Wal-Mart and Whole Foods are being encouraged in an online petition to embrace "ugly" fruit and vegetables. Citigroup has been ordered to pay $700 million to customers affected by misleading marketing. Twitter decided to change user backgrounds, which bothered users. China has finally lifted a 15-year ban on video game consoles. And businesses in the United States have significantly increased their lobbying efforts in the second quarter.
1. Wal-Mart, Whole Foods Urged to Sell 'Ugly' Produce
John Oliver, host of HBO’s "Last Week Tonight," produced a very interesting segment last week in which he delved into the world of food waste. Ostensibly, many Western countries waste tens of billions of dollars of food every single year. Consumers aren’t the only to blame, but grocers and suppliers are as well.
A new online petition is encouraging Wal-Mart, Whole Foods Market and other grocers to start selling, promoting and discounting "ugly" fruit and vegetables. Ugly produce is when a peach, an apple, a zucchini or red pepper looks imperfect, and it’s something customers don’t want to purchase.
Food manufacturers and researchers say the imperfect produce tastes just as good as other produce that looks perfect.
Jordan Figueredo, a 36-year-old sanitation worker in Casto Valley, launched an online petition on Change.org. The petition wants food stores to not only sell, but also create a promotional campaign for the imperfect fruit and to discount it between 30 and 50 percent.
At the time of this writing, the petition has more than 6,000 signatures and needs 7,500.
Here is an excerpt from the petition:
"Yet, we throw away nearly 26% of all produce before it even reaches the grocery store due mostly to cosmetic standards from large grocers that dictate exactly how fruits and veggies should look. If produce fails to make the grade for size, shape, or color, retailers deem it ’ugly’ and refuse to sell it in their stores. Billions of pounds of good, healthy produce go uneaten because it’s not pretty!”
Nutritionist Stefanie Sacks, author of "What the Fork Are You Eating?" co-sponsored the petition. Writing in a blog post on The Huffington Post, Sacks purports that imperfect and smaller fruits and vegetables are just as nutritious and tastes better because water and sugar can have the right balance.
2. Citigroup Ordered to Pay Victims $700 Million
The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB) has ordered Citigroup and its subsidiaries to pay $700 million in consumer relief for its deception and misleading credit card marketing efforts. The consumer finance watchdog confirmed last week that more than seven million customers were affected by Citi’s marketing practices.
It was discovered that Citi had misrepresented costs and fees and charged customers for services they never received. This took place between 2003 and 2012. Here is a list of some of the acts:
- Charged 1.8 million customer accounts for same-day payment fees while collecting payments.
- Applied a $14.95 per account charge as a so-called processing fee.
- Used vague and misleading language to garner customers to sign up for a service without authorization.
- Urged telemarketers to promote a 30-day free trial for debt protection coverage, even if they were ineligible.
- Stated its fraud-alert services would contact customers when fraudulent purchases took place. Unfortunately, the only alerts were for changes in client credit files looked after by major credit reporting firms.
CFPB Director Richard Cordray said in a statement:
"We continue to uncover illegal credit card add-on practices that are costing unknowing consumers millions of dollars. In our four years (of existence), this is the tenth action we’ve taken against companies in this space for deceiving consumers.”
Citi and its subsidiaries will pay $479 million for 4.8 million consumer accounts affected by the marketing and $196 million to 2.2 million consumer accounts which did not get the credit services. Also, the company will pay $35 million in civil penalties to the CFPB and an additional $35 million to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. Department Stores National Bank will pay $23.8 million to 1.8 million consumer accounts.
Customers will automatically receive a statement of credit or check. Individuals without accounts at Citi will start to be eligible for a mailed check beginning in 2016.
3. Twitter Changes Background, Irks Users
You may have noticed that Twitter removed your background wallpaper from your timeline. The microblogging website quietly confirmed that it has officially deleted background wallpapers from users’ timelines. The feature allowed users to upload their own background images as they browse through the website. As of now, users will have a standard light grey background.
The positive news, however: background images will stay visible when the user’s feed or tweet is viewed. A Twitter spokesperson said in a statement to Engadget:
"We’re removing background images from the home and notifications timelines on web for all users. Now, background images are only available where logged-in users will see them publicly (Tweet pages, list pages and collections pages). You can find help center content about customizing your design and where it’s visible on Twitter.”
The social network didn’t give a specific reason for the change. But many people have hypothesized that this is for its advertising initiatives. Indeed, since Twitter wants to increase its ad revenues, it could sell a full background advertisement, a popular and lucrative tool for websites.
This couldn’t be done before because of users’ background images. Now that it’s gone, Twitter could finally launch this style of advertising.
4. China Lifts 15-Year Ban on Video Game Consoles
Gamers in China, rejoice! The federal government has finally removed its prohibition on video game consoles after 15 years. This means citizens can finally, and legally, enter the world of gaming, which will now establish an entirely new market for gaming companies.
China’s Ministry of Culture lifted the ban after it concluded that the Shanghai Free Trade Zone, an experimental economic reform program, was successful. Prior to the removal of the ban, the video game industry could only work within the free trade zone started in 2013. With the removal, gaming consoles can be sold beyond the zone.
Microsoft and Sony have already confirmed plans to produce game consoles in China. Meanwhile, Nintendo has conceded that it will continue its research and study of the Chinese market. Sousuke Kamei, Sony Computer Entertainment representative, told the Associated Press:
"We welcome the move. We remain committed to delivering fun and exciting console gaming experiences to as many Chinese users as possible."
It isn’t all wines and roses, however. Video game vendors are still required to work under strict regulations. Manufacturers must purchase a government-issued business license and not purport messages that may "harm national unity, or violate public morality." Moreover, the government still has the power to ban game titles that could be politically controversial.
5. Businesses Boost Lobbying Efforts in Second Quarter
Last week, former Florida Republican Governor and 2016 presidential candidate Jeb Bush lambasted the immense amount of lobbying that occurs in Washington and influences legislation. During a speech at Florida State University Bush said:
“The overspending, the overreaching, the arrogance, the sheer incompetence of the city are sometimes treated as though it’s a fact of life. But a president should never accept it and I will not. We need a president willing to challenge the whole culture in our nation’s capital – and I mean to do it.”
Although Bush himself was a lobbyist and helped carry favor, some of the latest influx of data suggest companies are increasing their amount of lobbying ahead of next year’s general election.
An example: Amazon, Apple and Facebook spent a total of roughly $5 million in lobbying politicians in the second quarter of 2015. Amazon ramped up lobbying spending by 103 percent to $2.15 million, Facebook boosted lobbying by 27 percent to $2.69 million and Apple raised its lobbying efforts by 47 percent to $1.23 million.
Boeing and General Election also spent huge sums of money. Boeing and GE doled out a total of more than $16 million: $8.1 million and $8.5 million, respectively. The two companies are attempting to help revitalize the government-owned Export-Import Bank and to garner the support from Republican and Democratic politicians.
These were the major business headlines from last week, if we’ve missed anything please share with us in the comment box below.