. Burberry jeans for £45 are listed alongside Diane von Furstenberg dresses for £35. “More and more people … are loud and proud about trying to shop exclusively secondhand,” he says. “Previously, the reason would have been primarily price – secondhand clothes are typically 75% less than RRP.”

Joe Metcalfe, co-founder of Thrift+, thinks consumers are making a moral decision to do more recycling.
Joe Metcalfe, co-founder of Thrift+, thinks consumers are making a moral decision to do more recycling. Photograph: Thrift

Loopster sends “clear-out” bags to parents for good-quality branded clothes which are then checked and put on the site. Founder Jane Fellner, who set it up to try to extend the life of clothes, says the “Attenborough effect” means that more people are now interested in sustainability.

“They are increasingly examining their own consumption and what changes they can make to become sustainable. Secondhand has become more socially acceptable and, for some, cool. Thrifting is now massive on TikTok,” she says.

Big brands jump on board

Ikea’s scheme will mean that sideboards, bookcases, shelving, small tables, dining tables and other pieces of furniture can be taken back after customers register a request online. A well-used piece with several scratches can expect to get 30% of value back, while nearly “as new” may get 50% on a refund card. What won’t be accepted will be sofas, armchairs, kitchens and mattresses, among others.

With Cos’s reselling initiative, prices of products currently on sale range from £5 for a T-shirt to £125 for a down jacket.

All this means that the products are now available to more people, says Joe Murphy from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which works to promote the ideas behind a “circular economy”. Companies are being led by what consumers increasingly want, to tackle problems around consumption and sustainability.

Analyst Jonathan De Mello from CWM Retail Consulting believes that the success – or not – of brands such as Cos and Ikea will dictate whether other companies follow. “For Cos and Levi’s specifically, their motivation is likely to be to tap into the increasingly environmentally-conscious consumer. Millennials are willing to pay more for sustainable products, and for retailers this opens up an interesting and potentially very profitable revenue stream – while boosting their sustainability credentials,” he says.

Maintaining rights

Consumers buying used or secondhand goods through retailers have the same rights under the Consumer Rights Act, says Martyn James of complaints site Resolver. “Wear and tear is to be expected … but you still have rights, and the rule of thumb is the goods must be of ‘satisfactory’ quality’, so as advertised, even if previously owned or used,” he explains.

For those selling on goods that they bought, the situation is different, he explains. “Circular sales is a new and interesting development for consumer rights. So new, there aren’t existing laws that definitively cover it, so we have to apply existing rules and regulations. Circular sales can involve ‘trading in’, most commonly seen with old phones, or the new form of ‘selling back’ goods to suppliers. This is different to the secondhand market, which is now most commonly experienced through online marketplaces like eBay.

“In theory, if you are selling back, trading or just plain selling on goods, you are bound by the rules of the site or brand you use to do this. So you – as the seller – must meet the obligations set out by the intermediary (the firm you’re selling back to) or the third party (the firm you’re selling the goods through).”


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BioNTech’s Covid vaccine is a triumph of innovation and immigration | Hans-Werner Sinn | Business

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The world took note when the German startup BioNTech announced its breakthrough in the development of a new type of vaccine to combat Covid-19. After testing tens of thousands of people, BioNTech’s vaccine has been shown to be 95% effective in providing protection for those who would otherwise have been infected. The company was the first to apply for emergency use authorisation for a coronavirus vaccine in the US and it has announced it will soon take similar steps in Europe.

Antiviral vaccines are usually made with devitalised viral materials fabricated outside the body but BioNTech has pursued a new method of injecting genetically modified RNA into the patient. This prompts the patient’s cells to produce a characteristic protein of the relevant Sars-CoV-2 virus themselves, enabling the body’s immune system to build up an effective response before it encounters the real virus.

The great advantage of this approach is that it allows for the production of more than 1bn vaccine doses within the space of only a few months. It is also highly safe because the modified RNA can survive only at a very low temperature and quickly degrades in the body once it has performed its job. Any subsequent damage to the body is therefore extremely unlikely.

In close cooperation with the US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, BioNTech’s success augurs a rapid uptake of widespread vaccination in Europe and the US. Indeed, delivery contracts for millions of doses of the vaccine are already in place. And it is encouraging that the US drugmaker Moderna has also announced quantitatively similar results in its trials, using a closely related process involving a slightly more stable RNA variant.

More broadly, many other companies are advancing the frontier of next-generation RNA-based vaccines. Among these is CureVac, a company based in the German town of Tübingen, which has invented a new rapid-programming process for RNA that promises to be widely applicable.

Thanks to these new technologies, the world will likely be freed from the scourge of Covid-19 sometime in 2021 or 2022. Once again, we will be able to eat out and go to the theatre without worries; private weddings and parties will no longer be cause for concern. The airline and travel industries will quickly return to normal, and the global economy will be revitalised after a long period of lockdown-induced paralysis.

A major difference is that we will emerge with a completely new pharmaceutical industry, one that promises to provide extremely effective vaccines against numerous other infectious diseases. Moreover, RNA can, in principle, be programmed in such a way as to produce antibodies against specific types of cancer, promising forms of treatment that are far gentler than chemotherapy.

At BioNTech, the pioneers of the new RNA-based approach to drug development are Uğur Şahin and Özlem Türeci, a couple specialising in oncology and genetic research. Şahin, who holds a chair in experimental oncology at the University of Mainz, is one of the world’s top researchers in the study of personalised vaccines for cancer immunotherapy. Both are German citizens born to Turkish immigrants who came to the country decades ago.

Şahin and Türeci are prime examples of the successful integration of immigrants – including those from Turkey – into German society. They managed not only to gain a foothold in Germany but to thrive, thanks to hard work, an entrepreneurial spirit and strong cultural traditions.

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BioNTech’s story shows that successful immigration is about more than welfare magnetism. Managed properly, immigration is a key source of new blood and fresh ideas for an ageing society.

It is worth recalling that Germany’s pharmaceutical industry was one of the earliest manufacturers of the contraceptive pill, starting in the 1960s. No other country embraced this method of contraception more comprehensively. As a consequence, however, the German fertility rate had fallen sharply by the early 1970s – six years before Italy experienced a similar decline, 10 years before Spain did and 20 years before Poland did.

Germany has been paying the price for this early pharmaceutical success. Its largest population cohort comprises people in their mid-50s, who were born just before the pill-induced drop in birthrates. All of the subsequent generational cohorts have steadily shrunk. Under these demographic conditions, stagnation and decline would be inevitable without immigration. In fact, Germany now needs a continuous inflow of migrants just to fill the population gap that its earlier pharmaceutical successes has caused. Fittingly, Germany’s pharmaceutical industry is achieving international acclaim thanks to the innovative work of two children of immigrants who were lured to the country by the demographic vacuum to which the industry itself contributed. Şahin and Türeci are pioneers in an area of genetic research that now promises to give a new breath of life to the pharmaceutical industry, the European economy and the entire world.

Hans-Werner Sinn, is professor of economics at the University of Munich. He was president of the Ifo Institute for Economic Research and serves on the German economy ministry’s advisory council.

© Project Syndicate


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Shopping on Black Friday? Remember the stranded seafarers who make it possible | Black Friday

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This weekend is one of the planet’s busiest shopping sprees, with an estimated £66bn to be spent in the UK alone over Black Friday and Cyber Monday, much of it online. Yet as shoppers click and wait to collect, there is a crisis at sea among the people whose work brings us these goods.

It is no exaggeration to say that without shipping the global marketplace would collapse. It is responsible for the movement of 90% of all global trade. Even in normal circumstances, more than a million seafarers labour daily on the vessels that make up the world cargo fleet, their work barely noticed by consumers. As Covid-19 has ravaged the world, they have helped keep the global economy functioning, unseen.

As Guardian Seascape has repeatedly reported, however, nearly 400,000 of these seafarers are trapped by the crew change crisis. Most have not been designated key workers during the pandemic, and have remained effectively imprisoned on board their vessels – unable to change crews at ports, and therefore unable to return to their homes and loved ones.

The silence on the plight of these stranded seafarers is widespread: from the governments that have decided shipping crew are not essential workers, to the major retailers that profit from tremendous sales. This failure takes on renewed importance now, as new vaccines against Covid-19 are developed and the conversation turns to who should be inoculated first. The International Maritime Organisation, the UN body for shipping and seafarers, has failed to get countries to uphold standards of care and repatriation for seafarers. They are, in effect, lost at sea.

Many have been so for more than a year, with their physical and mental wellbeing deteriorating rapidly as a result. They work in some of the world’s toughest conditions to satisfy global retail demand, and their struggle has been recognised by Pope Francis and António Guterres, secretary general of the United Nations. As yet, however, we have heard little from those in the retail sector who actually have the power to make a difference.

The majority of shipping seafarers are from the Philippines, China and India, and it is perhaps the case that some in the west see their plight as a problem for the other side of the world. But shipping is a truly global enterprise, and the potential ramifications of continued indifference are just as universal. Not only does the humanitarian crisis at sea worsen every day, but the failing health of our seafarers affects productivity, which in turn hurts the seamless transportation of goods around the world.

As things stand, a few major retailers are poised to profit immensely from the work of seafearers in the rush for goods on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. The International Chamber of Shipping has written an open letter to Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, asking him to use his influence to exert pressure on governments to recognise seafarers as key workers, so that they can change crews, go home and be reunited with their families.

The plight of seafarers is global, and requires a global response. Governments must give seafarers the same rights as other essential workers, and corporate responsibility must extend to seafarers as it does to other employees. Retail profiteering at the hands of trapped men and women must end. Until then, before you click “add to cart,” spare a thought for the seafarers whose work will help deliver the contents of that cart to the comfort of your home, even while they can’t get home themselves.

• Nusrat Ghani is MP for Wealden and a former maritime minister. Guy Platten is secretary general of the International Chamber of Shipping


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Most expensive family feud in history to take the stage at London court | The super-rich

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The most expensive – and acrimonious – family breakdown in history will be laid bare in a London court next week in a divorce battle over a £453m fortune that includes several luxury mansions, a superyacht called Luna, a helicopter, a private jet and an art collection including pieces by Mark Rothko, Andy Warhol and Damien Hirst.

Tatiana Akhmedova will accuse her ex-husband, Farkhad Akhmedov, an oligarch and ally of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and their son Temur Akhmedov of hiding hundreds of millions in assets in order to avoid paying the blockbuster settlement awarded to her by the high court in 2016.

Akhmedova alleges that her Azerbaijani-born Russian husband transferred cash and assets to their son in order to avoid paying her the money. They deny the claims and say she was aware of the father-to-son gifts, which included a £30m apartment in One Hyde Park, the exclusive London development, at the time. On Monday she will take her son to the high court accusing him of acting “as his father’s lieutenant” in a scheme to hide the fortune.

In her quest to uncover the award Akhmedova has in the past two weeks won court orders to raid her son’s luxury apartment in the opulent Knightsbridge development to search for evidence, and to force Google to hand over the contents of his emails.

Speaking publicly for the first time her son, Temur, 27, said that no matter what happens in court he would “never be reconciled with her” because “her outrageous, revengeful behaviour” has destroyed their once close relationship.

The search of flat and associated wine cellar led to the seizure of 58 devices, 47 of which were said to belong to Temur. He said the devices included four Xboxes and a PlayStation console.

“Our mother raised us very well, she was a good mother,” he said. “But this claim is because she doesn’t like me because I didn’t stick on her side. I couldn’t imagine in a million years going against my own blood. She is just out for revenge. How can you give birth to your kids and then fight against them in court?”

The exclusive One Hyde Park development in London
One Hyde Park in London. Akhmedova alleges her husband transferred cash and assets, including a £30m flat in the development, to their son to avoid paying her money. Photograph: View Pictures/UIG via Getty Images

Ahead of the trial Temur was served with a worldwide freezing order preventing him from transferring funds or selling any assets. He said the order limited his spending to £3,000 a week. “Now maybe for the average person that seems like a fucking crazy amount but in reality it’s different,” he said in a telephone interview from Dubai.

Temur said of the freezing order: “I sent her [his mother] a text, I said ‘why the fuck are you doing this?’”

He claimed his mother was not entitled to the £453m from his father’s fortune she was awarded by a London court in 2016, because his parents divorced 20 years earlier after his mother had an affair with a younger man.

He said his father offered his mother £100m to formalise the split, but his mother filed for divorce in London and a judge awarded her a 41.5% share of the £1bn family fortune.

“If my mother was on the street I would totally understand,” Temur said. “I would never let that happen, but she lives a very good life. She’s always on holiday always travelling. I see her updates on WhatsApp, she was in Ibiza a few weeks ago and Italy.”

The allegation that they previously divorced was dismissed by the family court in 2016. It was also later reported that this finding was challenged by the father in the Russian courts, which reinforced the English court’s ruling.

Akhmedova has tried since 2016 to enforce the judgment. The settlement remains the highest award in UK history and remains unsatisfied despite consistent enforcement attempts made in various jurisdictions.

A source close to Akhemdova’s legal team said Temur had acted “as his father’s lieutenant” in executing schemes to avoid paying her the divorce settlement. He denies this.

“This trial has come about because, in the four years since Tatiana Akhmedova was awarded the £453m divorce settlement, no money has voluntarily been paid to her,” the source said. “This has led to extensive enforcement efforts against Farkhad Akhmedov’s assets and an investigation of the various methods employed by Farkhad to place assets beyond Tatiana’s reach.

“Tatiana brought claims against her son Temur Akhmedov, alleging that he had received substantial financial sums and assets from Farkhad in order to put them beyond his mother’s reach and in order to frustrate the enforcement of the divorce award. Tatiana contends that Temur played a key role – essentially as his father’s lieutenant – in Farkhad’s strategy of evasion by devising and executing the schemes.”

Temur’s mother’s legal team, which is being funded by litigation financier Burford Capital, had at one stage attempted to seize Akhmedov’s £300m superyacht. The yacht called Luna, which had been built for Chelsea football club owner Roman Abramovich, has 10 VIP cabins and a 20-metre swimming pool.

Farkhad Akhmedov has previously said he will make all efforts to overturn what he has always said was “a misguided and wrong judgment by the English high court”.

• This article was amended on 28 November 2020 to clarify that the text Temur Akhmedov sent his mother was in relation to the freezing order, not the search of his apartment as an earlier version said.


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