Your commercial news round-up: AI regulation, UK unemployment, authors boycott, single-use plastic

updated on 16 May 2024

Reading time: four minutes

The UK is set to co-host an AI safety summit to discuss regulation of the technology. The country is also experiencing a simultaneous rise in unemployment and wages. Plus, authors join forces in a boycott against fossil fuels and the Israel-Gaza war, and Marks & Spencer partners with a recycling technology company to trace the disposal of single-use plastic packaging. Read this week’s commercial news round-up to find out more.

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  • The UK government is taking steps towards legislating AI and is set to co-host a second safety summit alongside South Korea on 21 May and 22 May, which will discuss the risks of AI and how to mitigate them. Despite some positive signs, such as the UK’s partnership with the US AI Safety Institute and a £100 million investment to develop a strategy for regulating the emerging technology, progress is slow and little has changed since the first safety summit in November.

According to Lorraine Barnes, generative AI lead at Deloitte UK, the biggest threat to businesses is the rapid developments in AI regulation, as business leaders become increasingly worried about compliance with regulations and keeping up with changes. Nevertheless, Lord Chris Holmes, who introduced the AI bill last year, retains a positive outlook that the upcoming summit and the progress of the bill signals a growing commitment to addressing AI-related concerns. According to City A.M., the challenge for the UK remains to balance the regulation of AI while simultaneously fostering development and innovation.

  • A rise in wages coincides with an increase in unemployment as the UK faces economic uncertainty. Between January and March, the unemployment rate climbed to 4.3%, the highest in nearly a year, while wage growth remained strong at 2.4% with inflation considered. According to Liz McKeown, director of economic statistics at the Office for National Statistics, this marks the highest level of real pay growth in over two years.

Despite the positive wage growth, there are signs of a cooling job market, as job vacancies dropped by 26,000 to 898,000 and the ratio of unemployed individuals per job increased to 1.6, nearing pre-pandemic levels. The low number of job vacancies correlates to heightened competition among the unemployed. Chancellor Jeremy Hunt stated that wage increases would alleviate cost-of-living pressures and expressed confidence that we’ll start to see an increasing number of people in work. However, Alison McGovern, Labour’s acting shadow work and pension secretary, criticised the government for the worsening economic conditions, stating that "these damning new figures prove that things are just getting worse".

  • Over 200 authors have joined Fossil Free Books’ (FFB) initiative to pressure investment management firm Baillie Gifford to divest from fossil fuels. Notable authors demanding divestment include Naomi Klein, Sally Rooney and George Monbiot. FFB’s statement underlines Baillie Gifford’s heavy investment in the fossil fuel industry and in companies associated with Israeli industries, calling for the firm to not only divest from fossil fuels, but also “from companies profiting from Israeli, occupation and genocide”.

Baillie Gifford sponsors many major literary festivals and award ceremonies so literary organisations with relations to the firm "can expect escalation" and boycotting. Despite ongoing campaigning, Baillie Gifford remains a sponsor for the 2024 Edinburgh International Book Festival. If demands are not met, FFB threatens further disruptive actions, stating that “a literary industry free from fossil fuels, genocide and colonial violence is possible and it is necessary’’.

  • Marks & Spencer has announced its partnership with Polytag, a recycling technology company, to trace the disposal of plastic packaging. The technology prints an invisible QR code onto packaging, allowing it to be traced from production to the moment it’s scanned at recycling centres. The recycling company believes  tracing data can help inform supermarkets’ sustainability strategy and make recycling more rewarding for customers. Aldi, Co-op and Ocado are already using the QR codes.

Polytag is aiming to have more than 12 recycling centres across the UK, with M&S funding the installation of two readers at recycling sites in north London and Northern Ireland. This project coincides with retailers facing upcoming fees for plastic packaging disposal under the government’s extended producer responsibility (EPR) regime. Alice Rackley, chief executive of Polytag, says retailers could potentially use proper recycling of items as a reason to request reduced EPR fees. Rackley also states: “There is a massive single-use plastic crisis and we have got to start collecting data about it and to use that to try and sort it out.”

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