By Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi, Matthew Green and Simon Jessop
ZURICH/LONDON (Reuters) – Credit Suisse, Dutch lender ING and France’s BNP Paribas have decided to stop financing the trade in crude oil from Ecuador, the banks said on Monday, following pressure from campaigners aiming to protect the Amazon rainforest.
The role of European lenders in backing the trade came under scrutiny in August, when a report by advocacy groups Stand.earth and Amazon Watch named six European banks as major financiers of Ecuadorean oil exports to U.S. refineries.
Indigenous leaders battling to prevent further oil exploration in their territory said the banks’ role had made them complicit in oil spills, violations of land rights and the destruction of rainforest by Ecuador’s oil industry.
“The banks’ commitment is a milestone,” Marlon Vargas, president of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon, told Reuters. “The banks should finance other forms of economic development, but not oil extraction.”
The August report had named the three banks alongside France’s Natixis, Switzerland’s UBS and Dutch bank Rabobank as the main backers of the shipment of about $10 billion of Ecuadorean oil to the United States over the past decade.
Campaigners had accused the banks of using double standards for making climate change pledges while backing trade in oil from Ecuador, where the industry plans to drill hundreds of wells in the Yasuni National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The Amazon plays a vital role in regulating the Earth’s climate by absorbing carbon dioxide, one of the main greenhouse gases responsible for global warming.
ING said it shared many of the concerns over protecting the Amazon outlined in the report and had decided to review its exposure to oil and gas exports from Ecuador.
“Our research and resulting engagements are ongoing,” the bank said. “In the meantime, we have decided not to engage in any new contracts for the financing of oil and gas trade flows from the Ecuadorian Amazon.”
Credit Suisse said it had decided to phase out financing for oil exports from the Ecuadorean and Peruvian Amazon after completing existing commitments.
“Credit Suisse reviews and updates its sector-specific policies on a regular basis,” the bank said.
BNP Paribas said it had decided in December to exclude oil exports from Ecuador’s Esmeraldas region — home to Ecuador’s export terminal for oil from its Amazon region.
“BNP Paribas is committed to the continuous improvement of its sustainability strategy,” the bank said.
Rabobank said in August it had stopped financing Ecuadorean crude cargoes earlier in 2020.
UBS, for now, has stopped short of committing to end its financing of Ecuadorean crude oil cargoes. The bank said it maintained dialogue with advocacy groups and was committed to the highest environmental and social standards.
“As such we have declined transactions where the origin of oil is verifiably associated with breaches of our standards, such as indigenous peoples’ land rights or UNESCO World Heritage Sites,” the bank said.
Natixis, meanwhile, financed cargoes of 5.5 million barrels of oil from the Ecuadorean Amazon from July to December — more than double the volume it backed in the first half of the year, according to an analysis of U.S. customs data by Stand.earth and Amazon Watch.
Natixis said that it continued to “proactively” screen transactions for potential environmental or social risks, and understood that financing Ecuador’s oil exports could encourage plans by the industry to expand into the Yasuni National Park.
“Given this situation, Natixis has declined to finance any new clients involved in oil exports from Ecuador since mid-2020 and has reduced the number of existing clients it works with in this area,” a Natixis spokesperson said.
With oil output of around 0.5 million barrels per day, or 0.5% of global volumes, according to BP’s statistical review, Ecuador ranks as a mid-sized producer. Much of its oil is used to pay the country’s debts to China.
The move by the banks could complicate the export of crude oil from Ecuador. Oil trading companies that were working with them must find other banks to back their transactions with refineries.
“Any banks involved in this trade will face growing scrutiny, unless Ecuador’s government puts a moratorium on new drilling, and addresses the environmental damage and rights violations caused by existing production,” said Tzeporah Berman, international programmes director at Stand.earth.
“Ecuador is going to need support to get out from under crushing debt, but new drilling in primary forests without consent from indigenous peoples is not the solution,” she said.
Ecuador’s oil industry says taking care of the environment and maintaining a harmonious relationship with people living in its operational areas is a priority. Petroecuador, the state-owned oil company, did not respond to a request for comment.
While the value of crude cargoes from the Amazon runs into the billions of dollars annually, some investors say the reputational risks of financing such trades — from which major banks derive only a fraction of their earnings — are rising.
“Where investors see a mismatch between banks’ sustainability commitments and actions on the ground, investors will take steps to encourage change,” said Bruce Duguid, head of stewardship at the governance advisory arm of British asset manager Federated Hermes.
(Reporting by Matthew Green and Simon Jessop in LONDON and Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi in ZURICH; additional reporting by Alexandra Valencia in QUITO and Dmitry Zhdannikov in LONDON; Editing by Rachel Armstrong and David Gregorio)
Foxconn chairman says expects “limited impact” from chip shortage on clients
TAIPEI (Reuters) – The chairman of Apple Inc supplier Foxconn said on Saturday he expects his company and its clients will face only “limited impact” from a chip shortage that has rattled the global automotive and semiconductor industries.
“Since most of the customers we serve are large customers, they all have proper precautionary planning,” said Liu Young-way, chairman of the manufacturing conglomerate formally known as Hon Hai Precision Industry Co Ltd
“Therefore, the impact on these large customers is there, but limited,” he told reporters.
Liu said he expected the company to do well in the first half of 2021, “especially as the pandemic is easing and demand is still being sustained.”
The global spread of COVID-19 has increased demand for laptops, gaming consoles, and other electronics. This caused chip manufacturers to reallocate capacity away from the automotive sector, which was expecting a steep downturn.
Now, car manufacturers such as Volkswagen AG, General Motors Co and Ford Motor Co have cut output as chip capacity has shrunk.
Counterpoint Research says the shortage has extended to the smartphone sector, with application processors, display driver chips, and power management chips all facing a crunch.
However, the research firm predicts Apple will face a minimal impact, due to its large size and its suppliers’ tendency to prioritise it. Apple is Foxconn’s largest customer.
Foxconn is looking at other areas for growth, including in electric vehicles (EVs), and Liu said their EV development platform MIH now had 736 partner companies participating.
He expected it would have two or three models to show by the fourth quarter, though did not expect EVs to make an obvious contribution to company earnings until 2023.
Liu also said the company was still looking for semiconductor fab purchase opportunities in Southeast Asia after not winning a bid to take over a stake in Malaysia-based 8-inch foundry house Silterra.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Jeanny Kao; Writing by Josh Horwitz; Editing by William Mallard and Ana Nicolaci da Costa)
EU seeks alliance with U.S. on climate change, tech rules
By Sabine Siebold and Kate Abnett
BERLIN (Reuters) – Europe and the United States should join forces in the fight against climate change and agree on a new framework for the digital market, limiting the power of big tech companies, European Union chief executive Ursula von der Leyen said.
“I am sure: A shared transatlantic commitment to a net-zero emissions pathway by 2050 would make climate neutrality a new global benchmark,” the president of the European Commission said in a speech at the virtual Munich Security Conference on Friday.
“Together, we could create a digital economy rulebook that is valid worldwide: a set of rules based on our values, human rights and pluralism, inclusion and the protection of privacy.”
The EU has pledged to cut its net greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050, while President Joe Biden has committed the United States to become a “net zero economy” by 2050.
Scientists say the world must reach net zero emissions by 2050 to limit global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial times and avert the most catastrophic impacts of climate change.
The hope is that a transatlantic alliance could help persuade large emitters who have yet to commit to this timeline – including China, which is aiming for carbon neutrality by 2060, and India.
“The United States is our natural partner for global leadership on climate change,” von der Leyen said.
She called the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol a turning point for the discussion on the impact social media has on democracies.
“Of course, imposing democratic limits on the uncontrolled power of big tech companies alone will not stop political violence,” von der Leyen said. “But it is an important step.”
She was referring to a draft set of rules unveiled in December which aims to rein in tech companies that control troves of data and online platforms relied on by thousands of companies and millions of Europeans for work and social interactions.
They show the European Commission’s frustration with its antitrust cases against the tech giants, notably Alphabet Inc’s Google, which critics say have not addressed the problem.
But they also risk inflaming tensions with Washington, already irked by Brussels’ attempts to tax U.S. tech firms more.
Von der Leyen said Facebook’s decision on a news blackout on Thursday in response to a forthcoming Australian law requiring it and Google to share revenue from news underscored the importance of a global approach to dealing with tech giants.
(Additional reporting by Foo Yun Chee; editing by Robin Emmott and Nick Macfie; editing by Jonathan Oatis)
Packaged food giants push direct online sales to gauge consumer tastes
By Siddharth Cavale and Nivedita Balu
(Reuters) – Packaged food giants including Kraft Heinz, General Mills and Kellogg are pushing sales of their products to consumers directly via their own online channels, in a quest to gather more data about shoppers’ purchasing habits.
Velveeta-cheese maker Kraft Heinz saw its e-commerce sales double in 2020, now representing more than 5% of its global sales, Chief Executive Miguel Patricio said at the virtual Consumer Analyst Group of New York (CAGNY) conference this week.
The company sells Heinz baked beans and tomato soup by subscription or in bundles directly to consumers on a “Heinz To Home” website in the United Kingdom, Australia and Europe.
Sales on the site are “giving us valuable insights into consumer behavior, enabling us to quickly test and learn from innovations,” Kraft’s head of international business, Rafael de Oliveira, said at the conference.
Kraft would continue to use the site as a channel to generate strong sales in developed markets, he said.
The company also counts sales of its products through marketplaces such as on Amazon.com and Walmart.com as part of its e-commerce sales.
U.S. shoppers spent on average $1,271 buying groceries online last year, 45% more than they did in 2019 as the pandemic spurred shopping online, according to market research firm Earnest Research. In contrast, the average dollars spent in stores rose only about 7% to $3,849.
PepsiCo sells products including Doritos, Quaker oats and Gatorade directly to consumers through two websites, pantryshop.com and snacks.com, both launched in 2020.
Chief Financial Officer Hugh Johnston said that more than 45% of the company’s capital investments over the next few years would be dedicated toward manufacturing capacity, automation, and a “ramping up of investments in our e-commerce channel.”
As major online retailers including Amazon.com and Walmart.com continue to gather valuable data on shoppers, many packaged food manufacturers are keen to gather their own data on shoppers, too.
“COVID (has) simply accelerated our digital growth and has provided us with yet another source of data and insight,” Monica McGurk, chief growth officer at breakfast cereal maker Kellogg Co., told the conference.
Kellogg, producer of Corn Flakes as well as Pringles chips, said on Wednesday it had launched a direct-to-consumer website focused on digestive wellness. The group plans to sell its new Mwell Microbiome Powder for gut health via the site to gather data on customer interest before it launches the product more widely.
E-commerce sales have doubled in the past year and now represent about 8.5% of the group’s $13.77 billion in annual sales, Kellogg said.
Pillsbury dough-maker General Mills also sees the benefits of tracking consumer habits more closely.
“We’re aggressively investing in data and analytics. We are gathering unparalleled insights from the first-party data we collect through our brand websites,” General Mills’ Chief Executive Jeffrey Harmening said at the conference.
On its Bettycrocker.com website, General Mills provides hundreds of recipes using Betty Crocker cake mixes and frosting. The site leads people to the closest store or an online retailer where they can purchase the products, thereby generating data for General Mills on what a particular customer from a certain zip code is buying. The company does not sell the food products directly on its website.
Consumers, however, may have to shell out more if they shop directly from brand websites.
Prices on the two PepsiCo sites, for example, were generally higher than those on Walmart.com or Amazon.com, Reuters checks show. On Walmart.com, for example, a 10 oz pack of Doritos Nacho Cheese was on sale for $2.50 compared to $4.29 on Pepsico’s website.
Kraft Heinz offers tins of soup, beans, pasta and baby food bundled into packs ranging from six to 25 items and costing between 10 and 20 pounds ($14.01-$28.03) on its UK website. It told Reuters the relatively higher prices of items and bundling of packs than on some other online marketplaces was to be able to eke out a margin after including delivery costs.
“Longer term, we see real value in this channel to be an insight and data channel for us,” Jean-Philippe Nier, head of e-commerce for Kraft Heinz’s business in the UK and Ireland, told Reuters. People are more prepared to order directly from manufacturers than they were before. The time is now.”
Graphic: Direct online sales to cross $20 billion in 2021 – https://graphics.reuters.com/PACKAGEDFOODS-ECOMMERCE/rlgpdexngvo/chart.png
($1 = 0.7137 pounds)
(Reporting by Siddharth Cavale and Nivedita Balu in Bengaluru; Editing by Vanessa O’Connell and Susan Fenton)
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