COMPANY NEWS IN BRIEF

22 February 2021 | Business

South Africa to investigate Sasol operations

South Africa's Environmental Ministry said it would investigate whether petrochemical company Sasol's Secunda operations could be the source of a sulphur smell experienced in parts of Gauteng and Mpumalanga provinces since the weekend.

The Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries said the smell was likely a combination of elevated levels of sulphur dioxide and hydrogen sulphide.

Sasol said in a statement on its website that its Secunda operations did not have any operational incidents that could have resulted in an increase in sulphur emissions.

The company said it had also started an investigation to assist in identifying the area of origin of the sulphur odour experienced in the region. Sasol said it could not immediately comment further.

The ministry said it would decide on any further course of action once the investigations were completed. - Nampa/Reuters

SA’s Truworths to enter budget clothing market

South Africa's Truworths International is entering the highly competitive budget clothing market with a new brand to be launched in 15 stores, looking to adapt to changing shopping habits since the emergence of the novel coronavirus.

The global apparel industry is reeling from a punishing 2020, when shops were forced to close to prevent the spread of the virus and consumers switched formal dresses for sweat pants. Shoppers also prioritised essentials over clothes.

The move will help attract young, casual yet fashionable, but on a budget, shoppers into Truworths' stable of high priced formal and glamorous clothing brands.

Announcing details of Truworths' many new store concepts and brands at a results presentation, group CEO Michael Mark told analysts that the aspirational value-brand, to be called Primark, "won't be at a low margin. We're an aspirational business and we prefer higher margins."

South African fashion retailers are trying to improve their ability to quickly deliver batches of the latest designs to consumers by producing clothes locally, at a time when retailers are struggling to adapt to changing shopping habits.- Nampa/Reuters

WhatsApp to move ahead with privacy update

Facebook Inc's WhatsApp said on Thursday it will go ahead with its controversial privacy policy update but will allow users to read it at "their own pace" and will also display a banner providing additional information.

In January, the messaging platform informed users it was preparing a new privacy policy, under which it could share limited user data with Facebook and its group firms.

It sparked a global outcry and sent users to rival apps Telegram and Signal, among others, prompting WhatsApp to delay the new policy launch to May and to clarify the update was focused on allowing users to message with businesses and would not affect personal conversations.

In India, the messaging app's biggest user base, Facebook executives fielded questions from a parliamentary panel on the need for the changes, days after the country's technology ministry asked the messaging platform to withdraw them.

WhatsApp's announcement comes as parent Facebook moved to block all news content in Australia on Thursday, facing backlash from publishers and politicians, prompting a senior British lawmaker to label the move as an attempt to bully a democracy. - Nampa/Reuters

Google fires second AI ethics leader

Alphabet Inc’s Google fired staff scientist Margaret Mitchell on Friday, they both said, a move that fanned company divisions on academic freedom and diversity that were on display since its December dismissal of AI ethics researcher Timnit Gebru.

Google said in a statement Mitchell violated the company’s code of conduct and security policies by moving electronic files outside the company. Mitchell, who announced her firing on Twitter, did not respond to a request for comment.

Google’s ethics in artificial intelligence work has been under scrutiny since the firing of Gebru, a scientist who gained prominence for exposing bias in facial analysis systems.

The dismissal prompted thousands of Google workers to protest. She and Mitchell had called for greater diversity and inclusion among Google’s research staff and expressed concern that the company was starting to censor papers critical of its products.

Gebru said Google fired her after she questioned an order not to publish a study saying AI that mimics language could hurt marginalized populations. Mitchell, a co-author of the paper, publicly criticized the company for firing Gebru and undermining the credibility of her work. -Nampa/Reuters

Italy's Eni vows to become carbon neutral

Italy’s Eni on Friday became the latest energy group to increase its climate ambition with a promise to be carbon neutral by 2050, as it seeks to keep pace in an industry under mounting investor pressure to curb emissions.

Eni shares, which rose more than 3% after the plan, were up 1.2% by 1615 GMT versus a 0.5% rise in European oil and gas index.

“We commit to the full decarbonisation of all our products and processes by 2050,” Chief Executive Claudio Descalzi said. “Our plan is concrete, detailed, economically sustainable and technologically proven.”

In an update to a clean-up drive announced last year, Eni said it would cut absolute emissions by 25% by 2030, from 2018 levels, and by 65% by 2040.

Eni announced its plans after newly-appointed Prime Minister Mario Draghi at the weekend put climate change at the heart of his plans for Italy and said his government intends to boost renewable energy and green hydrogen production. -Nampa/Reuters

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