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Unilever to raise living standards across its value chain

The Unilever pledge:

  • Ensuring that everyone who directly provides goods and services to us earns at least a living wage or income by 2030.
  • Spending €2 billion annually with suppliers owned and managed by people from under-represented groups, by 2025.
  • Helping 5 million small and medium-sized businesses grow through access to skills, finance and technology, by 2025.
  • Increasing the number of diverse people involved in the production of our advertisements, both on-screen and behind the camera.
  • Ensuring that our employees are reskilled or upskilled by 2025, and have access to flexible employment options by 2030.
  • Equipping 10 million young people with essential skills to prepare them for job opportunities, by 2030.

Amazon pledges support on COVID-19 vaccines

Amazon sent a letter to newly inaugurated President Joe Biden on Wednesday offering to use its vast resources to assist with federal COVID-19 vaccination efforts.

The world’s largest online retailer has an agreement with a healthcare provider to administer vaccines at its facilities, Dave Clark, chief executive of Amazon’s worldwide consumer business, said in the letter. He added, “We are prepared to leverage our operations, information technology, and communications capabilities and expertise to assist your administration’s vaccination efforts.”

With over 800,000 employees in the US, Amazon is the nation's second-largest employer. Many employees are essential workers who cannot work from home. It urged that those essential workers, including those at Whole Foods Markets, "should receive the COVID-19 vaccine at the earliest appropriate time" and pledged to "assist them in that effort."

Big tech in the driving seat?

Microsoft has invested in Cruise, the General Motors driverless car unit.

This latest investment puts Cruise head-to-head with Waymo, the Google sister company, as the world’s most valuable autonomous driving start-up.

To unlock the potential of cloud computing for self-driving vehicles, Cruise will leverage Azure, Microsoft’s cloud and edge computing platform, to commercialize its unique autonomous vehicle solutions at scale. Microsoft, as Cruise’s preferred cloud provider, will also tap into Cruise’s deep industry expertise to enhance its customer-driven product innovation and serve transportation companies across the globe through continued investment in Azure.

Microsoft will join General Motors, Honda and institutional investors in a combined new equity investment of more than $2 billion in Cruise, bringing the post-money valuation of Cruise to $30 billion.

“Advances in digital technology are redefining every aspect of our work and life, including how we move people and goods. As Cruise and GM’s preferred cloud, we will apply the power of Azure to help them scale and make autonomous transportation mainstream.”

— Satya Nadella, CEO, Microsoft.

Port of Antwerp: contributing to safe and secure vaccine distribution

In order to cope with the Covid-19 pandemic, the life sciences and healthcare industry faces high expectations for the development and distribution of treatments and vaccines. This will push the limits of logistics chains.

Port of Antwerp has been discussing with several partners within the World Economic Forum to anticipate and to examine possible answers to the numerous challenges of this immense operation, not in the least to reach less developed countries and ensure access to the vaccine for everyone.

Distributing billions of vaccines poses an unprecedented logistical challenge and will push the boundaries of logistics chains. As the Port of Antwerp, we are already currently working with a number of partners within the World Economic Forum to find solutions to the various problems thrown up by this huge logistics operation. Not least to reach the people in less developed countries and ensure they have access to the vaccine.

— Jacques Vandermeiren, CEO Port of Antwerp

One out of every six medicines that are exported from Europe depart from Belgium, with half of them produced in Europe. Port of Antwerp is convinced that it is our societal responsibility to support organizations such as UNICEF and COVAX to ensure an equitable distribution and a worldwide access of the vaccine to those most-at-risk.

A successful outcome shall however result from a multimodal approach as the airfreight capacity might not suffice to assure intercontinental transport. The logistical question is not restricted to the transport of the vaccine itself, but also entails medical equipment needed in order to administer it.

As a community builder, Port of Antwerp has united all links in the supply chain to become the first maritime port in the world able to operate under European Good Distribution Practice (GDP) regulations.

The GDP ready status allows for the port to provide controlled temperature storage in large volumes for Covid-19 vaccines, close to the airports of Brussels and Liège. A balanced approach and a successful collaboration between governments, industries and businesses is indispensable in order to tackle the worldwide pandemic and enduring grip on Covid-19. Therefore, Port of Antwerp is convinced that sharing the maritime GDP guidelines with other ports in the future will be of added value.

Microsoft's Airband Initiative tackles the gaps in India's internet connection

AirJaldi, an Indian internet service provider, is helping to connect hundreds of thousands of people in rural and semi-urban pockets across India as part of Microsoft’s Airband Initiative, which aims to extend internet access to millions of people around the world.

A Common Services Center offering access to essential government e-services in Churni used to struggle with the village’s flaky internet connection. It was so unreliable many people simply chose to travel 65 kilometers (40 miles) to another town with better connectivity to do their online chores like filing legal documents or accessing government services.

Villagers queue up at Aakash Alokar’s Common Services Center in Churni. (Photo: Ashish Alokar for Microsoft)

India has the second largest online population in the world and the number of internet users in the country is multiplying fast. Nonetheless, there’s still plenty of room for growth. Some estimates say that only half of India’s 1.35 billion people have reliable internet access.

Microsoft officially launched the Airband Initiative in 2017 in the United States and expanded it globally two years later with a goal of extending internet access to 40 million unserved and underserved people worldwide—including in Africa, Latin America, Asia, and the US—by July 2022.

“Rural communities around the world lacking broadband access miss out on opportunities for digital transformation, including the ability to participate in the digital economy. We started the Airband Initiative to foster local partnerships with public and private sector organizations focused on bringing the internet to rural areas and building solutions and services that empower community members to achieve more.”

— Kevin Connolly, Director, Airband International, Microsoft.

Business highlights at The Davos Agenda: what to expect

Sarita Nayyar, Managing Director and Chief Operating Officer, World Economic Forum, joined the Virtual Press Conference on The Davos Agenda today to highlight the role of business in solving the world’s most complex issues.

She said, "Business leaders have partnered with us all through 2020 to bring innovative solutions and to expedite implementation. During The Davos Agenda, over 1,000 business leaders will join us to highlight many of these initiatives."

She talked about three of the initiatives, led by business, that will be showcased next week:

The COVID Action Platform

"As the pandemic unfolded last year, disrupting lives and livelihoods, we created the COVID Action Platform, where business leaders from all sectors came together. This cross-industry group supported the fastest, most coordinated, and successful global effort in history to develop tools to fight a difficult disease. This effort was part of the COVID-19 tools accelerator in partnership with WHO and it included facilitating rapid, largescale manufacturing of vaccines.

"More recently the Forum has engaged transportation and logistics companies to support UNICEF and COVAX countries to have fast and widespread distribution of vaccines. And while the pandemic is of course still front and centre and remains a priority, our health platform is also focused on some other health issues, one of which is Alzheimers. There are close to 10 million new cases of dementia each year, there is an urgent need for the type of collective action we witnessed during the COVID-19 pandemic. And during this week, global CEO initiatives on Alzheimers will advance much needed collaboration to develop new diagnostics and treatments."

Innovative Alliance on Digital Infrastructure

"Digital connectivity has been critical to our ability to work, to educate our children and to live our lives through this pandemic. However, nearly half the world STILL does not have access to the internet. This alliance, in partnership with business is an ambitious initiative to accelerate achieving universal access, by connecting the digital infrastructure of the 21st century to critical sectors of the economy."

Vision to achieve net-zero

"We just heard about the criticality of net-zero work. Cities account for nearly two thirds of the emissions on our planet and in order to keep the global temperature increases within 1.5 degrees or below, cities need to achieve net-zero emissions by mid-century. By taking a holistic approach across multiple sectors, cities can reduce their carbon emissions, create jobs and enable people to lead healthier lives."

Apple: racial equity initiative

Last June, Apple CEO Tim Cook announced that the company was launching a Racial Equity and Justice Initiative, pledging $100 million toward education, economic empowerment, and criminal justice reform.

Today the company announced multiple investments that fall within the initiative, which has been spearheaded by Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president of environment, policy, and social initiatives.

One investment is the Propel Center in Atlanta. Apple is building on its work with Historically Black Colleges and Universities as a founding partner and $25 million financial backer of the new Center, which will include both a physical campus and virtual platform for HBCU students and faculty.

The curriculum will be developed by Apple and cover topics like machine learning, social justice, entrepreneurship, and app development. Students will have access to potential internship and mentorship opportunities, both through the Propel Center and two new grants that will invest in HBCU engineering programs.