Twenty years ago today

Chico Mendes died exactly twenty years ago today, shot by landowners for organising rainforest workers and communities. An inspiring figure, he is not just a legend. He is now a musical … Amazonia.

The age of stupid

Liz Laine, who leads on sustainable energy at Consumer Focus from the new year, tells me she is one of the ‘crowd Pete Postlewaitefunders’ of a new film – The Age of Stupid. The film is due for launch in March 2009 and stars Pete Postlethwaite, looking back from the mess of a globally warmed planet to what went wrong in our age today.

The Directors are Franny Armstrong (McLibel) and John Battsek (One Day in September) and the complete costs of the film were raised by subscriptions from hundreds of people, who now have a share in the venture. I see Fred Mulder, Anaradha Vittachi, Mark B are in the crowd too. You can still buy Age of Stupid stickers, fair trade T-shirts and compost bin too to help out. The organisers hope to use the same model of ‘crowd funding’ to raise the costs for a campaign, ‘not stupid’, to go along with the film.

Smart activism!

New semantics

Have you noticed that nationalising the banks is now called ‘recapitalisation’ and part-privatising Royal Mail is called ‘partnership’…

Do and die

“Modernise or decline” is the title of the review by Richard Hooper launched today on the mail market. It is a self-styled ‘do or die’ menu for Royal Mail and it is genuinely an interesting mix – part privatise the mail operations, renationalise the pensions obligations and hand over regulation to the communications watchdog Ofcom.

Will it work? I don’t know. There must be questions about whether Post Office Limited floats free in future and how we avoid lame duck regulation in the run up to an important price review for 2010. It is right though that the future of post is bound up in communications – if we think of mail as information you send for the personal attention of someone else, then texting, email, IM, twitter and all are signs of a vibrant if fast changing mail market.

Personally, I guess it is right to press ahead quickly if this is what government decides it wants. It does at least offer a chance to reverse the long years of underinvestment in Royal Mail. One speaker at the launch by the way accidently referred to the name of the report as “Modernise and Decline”…

Do and die doesn’t sound quite so hopeful…

Goodbye Woolworths

For me, Woolworths is happy memories of toys and plastics stretching back to when I was knee high to a pic’n’mix counter.

In 1988, Nanci Griffith penned a song I recall – “Rita was sixteen years, hazel eyes and chestnut hair. She made the Woolworths counter shine.”

The Woolworths UK website now declares itself “curently undergoing essential maintenance.”

Goodbye, Woolies.

Big coffee

Starbucks – do you love them or hate them? header_logo1

Well, they may have tipped the scales a bit when Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks swung by London in recent days. He is promising that 100% of the Starbucks espresso coffee sold in the UK and Ireland will be fairtrade certified by the end of 2009.  That is the majority of Starbucks sales here. It is also part of a global plan to make them the world’s largest purchaser of fairtrade certified coffee.  Big coffee. Big love?

Consumer brains


I am discovering some beautiful minds here at Consumer Focus. From the Cardiff office, Kim and Peter were recently on BBC2 as a quiz team and, last night in Birmingham, as the Boards of the Consumer Focus family across the UK got together, the winning team is featured here – John, Nicola, Judith and Katherine. Katherine and colleagues also won the ‘curios’ quiz in Manchester at our inaugural all staff meeting.

Sample question: who is the Minister for Post?

(that one, I got)

Theatre ratings

mw03028Until the early 1800s, theatre reviews were simply advertisements placed by the promoters. One of the first independent reviewer was the journalist William Hazlitt (picture from the National Portrait Gallery) who gave consumers a chance of an unbiased commentary.

Pretty much all the major newspaper now tend to rate theatre productions numerically – out of five or ten. This is probably not good for the quality of writing that Hazlitt championed, but it does allow the media and web to offer comparative tables – a review of reviews. Perhaps this is what is meant by the semantic web – we will be able to type in our mood to a search engine (say ‘sad’) and bring up a recommendation of a play or film with seats free tonight…


Are children too exposed to sexual imagery through marketing and advertising?  Having done some research on children as consumers, I am giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament on this at their request. The session is covered in the Scotsman (with lively debate from readers).

The interesting story is around Playboy. The MSPs have written to Playboy out of concern at the sale of Playboy branded equipment for children – pencil cases and the like. And the CEO of Playboy – Christie Hefner, has written back to assure parliamentarians that not only has Playboy never marketed its products for children. It has never knowingly allowed its licensees to do the same. And they have strict guidelines that says that “Playboy products should not appear instore in the vicinity of brands that are more appropriate to children.”

Well, WH Smith appears to be a licensee as it sells vast numbers of Playboy school kit, which they say is a “fashion range”. But clearly no-one’s told them that, according to Payboy, they shouldn’t be. And the photo below taken by an activist Bath teenager (my thanks) just days ago suggests that the rule on not placing the bunny-adorned items close to children is clearly also flouted – here it is next to Hello Kitty.

I wonder why would companies sell porn icons as a fashion range for children. Could it be profit?