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US Solar Companies Rely On Materials From Xinjiang, Where Forced Labor Is Rampant



Stringer China / Reuters

A man walks through solar panels at a solar power plant under construction in Aksu, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, April 5, 2012.

This project was supported by the Eyebeam Center for the Future of Journalism, the Pulitzer Center, and the Open Technology Fund.

Solar power has built a reputation as a virtuous industry, saving the planet by providing clean energy. But the industry has a dirty underbelly: It relies heavily on Xinjiang — a region in China that has become synonymous with forced labor for Muslim minorities — for key components.

Over the past four years, China has detained more than a million people in a network of detention facilities throughout its Xinjiang region. Many of these camps contain factories where Muslim minorities are forced to work. The solar industry is overwhelmingly reliant on parts and materials imported from this region, where heavy government surveillance makes it nearly impossible for outside observers to assess if people are working of their own free will. However, there are few alternative suppliers for the components the solar industry in the US needs.

It’s a particular problem for polysilicon, the metallic gray crystal form of the element integral to making solar cells, which convert light into energy. In 2016, only 9% of the world’s solar-grade polysilicon came from Xinjiang. But by 2020 it provided about 45% of the world’s supply, according to industry analyst Johannes Bernreuter.

At least one major Chinese polysilicon manufacturer has close ties with a state-controlled paramilitary organization, the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC). Last year, the US government slapped sanctions on the XPCC for helping Beijing carry out its mass internment of Muslims, and the US banned its cotton, citing evidence it was produced using forced labor.

The American solar industry faces a choice: ignore the risk of human rights abuses or develop costly new alternatives for an industry struggling to compete against more polluting forms of energy production.

Another major Chinese polysilicon producer said it works with “vocational schools” in Xinjiang, a red flag because the Chinese government has long used that term as a euphemism for internment camps.

The Solar Energies Industry Association, which represents solar companies in the United States, opposes the “reprehensible” human rights violations in Xinjiang and is “encouraging” companies to move their supply chains out of the region, said John Smirnow, the group’s general counsel.

“We have no indication that solar is being directly implicated, he said, “but given reports, we want to ensure forced labor is never a part of the solar supply chain.”

But as President-elect Joe Biden prepares to take office, after promising to improve clean energy infrastructure in the US, the American solar industry faces a choice: ignore the risk of human rights abuses or develop costly new alternatives for an industry struggling to compete against more polluting forms of energy production.


Costfoto / Barcroft Media via Getty Images

A worker produces polysilicon quartz rods in Donghai County, Jiangsu Province, China, on June 30, 2020.

China came to dominate the global polysilicon industry after it put tariffs on polysilicon imports from the US, South Korea, and the EU and ramped up domestic production, in apparent retaliation against US-imposed tariffs, in 2014. China is also one of the world’s biggest consumers of polysilicon, which meant it became less desirable for many companies outside China to compete because it was no longer cost-effective to export it there. In the years since, China’s polysilicon industry has thrived, not just in Xinjiang but in other regions such as the southwestern province of Sichuan.

“Most of the supply chain is concentrated in China, and most of the rest in southeast Asia is in plants owned by Chinese companies,” said Bernreuter. “There is no large alternative for the supply chain.”

But imports from Xinjiang have drawn the ire of lawmakers in the United States in recent months.

In the last Congress, representatives considered a bill that would have banned all goods from the region, a piece of legislation likely to be revived in the upcoming session. The House bill specifically targeted “poverty alleviation” programs that move Xinjiang’s Muslims to work in factories and on farms away from their hometowns.

“It’s almost impossible to confidently assess the labor conditions in Xinjiang.”

Since late 2016, the Chinese government has imposed a campaign that has included mass detention, digital surveillance, indoctrination, and forced labor on a population of about 13 million Muslim minorities in the far west region of Xinjiang, including ethnic Uighurs, Kazakhs, and others. Non-Chinese people visiting Xinjiang are often heavily monitored or escorted by police officers, so it is very difficult for companies to audit their supply chains for forced labor, experts say.

“It’s almost impossible to confidently assess the labor conditions in Xinjiang just because it’s almost impossible to get a competent assessor into the region. And then their ability to interview workers, especially Uighur workers, is limited because of the surveillance,” Amy Lehr, director of the human rights program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC, and the lead author of a report on forced labor in the region, told BuzzFeed News.

But US Customs and Border Protection already has the legal authority to ban imports from the region if it suspects forced labor has been used. The agency stopped a shipment of human hair from Xinjiang in July based on reports that the extensions were made using prison labor. In December, CBP seized shipments of cotton and computer parts from Xinjiang. This week, it banned imports of tomato and cotton products from the region over what it called “slave labor.”

“It’s quite possible solar companies could be scrutinized by CBP regarding Xinjiang-related forced labor risks in their supply chains even if there is no regional ban because this issue is getting more attention,” said Lehr.

The research group Horizon Advisory said in a report that polysilicon from Xinjiang frequently lands in the US.

“Those goods enter the United States from China both directly and via indirect trans-shipment and processing in several other countries, including Thailand, Malaysia, Korea, Singapore, and Vietnam,” the report says, concluding that “exposure to forced labor is pervasive” in the industry, including in “solar panels imported and installed in the United States.”

Forced labor is typically used for manufacturing jobs that don’t require specialized skills. Some of these types of tasks, like breaking apart tubes of the material, are used in the production of polysilicon.

If the US did ban polysilicon imports from China, industry experts say US-based companies would have enough capacity to make up for the shortfall, but would face higher costs and other problems in the supply chain.

For one thing, other parts used in solar panels are dominated by Chinese manufacturing as well. Once polysilicon is made, it’s sliced up into tiny nuggets called “wafers.” The overwhelming majority of wafer makers are located in China. And compared to other parts of China, it’s cheaper to manufacture polysilicon in Xinjiang, where companies can receive large subsidies from the government and the cost of electricity, provided by coal plants, and wages are typically lower than in wealthier parts of China.

REC Silicon, a Norwegian polysilicon maker whose manufacturing facilities are based in the US, invested more than a billion dollars in building a polysilicon factory in Washington state. After the Chinese tariffs on US goods hit, the company had to first slow production and then completely shut it down in 2019.

And the industry could face more domestic difficulties ahead. An executive with Hemlock Semiconductor Group, a US-based polysilicon maker, told investors on Oct. 22 that he was “fairly convinced” a US government investigation into the solar supply chain is coming.


BuzzFeed News; Google Earth

Satellite photos showing the construction sequence of Daqo’s polysilicon plant

Most of Xinjiang’s polysilicon is made by four Chinese companies, which are among the six biggest suppliers of the material in the world. One, the Daqo New Energy Corp, is listed on the New York Stock Exchange. With that comes transparency requirements that allow a better understanding of how it operates.

According to Chinese state media reports and the company’s website, it has close ties with a Chinese state-controlled paramilitary organization called the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC) — an organization so powerful that it administers cities in the region. Known best in Chinese simply as “the corps,” its activities have included helping Han Chinese migrants settle in Xinjiang and administering farms. The XPCC issued a policy document in 2013 setting solar energy as one of its “development goals.”

In July, the US government put the XPCC under sanctions, saying it had helped implement Beijing’s mass internment policy targeting Muslims. On Dec. 2, the US banned cotton imports produced by the XPCC, citing evidence it uses forced labor.

The XPCC could not be reached for comment.

In public filings made in October with the US Securities and Exchange Commission, Daqo disclosed that it gained “additional advantages” in electricity costs because the XPCC operates the regional power grid. The local state newspaper reported that XPCC paid Daqo subsidies amounting to more than 489,447 yuan (approximately $75,000). The companies received millions more in subsidies from the government of Shihezi, a city in Xinjiang administered by the XPCC. In a Chinese language press release, Daqo’s Xinjiang subsidiary has also noted that it’s considered an “innovative enterprise pilot unit” of the XPCC.

Daqo’s polysilicon plant is located just over 7 miles north of Shihezi City. Construction started in spring 2011, when an area of farmland the size of 110 football fields was cleared to make way for the plant. By 2013, it was complete, with large industrial buildings covering the site, linked together by a network of elevated pipes. In 2014, the compound was extended by a further 3 million square feet, and over the following two years, new buildings continued to be added. The latest growth of the plant took place over the summer of 2019. Another 3 million square feet were added at the southwest end of the compound, and parts of the site that had previously sat unused were filled in with buildings. The plant now covers 12.2 million square feet, the equivalent of 215 football fields.

Daqo could not be reached for comment, but has previously said it does not use forced labor “under any circumstances whether in its own facilities or throughout its entire supply chain.”

In Xinjiang, programs euphemistically described as “poverty alleviation” have been linked to forced labor, according to research by CSIS and other organizations.

“It would be unsustainable to have an industry built on coal and slave labor.”

One of the other big polysilicon makers in Xinjiang, GCL-Poly Energy, said it works with “vocational schools” in Xinjiang in an annual report. The government has long referred to the internment camps in the region as vocational schools. Chinese language news articles also say GCL-Poly takes part in poverty alleviation programs.

GCL-Poly could not be reached for comment.

The industry has to make a choice, said Francine Sullivan, vice president for business development at REC Silicon, the Norwegian polysilicon maker.

“It would be unsustainable to have an industry built on coal and slave labor,” she said. “Most people in solar think it’ll be greenwashed away from us. We don’t have to deal with it because we’re solar.” ●



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Companies that gave ‘lots of money’ stop supporting Trump and friends after Capitol riots


But don’t worry, legislators and activists see right through the facade of performative activism and have noted the timings of which these announcements are made.“My bill to #EndCorruptionNow would ban corporate PAC donations to all federal candidates permanently – not just when it’s convenient for big banks and giant corporations to hold a PR stunt,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren said on Twitter.

But nevertheless, we are here to see Trump and other racist GOP members’ support networks crippled. Who knows how long companies will enable these policies and restrictions, but for now let’s take a moment to acknowledge this ever-growing list of both companies that always saw through Trump’s lies and others who are just awakening.

Joining companies that once heavily supported Republicans, including Amazon, is AT&T. According to Vox, AT&T made the largest contributions to Republicans who voted against election certification; the company has announced it will suspend contributions following last week’s Capitol invasion. Other companies like American Express, Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, Comcast, Intel, and Morgan Stanley made similar announcements suspending PAC contributions to lawmakers who voted against the certification of election results.

Deutsche Bank not only said it will halt business with Trump, who owes the company more than $300 million, but with all others who voted against the certification of the election results.

Apparently, some companies didn’t thoroughly review their decisions on who to donate to prior to the attempted coup. Following the failed coup attempt, Bank of America announced that in the next election cycle it will “review decision making criteria,” for political donations. ExxonMobil also said it is reviewing its PAC contributions. Vox noted that ExxonMobil is the second-largest contributor to senators who voted against election certification.

Similarly, Microsoft told Popular Information that it’s assessing the impact of the events at the Capitol and will not be making political contributions until after careful review.

Dozens of other companies noted that they will temporarily suspend political donations and not process Trump campaign-related donations. Shopify even closed two online stores linked to Trump’s campaign.

Of course, Coca-Cola is always on top of its marketing game: the company not only condemned last week’s violence and suspended political contributions but vowed to donate to President-elect Joe Biden’s inaugural committee.

Hallmark made the best move, if you ask me. While it is questionable why they donated to these legislators in the first place, it requested refunds of PAC donations made to Sens. Josh Hawley and Roger Marshall.

Big companies weren’t the only ones who made announcements distancing themselves from Trump. Universities and colleges have even considered revoking Trump and his liar, I mean lawyer, Rudy Giuliani’s honorary degrees.  

And saving one of the best for last, in a CNBC News interview with Kevin Langone, Home Depot co-founder and infamous Trump-supporting billionaire, he expressed his disappointment with Trump. Langone has been a longtime major GOP donor and supporter who has given “lots of money.” In conversation with CNBC on Wednesday, Langone ignored the actual question at hand, which was whether he felt he enabled last week’s failed coup at the Capitol, but shocked many with his support for Biden. “I feel betrayed,” Langone said, speaking of Trump’s consistent claims of election fraud.

“What happened last Wednesday was a disgrace that shouldn’t have happened in this country. If it doesn’t break every American’s heart, something is wrong. It breaks my heart for sure,” he continued. “I didn’t sign up for that.”

Langone then went on to speak about working to do “everything” he can “from day one to make sure” Joe Biden is the “most successful president in the history of the country.” He added that from the pandemic to infrastructure the country has a lot of issues and giving money to those who will benefit the country is important.

Coming from someone who has supported Trump and Republicans that have done nothing but harm the U.S. with their xenophobic and racist ideology, this is something. Langone doesn’t have the best track record, he’s a known jerk, but one can hope this interview is perhaps him rethinking his fault and responsibility in the violence GOP officials and Trump have encouraged throughout the years.

Watch his shocking support for Biden below:





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Health

McKinsey Proposed Paying Pharmacy Companies Rebates for OxyContin Overdoses


When Purdue Pharma agreed last month to plead guilty to criminal charges involving OxyContin, the Justice Department noted the role an unidentified consulting company had played in driving sales of the addictive painkiller even as public outrage grew over widespread overdoses.

Documents released last week in a federal bankruptcy court in New York show that the adviser was McKinsey & Company, the world’s most prestigious consulting firm. The 160 pages include emails and slides revealing new details about McKinsey’s advice to the Sackler family, Purdue’s billionaire owners, and the firm’s now notorious plan to “turbocharge” OxyContin sales at a time when opioid abuse had already killed hundreds of thousands of Americans.

In a 2017 presentation, according to the records, which were filed in court on behalf of multiple state attorneys general, McKinsey laid out several options to shore up sales. One was to give Purdue’s distributors a rebate for every OxyContin overdose attributable to pills they sold.

The presentation estimated how many customers of companies including CVS and Anthem might overdose. It projected that in 2019, for example, 2,484 CVS customers would either have an overdose or develop an opioid use disorder. A rebate of $14,810 per “event” meant that Purdue would pay CVS $36.8 million that year.

CVS and Anthem have recently been among McKinsey’s biggest clients. Press officers for the two companies said they had never received rebates from Purdue for customers who had overdosed on OxyContin.

Though McKinsey has not been charged by the federal government or sued, it began to worry about legal repercussions in 2018, according to the documents. After Massachusetts filed a lawsuit against Purdue, Martin Elling, a leader for McKinsey’s North American pharmaceutical practice, wrote to another senior partner, Arnab Ghatak: “It probably makes sense to have a quick conversation with the risk committee to see if we should be doing anything” other than “eliminating all our documents and emails. Suspect not but as things get tougher there someone might turn to us.”

Mr. Ghatak, who also advised Purdue, replied: “Thanks for the heads up. Will do.”

It is not known whether consultants at the firm went on to destroy any records.

The two men were among the highest-ranking consultants at McKinsey. Five years earlier, the documents show, they emailed colleagues about a meeting in which McKinsey persuaded the Sacklers to aggressively market OxyContin.

The meeting “went very well — the room was filled with only family, including the elder statesman Dr. Raymond,” wrote Mr. Ghatak, referring to Purdue’s co-founder, the physician Raymond Sackler, who would die in 2017.

Mr. Elling concurred. “By the end of the meeting,” he wrote, “the findings were crystal clear to everyone and they gave a ringing endorsement of moving forward fast.”

McKinsey’s plan was accepted, even though Russell Gasdia, then Purdue’s vice president of sales and marketing, questioned the firm’s approach, writing Mr. Ghatak the night before the meeting to say that he had real concerns “on the need to turbocharge sales” of OxyContin.

Another Purdue executive, David Lundie, agreed with the strategy, however. Mr. Lundie said the proposal would catch the Sackler family’s attention, according to the documents. It did.

By 2017, Purdue’s chief executive, Craig Landau, wrote that the crisis was caused by “too many Rxs being written” at “too high a dose” and “for too long.” The drugs, he said, were being prescribed “for conditions that often don’t require them” by physicians who lacked “the requisite training in how to use them appropriately.”

When McKinsey was later called on to “disassemble” the aggressive sales campaign, according to the court filings, Mr. Landau was quoted as saying that it was something “we should have done five years ago.”

A press officer for McKinsey on Wednesday said the firm had been “cooperating fully with the opioid-related investigations” and had announced in 2019 that it “would not advise any clients worldwide on opioid-specific business.”

In a statement last month, the Sacklers said that family members “who served on Purdue’s board of directors acted ethically and lawfully.”

McKinsey’s involvement in the opioid crisis came to light early last year, with the release of documents from Massachusetts, which is among the states suing Purdue. Those records show that McKinsey was helping Purdue find a way “to counter the emotional messages from mothers with teenagers that overdosed” from OxyContin.

On Tuesday, Purdue pleaded guilty to criminal charges, including defrauding federal health agencies and paying illegal kickbacks to doctors. The company also faces roughly $8.3 billion in penalties. As part of the settlement, members of the Sackler family will pay $225 million in civil penalties.

In a statement issued after the announcement of the settlement in October, Purdue said it “deeply regrets and accepts responsibility” for misconduct involving its marketing of OxyContin.

The federal settlement with Purdue comes as states and municipalities seek compensation from opioid makers for helping fuel a health crisis that has killed more than 450,000 Americans since 1999. Purdue is now seeking bankruptcy protection, as are other manufacturers.

“This is the banality of evil, M.B.A. edition,” Anand Giridharadas, a former McKinsey consultant who reviewed the documents, said of the firm’s work with Purdue. “They knew what was going on. And they found a way to look past it, through it, around it, so as to answer the only questions they cared about: how to make the client money and, when the walls closed in, how to protect themselves.”

Mr. Giridharadas is a New York Times contributor who wrote a 2018 book that examined the power of elites, including those at McKinsey, for how they evade responsibility for social harm.

In recent years, McKinsey has attracted criticism and unwanted attention for its dealings around the world, including in authoritarian countries such as China, Russia and Saudi Arabia. Its business in South Africa was decimated after McKinsey worked with companies tied to a corruption scandal that led to the ouster of the country’s president. In the United States, McKinsey worked with Immigration and Customs Enforcement under President Trump, proposing ways to cut spending on food and housing for detainees.

The documents released last week detail McKinsey’s work with Purdue going back to 2008, the year after the drugmaker pleaded guilty to misleading regulators. The Food and Drug Administration had previously told Purdue that OxyContin would face sales restrictions and that doctors prescribing it would require specialized training.

The Sackler family saw those rules as a threat and, joining with McKinsey, made a plan to “band together” with other opioid makers to push back, according to one email. McKinsey prepped Purdue executives for a vital meeting before an F.D.A. advisory committee reviewing its proposed reformulation of OxyContin to make it less prone to abuse. The reformulation went on the market in 2010.

McKinsey put together briefing materials that anticipated questions Purdue would receive. One possible question: “Who at Purdue takes personal responsibility for these deaths?”

The proposed answer: “We all feel responsible.”

Dr. Richard Sackler, now the family patriarch, was pleased with the preparations, writing to his daughter in a January 2009 email: “Marianna, I am writing to tell you how impressed I was by the preparation for the F.D.A. meeting. Both the method and process as well as the content was excellent and a major departure from efforts like this in the past.”

Purdue’s F.D.A. meeting appeared to be at least partly successful. “Even to this day, the F.D.A. has never required specialized training for OxyContin prescribers,” wrote the state lawyers who filed the documents last week.



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Health

Drug companies, plaintiffs close in on $26B deal to settle opioid lawsuits



The tentative deal, which has been in the works for months, must still pass muster with judges who have been handling the complex litigation in federal and state courts. That includes U.S. District Judge Dan Aaron Polster in Cleveland, who has been supervising the complex multidistrict litigation in his courtroom for more than two years.

The agreement creates an incentive for states to get local jurisdictions to agree to the terms because the payouts to the states will take place over 18 years and diminish if communities do not sign on, said Paul Farrell Jr., one of the three lead attorneys for the plaintiffs. Another feature of the deal is a $2 billion fund, paid for by the companies, to compensate the hundreds of law firms involved in the litigation, Farrell said — a move designed to ward off accusations that the lawyers would be siphoning away money that communities desperately need.

“I’m hopeful that the process that we have negotiated brings about the eventual end of the opioid epidemic,” Farrell said Thursday. “But we still have a lot of work to do.”

It was unclear Thursday to what extent state attorneys general, who have separately sued the companies, are supportive of the tentative settlement. Part of the complexity of the opioid litigation has been the sharp-elbowed competition among different government entities and private law firms to play the dominant role in the lawsuits.

Though the $26 billion deal is a blockbuster at first glance, it does not approach the 1998 settlement between states and major tobacco companies, which totaled more than $206 billion over 25 years. The tobacco companies operated with much bigger profit margins at the time than drug companies do now.

In the opioid lawsuits, public officials have alleged that the opioid manufacturers, distributors and pharmacies knew, or should have known, that billions of the highly addictive pills they produce and sell for legitimate pain patients were siphoned off by fraudulent doctors, illegal pill mills and negligent pharmacies to people who abused the drugs.

More than 100 billion doses of two opioids — oxycodone and hydrocodone — flooded the country between 2006 and 2014, according to data obtained by The Washington Post in a lawsuit.

The companies did not offer comments on the proposed settlement Thursday. A spokesperson for McKesson pointed to language in a regulatory filing Monday that indicated it has not set aside funds for a settlement. “The Company believes that it has valid defenses to the claims pending against it and intends to vigorously defend against all such claims,” the filing states.

The settlement, first reported by the New York Times and Reuters, does not include pharmacies and some manufacturers, which still face legal challenges.

It also will not come anywhere close to covering the economic damages of the epidemic, let alone heal the wounds suffered by families who have lost loved ones to opioid addiction.

Greg McNeil of Hudson, Ohio, lost his son Sam after Sam got hooked on opioid pills after surgery and in 2015 overdosed on heroin laced with fentanyl. McNeil said families of victims won’t feel a sense of justice unless executives of the corporations admit responsibility.

Often such settlements permit corporate leaders to avoid such admissions. Members of the Sackler family, owners of Purdue Pharma, did not admit to any wrongdoing when they agreed to a civil penalty of $225 million last month, as part of an $8 billion settlement with the Justice Department, and a guilty plea by the corporation they owned.

“The people that are responsible for this, they really have to be held accountable,’’ McNeil said Thursday. “They need to admit to the wrongdoing, and they have to pay the price for that.’’

He also said $26 billion will not come close to compensating states and local communities for the costs of the opioid epidemic. States who are creditors in the Purdue Pharma bankruptcy have said in court filings that the total costs of the opioid epidemic are at least $630 billion and will run into the trillions in future years.

“You get numbers that seem to be astronomical,’’ McNeil said, “but when you sit down and look at the real cost of to our country of this versus what they are paying, it’s a pittance.’’

Still, attorneys for the plaintiffs, which include about 3,000 communities, said the deal is a win for the communities at a time when they are hurting from the impacts not only of the addiction crisis but also of the pandemic.

“While no dollar figure can restore the lives and families already devastated by the crisis, these settlement dollars are desperately needed in areas that have been hardest hit by this man-made epidemic, particularly as they now grapple with covid-19,” the plaintiffs’ attorneys said in a statement released Thursday.

Joe Rice, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said the parties have agreed to the “base economic terms” and called this a “settlement offer.”

“We’re negotiating a potential settlement offer that will have to go out and be accepted by a critical mass of states and subdivisions,” Rice said.

That settlement, he said, will allow attorneys more time to focus on the other defendants, such as retail pharmacies. It is also important to settle during the pandemic, which is worsening the drug crisis and devastating local budgets.

“The municipalities at a local level don’t have the resources to address their needs,” Rice said.

Rice said the settlement is for less money than some observers had expected because the drug distribution business is less lucrative than it seems. While the companies are top revenue producers, they are much lower on net revenue and work on tight margins, Rice said.

“These companies distributed opioids and our allegations are they recklessly did it,” he said. “They didn’t keep up with their duty, but they also distributed hundreds or thousands of other drugs, and they are a cog in our central health services system. Putting them out of business wasn’t really a good public health move.”

The opioid crisis involves legal painkillers as well as illicit street drugs, including heroin and the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl, which is responsible for much of the spike in fatal overdoses in the past decade. Although the United States saw some decline in opioid deaths in 2018, the numbers began climbing again early last year. The pandemic has hampered efforts to treat people with substance use disorder.

Although opioids, including heroin, have been used and abused for many decades, the rate of addictions and deaths began rising in the 1990s when the medical community embraced the idea that pain was a key vital sign for patients and that prescription opioids had been underprescribed because of their association with heroin, stigmatized as a street drug.

New drugs then hit the market, including Purdue Pharma’s OxyContin, a controlled-release form of oxycodone, which the company promoted aggressively. The use of these painkillers for chronic pain became commonplace, but by the early 2000s, doctors saw increasing evidence the pills were addictive.

“There is no vaccine to a lifetime of opioid addiction,” said Farrell, who helped initiate the litigation from his home base in Huntington, W.Va., one of the epicenters of the crisis. “We still have an underlying opioid epidemic that has been exacerbated by the covid outbreak.”

He noted that the state of West Virginia is not part of the settlement, because he did not think the money allotted to it was commensurate with the level of suffering from the opioid crisis there.



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Biden’s Son-In-Law Advising Campaign On Pandemic While Investing In Companies That Will Benefit From It


In what should be an obvious conflict of interests, Joe Biden’s son-in-law Howard Krein is advising Biden’s campaign on the Coronavirus pandemic, while investing in companies which stand to gain from it.

Try to imagine the reaction from Democrats and the media, if Trump’s son in law was poised to benefit financially from the pandemic.

It would be front page news.

Politico has the story:

TRENDING: SCOOP: Man Who Fired First Shots Behind Kyle Rittenhouse in Kenosha Has Been Charged

Biden’s son-in-law advises campaign on pandemic while investing in Covid-19 startups

At the same time that Joe Biden’s son-in-law, Howard Krein, has been advising Biden’s campaign on its coronavirus response, Krein’s venture capital business has been running a special initiative to invest in health care startups that offer solutions to the pandemic.

In March, as Covid-19 began spreading in the United States, the investment firm, StartUp Health, unveiled a new coronavirus initiative soliciting pitches from entrepreneurs with products that addressed the outbreak.

The next month, reports in Bloomberg and the New York Times listed Krein among those participating in daily calls to brief Biden on health policy during the pandemic, while StartUp Health announced its intention to invest $1 million across 10 startups with coronavirus applications within 30 days.

“StartUp Health is putting the full support of its platform and network behind building a post-Covid world that uses technology and entrepreneurial ingenuity to improve health outcomes,” the firm said at the time.

Krein simultaneously advising the campaign and venturing into Covid investing could pose conflict-of-interest concerns for a Biden administration or simply create the awkward appearance of Krein profiting off his father-in-law’s policies.

This is outrageous.

What is it with the Bidens? They openly cash in on connections and the media looks the other way.

Cross posted from American Lookout.





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Dining News

Candy Companies Market Halloween Early to Bolster Pandemic Sales


Halloween is coming early this year, with candy displays already up in some stores

With full knowledge that Halloween — and, more importantly, trick-or-treating — is going to look different in a pandemic, some candy brands are taking extra precautions in an effort to bolster sales during what is usually their best season.

For example, Hershey got a head start by asking retailers to set up their Halloween displays earlier than the typical mid-August or early September timeline, CNN reports. Hershey is also keeping more of its candy in the normal packaging, rather than the seasonal Halloween wrappers, boxes, and bags.

Mondelez, the company behind Sour Patch Kids, Swedish Fish, and other sweets and snacks, told CNN that it will focus on family-size packs of its bestselling products, predicting that more families will have smaller gatherings rather than let their children go out for trick-or-treating.

Mars Wrigley, which makes Skittles, Snickers, and other well-known candy brands, is going to devote more resources to stocking up product for e-commerce, Ad Age reports.

But overall, Halloween candy sales might not actually suffer that much, given Americans’ quarantine eating patterns the past few months. Consumers have reportedly turned to more snacking and familiar foods during the COVID-19 crisis, apparently seeking comfort in a strange and stressful time. In fact, this year more than ever, you would have a good excuse to demolish an entire family-size pack of Twix on your own in one Halloween sitting.

And in other news…

  • A bipartisan group of senators have urged the U.S. to remove last fall’s 25 percent tariffs on European food, wine, and spirits, in an effort to offer some economic relief to hard-hit restaurants, retailers, importers, and distributors. [CNBC]
  • American Airlines will resume its hot-food service in airport lounges once again. The menu will be limited, and instead of self-serve buffet-style, the food will be doled out by employees. [Delish]
  • Zomato, one of India’s biggest food delivery companies, is giving all women and trans employees 10 days of “period leave” a year. [CNN]
  • Chipotle’s new “Tony Hawk burrito” is apparently just a regular chicken burrito, albeit one that comes with access to a demo for Hawk’s Pro Skater video game. Radical! [Thrillist]
  • Never a good sign when your Dear Prudie advice letter complaining about other parents contains the phrase: “I couldn’t believe that they served my son spicy curries without even calling to ask us if that would be OK!” [Slate]

• All AM Intel Coverage [E]



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Breaking New

Banned Chinese Companies Deny Allegations They Abused Uighurs


WASHINGTON — Several Chinese firms and the major international brands they supply pushed back against the Trump administration’s decision to add 11 Chinese companies to a government blacklist for aiding human rights violations, saying they had found no evidence of forced labor or other abuses in their supply chains.

On Monday, the Trump administration added the Chinese companies to the so-called entity list, which bars them from buying American technology and products without a special license. Nine companies were added to the list for their use of forced labor, while another two were included for conducting genetic analyses that were used to further the repression of Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang region, the Commerce Department said.

The Chinese government has carried out a campaign of mass detentions in Xinjiang, placing one million or more members of Muslim and other minority groups into large internment camps intended to increase their loyalty to the Communist Party. Some of these detainees are forced to work in factories in or near their camps.

The list of companies sanctioned on Monday included current and former suppliers to major international brands such as Apple, Ralph Lauren, Google, HP, Tommy Hilfiger, Hugo Boss and Muji, according to a report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a think tank established by the Australian government. The group cited the websites of the sanctioned Chinese companies, which mentioned their financial relationships with major American brands.

In a statement, Apple said that it had immediately begun a detailed investigation of Nanchang O-Film Tech, one of its suppliers that appeared on the list, when it learned of the allegations earlier this year. Apple dispatched independent third-party investigators to O-Film’s facilities in March, and then conducted surprise audits in June and July, including verifying employee documentation and interviewing with workers in local languages, it said.

“Apple is dedicated to ensuring everyone in our supply chain is treated with dignity and respect,” Josh Rosenstock, an Apple spokesman, said in a statement. “We have found no evidence of any forced labor on Apple production lines and we plan to continue monitoring.”

Another company included on the list, Changji Esquel Textile Company Ltd., appeared to have extensive connections with major international clothing brands, including Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger and Hugo Boss.

In a statement, Hugo Boss said that it maintained “a close and longstanding business relationship with the Esquel Group,” Changji Esquel’s parent company. Hugo Boss said it prohibited the use of forced labor in its supply chains, and that it had raised the allegations with Esquel Group. Esquel had assured it that all of the company’s requirements and standards had been met.

“We at Hugo Boss take these allegations very seriously and will continue to further pursue the matter,” the company said.

In a statement Monday, Esquel denied the accusations, saying that it did not and would never use forced labor, and that no one from the Commerce Department had spoken with the company to investigate the claims.

Another Chinese company, BGI Group, which had two subsidiaries placed on the list for providing gene technology for the surveillance of Uighurs, said it was “puzzled by” its inclusion.

BGI Group said that one subsidiary, Xinjiang Silk Road BGI, was established in November 2016 and had not carried out actual business so far. The other entity, Beijing Liuhe BGI, provides commercial gene synthesis for scientists conducting basic research, and it’s unclear “how its services or products could be used with respect to the allegations made,” the company said.

“BGI Group does not condone and would never be involved in any human-rights abuses,” it said in a statement.

Sapna Maheshwari contributed reporting.



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Dining News

Uber Acquires Postmates, Merging Two of the Biggest Delivery Companies


Rideshare service Uber has acquired delivery competitor Postmates in a deal worth $2.65 billion. According to the NYT, Postmates will continue to operate under its own name, but will be combined with UberEats to create the country’s second-largest delivery goliath.

The Postmates buy comes just weeks after Uber was rumored to be courting competitor Grubhub in a merger that would have easily created the largest delivery platform in the country. (Amid antitrust concerns, those talks fell apart, and Grubhub was acquired by European company Just Eats Takeaway in a $7.3 billion deal.) Instead, today’s UberEats-Postmates merger will create the second-largest delivery platform in terms of market share, and for restaurant owners and diners, will still condense the number of delivery app options to three major ones: Doordash, UberEats/Postmates, and Grubhub.

Postmates, an early entrant in the on-demand delivery space, launched in 2011 promising couriers who could deliver anything (not just food) direct to customers’ doors: “The idea behind Postmates is what if you can use the city as a warehouse,” co-founder and CEO Bastian Lehmann told CNBC in 2015, positioning the idea of bespoke delivery as the “anti-Amazon.” Though the brand also scored early exclusive delivery accounts with Starbucks and Chipotle, it also garnered early (if now ubiquitous) criticism for listing restaurants on its app without their permission. It was also the smallest of the major players at the time of today’s merger, with 8 percent of the market share.

Uber, meanwhile, launched its Eats delivery service in 2014, and enjoys 20 percent of the overall market share, according to an October 2019 report. But while its core service — transporting passengers via ride-share — has plummeted during the coronavirus pandemic, its Eats business has grown as restaurants have been forced to pivot to delivery and diners stay home. In May, Uber laid off more than 6,000 employees after reporting its ride-share service dropped 80 percent year-over-year in April. Its Q1 earning report, however, reported that Eats had grown 54 percent year-over-year.

The delivery space has been rife with acquisitions and mergers. Grubhub acquired then-rival Seamless in 2013, then Yelp-owned Eat24 in 2017. In August 2019, Doordash acquired Caviar. This latest merger happens at a time when delivery apps are under increased pressure — from consumers and lawmakers — over the exorbitant fees charged to restaurants (which are sometimes up to 30 percent, a fact heightened during the COVID-19 crisis), the common practice of listing restaurants on the apps without their consent, and their classification of workers as contractors instead of employees), their labor practices. Uber and Lyft face a lawsuit filed by the California Attorney General over Assembly Bill 5, which grants employment classification to gig economy workers and contractors; in December, Uber and Postmates joined forces to file suit against the state to halt AB5 enforcement.



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Breaking New

India Debates Skin-Tone Bias as Beauty Companies Alter Ads


“While movements like Black Lives Matter have had a profound impact in the West, in South Asian countries it is still a long-drawn battle,” she said.

Ms. Emmanuel said that skin-tone biases had the greatest impact on marriage and social issues but that in some fields, including entertainment, hospitality and modeling, “the qualification goes without saying that you need to be fair-skinned, particularly for women.”

Other commentators, though, insisted that colorism in India is different from racism in the West.

“The preference for lighter skin is largely aesthetic and does not have structural economic or power consequences,” said Dipankar Gupta, a well-known sociologist.

“It is not as if a policeman would routinely harass darker-skinned people,” Mr. Gupta added. “Indians can recognize class and status through a number of markers, but skin color is not one of them.”

Still, across India, there is great social pressure for people to seek light-skinned spouses.

Mohinder Verma, a businessman, defended placing an ad in a newspaper in which he sought for his son a “tall, good-looking” bride with “fair skin” who has a university degree but prefers to be a stay-at-home wife.

Mr. Verma, 72, said parents in India felt pressure within their social circles to find brides for their sons who look “gori,” or fair, although he agreed that “this thinking needs to change.”

“It’s somehow ingrained in our minds,” said Mr. Verma, who lives in the northern Indian state of Punjab. “When you have a dark-skinned daughter-in-law, people talk behind your back. They ask what wrong had we committed in our previous life.”

A 2017 study of 1,992 Indians found that more than half said they were influenced by TV advertisements to appear lighter-skinned.



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Breaking New

Who’s hiring? These companies – CNN


The US job market is attempting to emerge from its worst downturn in modern memory. But it’s not all doom and gloom on the employment front. There are still companies hiring amid the economic calamity as changing consumer habits compel employers in a wide variety of industries to stock up on talent.
Kroger and its subsidiaries have been expanding, like other major grocery store chains during the pandemic. The second largest grocer in the US is still looking to hire about 6,800 people from coast to coast to keep up with consumer demand.
Kroger says it has hired more than 100,000 workers since mid-March and has focused on recruiting workers laid off from restaurants, hotels and food service distributors.

The company is still looking to fill roles in its e-commerce, manufacturing and distribution center divisions.

Aldi

Aldi’s is looking to fill more than 4,000 job openings nationwide. Most of the positions are for full- and part-time sales associates as well as store management. On May 28, the company announced it was expanding its curbside grocery pickup service to about 600 stores after piloting the program in select markets.

Big Lots

The Columbus, Ohio-based retailer has more than 3,300 openings listed on its website, mostly for sales and management roles across the US. Positions are also available in corporate accounting, logistics and distribution centers.

Big Lots’ sales have soared during the pandemic. President and CEO Bruce Thorn credited the company’s recent success to its e-commerce business — which was up 45% in its first fiscal quarter that ended in the beginning of May — and keeping physical stores open during the Covid-19 shutdowns.

Harbor Freight Tools

The discount tool and equipment retailer has been opening new stores across the country, and it currently has more than 3,000 openings listed on its website. Most of the roles are in retail sales, but positions are also available in the company’s distribution and corporate office divisions.
A closed sign is seen in the doorway of the Bath and Body Works store at Country Club Plaza on April 02, 2020 in Kansas City, Missouri.

L Brands

The struggling parent company of Victoria’s Secret recently announced plans to focus its efforts on its Bath & Body Works division after years of failed efforts to revive its once-mighty lingerie chain.
The retail conglomerate currently lists about 660 openings, most of which are for sales and sales support positions at US Bath & Body Works, according to its website.

Dollar General

Dollar General has been on a hiring spree since March and says it is still looking to fill roles across business sectors, including its 16,500 nationwide stores, regional distribution centers, cold-storage facilities and its corporate offices in Tennessee, according to a spokesperson.

“We’re hiring across all of those fronts right now,” the spokesperson said.

The variety store chain is one of several major retailers experiencing a surge in business during the coronavirus pandemic thanks to consumers spending more on home essentials.

Food and delivery services

A Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant is seen on November 28, 2017 in Miami.

Buffalo Wild Wings

The sports bar chain wants to fill more than 6,100 job openings nationwide, including more than 400 roles in California, according to its website. Most of the roles are for hosts, servers, cooks and managers.

Aramark

The nation’s largest food services company, which also offers facilities and uniform services, has about 1,500 career opportunities listed on its site right now. Aramark recently opened more than 100 pop-up grocery stores to serve frontline workers at healthcare facilities nationwide.

Doordash

The delivery company is looking to fill more than 200 roles, primarily in the US. Its current career opportunities include positions in engineering, sales, marketing, public relations and fulfillment services.

Doordash recently moved up the launch date for its Convenience business line, partnership chains like 7-Eleven and Circle K that allows the company to deliver more grocery and home-essentials items.

Tech and gaming

PayPal recently launged a touch-free app feature that lets customers pay for items without using cash or credit cards.

PayPal

PayPal has seen a surge in demand for contact-free, digital payments amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The online payments software service provider and its subsidiaries are hiring more than 800 people to fill roles in software development, according to its website. Other vacancies include positions in data science, technical product management, information security, risk operations and compliance investigations.

On May 19, PayPal launched its touch-free payment app feature, which allows customers to use a QR code to pay for products without exchanging cash or credit cards.

Attendees walk by the Epic Games booth at the 2019 GDC Game Developers Conference on March 20, 2019 in San Francisco.

Epic Games

The Cary, North Carolina-based makers of Fortnite are recruiting 113 people at the moment, according to their website, mostly for roles in engineering and shared services.

The gaming industry has been booming in recent months as people stuck at home turn to video game consoles in higher numbers for entertainment.

Riot Games

The makers of the popular e-sports platform League of Legends are hiring 160 people for roles at its office around the globe, including about 100 positions at its corporate offices in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area.

Twilio

Twilio has about 300 global job listings, including at least 78 positions based in the US. The San Francisco-based cloud communications company’s stock has soared recently, with more companies using its tech for text messages, emails and video calls.
New York City recently signed a deal with Twilio to use its tech to power its Covid-19 contact tracing initiative, according to a May 22 announcement.

Healthcare and pharmaceuticals

GlaxoSmithKline

GSK currently has 2,340 openings listed on its careers page, including hundreds of roles in its medical/clinical and science/tech divisions. The UK-based company recently announced plans to manufacture 1 billion doses of adjuvant next year for its industry partners to use as they test potential Covid-19 vaccines.

Adjuvants are ingredients used in vaccines to create a stronger immune response, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Aerospace and defense

A sign is posted at a Raytheon Co. campus on June 10, 2019 in El Segundo, California.

Raytheon Technologies

After completing its merger with United Technologies Corporation, Raytheon Technologies has about 3,000 openings it’s looking to fill, mostly in engineering.

The aerospace and defense company cut $2 billion in costs and furloughed workers just a month ago, but spokesman Chris Johnson said the company’s new talent acquisition effort has been fueled by growth in its defense business.

ManTech International

ManTech International recently secured a $20 million contract extension with the President Trump’s US Space Force to provide launch systems engineering and integration services. The military contractor has thousands of job openings posted on its web page.



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