Discover more from The Chief Brief
Too hot to handle
Summer is well and truly here! I’m going to keep this week’s Chief Brief is short and sweet! You are all probably busy dealing with children on vacation, a lovely book on a beach or perhaps clicking glasses of wine with your friends! In my case, the sun is finally out today in London! It is an opportune moment to enjoy whatever version of summer I can get on this small, cloudy, rain-swept island (Yes, we in the U.K. do love whinging on about the weather!)
Thanks for reading The Chief Brief! Subscribe to receive new posts and support my work.
Cities across Europe (London is no exception) are emptying as expected, with tourists taking the place of residents and residents thronging to beaches across the Mediterranean. It’s hot (well, it is if you’re not in the U.K.)! But, summer is a tradition for Europe and even wildfires and 49-degree Celsius weather doesn’t seem to have put a dent in the annual European shutdown. Here in London, this is also the season when restaurant reservations are the easiest to get!
Boiling over - Rice bans
But get ready for the bill to skyrocket next time you’re enjoying the gorgeous new restaurant you finally got a table at. Food price inflation is set to make a comeback after the slight easing we’ve seen over the past few months.
If the damaging impact of Russia pulling out of the Black Sea Deal (which would have allowed wheat and corn supplies from Ukraine) wasn’t enough to deal with, fears of the looming El Niño and skyrocketing domestic prices have pushed India to initiate a rice export ban (with the exception of Basmati Rice) - All ahead of next year’s elections.
Why’s that important? Well, India makes up 40% of global rice production and rice is after all a water heavy crop. El Niño’s effect on rainfall this year is expected to be dramatic. India’s monsoons this year ahead of El Niño were already late in some regions, and in others it never hit. Late rains or no rain at all means the staple grain’s summer planting is down more than 26%, leading to fears over supplies and that obviously means higher prices.
Rice is not just the staple crop for the rich and poor in India, but by being integral to the diet of a whole country it is also a political crop. It can make or break elections, with government interventions expected when prices rise. And prices have jumped high enough for a government preparing for next year’s elections to get nervous.
According to India’s Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, “The Government has prohibited exports of food products like wheat flour and atta, rice, maida, etc to keep domestic supplies steady and curb the rise in prices. The impact of these measures is expected to be felt more significantly in the coming weeks and months.” That means we can expect a lot less of the carb to go around in the rest of the world.
The Hindu newspaper reports: “The effect of the ban will be most pronounced in the (India’s) neighbouring countries of Nepal and Bangladesh, the African countries of Madagascar, Benin, Kenya, and Ivory Coast, the Asian countries of Malaysia and Vietnam, and the UAE, which are all the biggest buyers of this non-basmati type of rice in absolute terms.” Read more at The Hindu.
The IMF says global grain prices, which are already at an 11-year high, could rise 10-15% or even higher if India’s rice ban stays. Even if you put aside the Ukraine war -the world’s hunger is about to get worse, especially if the world keeps boiling. Phenomenon like El Niño are now the biggest danger to our food security - leaving the world’s most vulnerable devastated and the middle class struggling. Read more about ‘the era of global boiling’ at the UN.
But if you set your summer barometer by U.K. weather, you’d think the world’s hottest July on record never happened. The absence of ‘boiling’ on this little island probably also explains the U.K. government’s lackadaisical approach to its own climate targets, with what’s becoming a clear roll back on all things climate change. Read more about the legal challenges to the U.K.’s revised climate strategy at The Financial Times.
Instead, the U.K. government has been quite busy bringing culture wars and sexist double standards to the country’s financial hub - the City.
Burnt by a former customer
CEO of NatWest bank Alison Rose this week learnt first-hand that politics trumps a stellar banking career, a genuine focus on sustainable finance, diversity and inclusion and critically for shareholders - leading NatWest into bumper profits after a messy decade.
It turns out that taking a stand on who your customer can/should be, will have tremendous blowback. Talking to a reporter about it, even more so. Read more about the scandal that ended NatWest’s first female CEO’s tenure, with the political right now baying for blood and her Dame-hood at The Telegraph.
If you missed right wing politician and Trump backer Nigel Farage’s battle against his former private bank Coutts and its parent bank NatWest, you probably also missed the U.K. government’s latest attempt to deflect from the real issues they are facing in terms of re-election (cost of living crisis, climate action, migration, etc etc). You can catch up with this handy timeline of the ‘he said’, ‘she said’, BBC reports, apologies, firings and that infamous Coutts’ memo that called Farage ‘racist’ ‘xenophobic’ and a ‘disingenuous grifter’ at The Guardian.
If you think the resignations of Alison, followed by her Coutts colleague Peter Flavel will be the end the matter, you’d be wrong. It looks like the financial sector will have a lot more politicking to deal with in the future, as the right hones its sights on what they label as ‘Woke Capitalism.’ Read more at The Financial Times.
Also, Alison’s departure also brings up the question of whether a female CEO was held to a different standard in this case? She did apologise for her error in speaking to the BBC’s business editor after all, but still lost her job. Bank CEOs have done far worse than talk to a reporter in crises past, apologised and kept their jobs.
Oh to be a fly on the wall when the Treasury and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak were debating the apt punishment for the boss of a bank that is private (though the government has 38.6% shareholding) who also brought them record profits!
Perhaps JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon’s comments in Luxemburg this week are meant only for male CEOs. He said in an interview that CEOs should be more outspoken.
“I think business needs to get properly involved to do the right thing for the country. They spend a lot of time doing the right thing for the company – and very often that isn’t necessarily the right thing for the country.” Read more at the Lux Times
Turns out the rules may be different for women. Especially women CEOs.
To an icon whose music got me through my teens, whose battle against ‘the man’ was iconic and inspirational, To a singer and writer whose music made me want to be better, do better - I’ll miss you Sinéad O'Connor, as will so many people you inspired to be true to themselves!
A legend whose music will keep us going for decades to come - Nothing Compares!