Good morning and happy Passover. Here’s what you need to know in business and tech news for the week ahead. — Charlotte Cowles
What’s Up? (March 21-27)
Suez Canal Crunch
A giant container ship that ran aground and blocked the Suez Canal in Egypt has created an international boat traffic jam. More than 100 vessels carrying oil and goods destined for ports around the world are now stuck midroute, adding more stress to supply chains already overburdened by the pandemic. Workers digging the stuck ship out of the sludge warned that it may not be movable until next week. The canal provides the most direct shipping passage between Europe and Asia; without it, ships have to circumnavigate Africa, adding significant time, costs and danger to their voyage.
Big Tech’s Testimony
Lawmakers grilled the leaders of Facebook, Google and Twitter for five hours on Thursday about the connection between misinformation spread on their platforms and the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol. When asked directly, Twitter’s chief executive, Jack Dorsey, admitted publicly for the first time that his product had played a role in the uprising. (More characteristically, both Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Sundar Pichai of Google dodged the question.) The executives were also asked about how their companies enable racism and helped to spread falsehoods around Covid-19 vaccines. The hearing concluded with more calls to regulate the tech industry, but it remains to be seen what Congress will actually do.
China Strikes Back
A long list of Western brands including Tommy Hilfiger, H&M, Adidas, Nike and Burberry are feeling the chill of Chinese wallets snapping shut. The Chinese government is pushing consumers to boycott those companies after they pledged to stop using cotton produced in the region of Xinjiang, where the Chinese authorities are imprisoning ethnic minorities in detention camps. (The United States and several of its allies also imposed a new round of sanctions on Chinese officials earlier this month, citing human rights abuses that the Chinese government has continued to deny.) It’s unclear whether Beijing’s calls for a boycott will make a serious dent. Previous state-sponsored campaigns against brands like Apple and Starbucks haven’t had much success in deterring Chinese consumers from buying what they want.
What’s Next? (March 28-April 3)
New York lawmakers reached a deal to legalize recreational marijuana for adults 21 and over, opening the state to a potential $4.2 billion industry that could create tens of thousands of jobs and become one of the largest markets in the country. The law may be approved as soon as this week, although the first legal sales are probably more than a year away. Once up and running, marijuana commerce is expected to generate millions of dollars in tax revenue for the strapped state. Lawmakers have promised to reinvest a major chunk of that money in minority communities that have been disproportionately punished by drug policing in the past.
The Union Vote
Workers at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., will conclude a weekslong vote on Monday on whether to form a union. Notorious for its union-busting tactics (some of which are under legal scrutiny), Amazon has encouraged its workers to vote “no.” It also denied claims of harsh working conditions and lack of coronavirus safety protocols, and pointed out that its starting wage of $15 an hour is significantly higher than what workers could find elsewhere. If the union is approved, it would be a first for Amazon workers in the United States and could embolden labor movements across the country.
President Biden has outlined his next big plan for boosting the economy: a giant infrastructure package. The details are still in flux as administration officials shop around the proposal to members of Congress and industry leaders. But the broad strokes remain consistent with Mr. Biden’s campaign promises to make the economy more equitable, address climate change and bolster America’s manufacturing and technology industries in an escalating competition with China. Who will pay for the plan’s estimated $3 trillion costs? The administration has suggested that it may be financed in part through tax increases on corporations and the rich.
To combat pandemic Zoom fatigue (symptoms include dry eyes, forgetting to put on pants and compulsive lying about your video camera not working), Citigroup is introducing Zoom-free Fridays. Meanwhile, many businesses are offering free or discounted products — including doughnuts, yogurt and beer — to people who can demonstrate that they’ve gotten Covid vaccines. And Elon Musk, the chief executive of Tesla, is in trouble with the National Labor Relations Board, which upheld a ruling that he broke the law by firing a worker involved in union organizing and threatening others if they followed suit.
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