Microsoft, AFL-CIO reach deal on AI, labor neutrality


Zara pulled an advertising campaign featuring mannequins with missing limbs and statues wrapped in white from the front page of its website and app on Monday after it prompted calls by some pro-Palestine activists for a boycott of the fashion retailer.

Inditex (ITX.MC), which owns Zara, said the change was part of its normal procedure of refreshing content. It did not comment on the boycott calls but said the "Atelier" collection was conceived in July and the photos were taken in September. The war between Israel and Hamas began on Oct. 7

Zara's Instagram account saw tens of thousands of comments posted about the photos, many with Palestinian flags, while "#BoycottZara" was trending on messaging platform X.

In one of the photos, a model is pictured carrying a mannequin wrapped in white, in another a bust lies on the floor and another features a mannequin with no arms. Critics said they resembled photos of corpses in white shrouds in Gaza.

Zara said at the launch of the collection on Dec. 7 that it was inspired by men's tailoring from past centuries. The photos appear to show an artist's studio with ladders, packing materials, wooden crates, and cranes, and assistants wearing overalls.

The reaction highlights the heightened sensitivity international brands are navigating as fighting across Gaza intensifies and calls for company boycotts rise. The CEO of Web Summit resigned in October after comments he made on the Israel-Hamas conflict.

The photos, which were featured on Zara's online store home page on Monday morning, were no longer visible on the website or on its app by 1230 GMT.

A link on the UK website to Zara Atelier led to a page showcasing last year's collection.

The collection, of six jackets, is one of Zara's most expensive, priced from $229 for a grey wool blazer with chunky knit sleeves, to $799 for a studded leather jacket.

It's not the first time an advertising campaign has landed a fashion label in controversy.

French luxury group Kering last year set up a group-level position to oversee brand safety after advertising images from its label Balenciaga featuring children sparked a backlash that dented sales.

Dolce & Gabbana was removed from e-commerce sites in China in 2018 after a campaign showing models struggling to eat typical Italian food with chopsticks -- decried as racist by local celebrities and social media.

Zara last year came under fire from some Palestinians and Israelis after the head of the retailer's local franchise in Israel hosted a campaign event for an ultranationalist politician.

Egypt's government will raise the minimum wage paid by the private sector to 3,500 Egyptian pounds ($113) a month as of Jan. 1, according to a decision published in the official gazette on Monday.

The last time the government increased the minimum wage was on July 1, when it set it at 3,000 pounds.

Headline inflation in Egypt has risen sharply over the past two years, reaching a record 38% in September before slipping to 35.6% in November.

 Microsoft (MSFT.O) and the AFL-CIO union federation said Monday they had struck a deal whereby the U.S. software giant will remain neutral in efforts by unions to encourage workers to become members.

The two sides will also work together on the future of artificial intelligence, in a first-of-its-kind partnership on AI and the future of the workforce as business and labor grapple with the impact of the technology.

Microsoft President Brad Smith told Reuters the "neutrality agreement provides a high level of commitment and clarity as to how we'll work with the AFL-CIO and its affiliates if we have employees or even employees of suppliers who want to pursue the formation of a union."

The AFL-CIO is the largest federation of unions in the United States made up of 60 unions representing about 12.5 million workers.

AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler said Microsoft's position was in stark contrast to other tech companies that aggressively fought efforts to unionize. "Their positioning is -- if workers want to organize we shouldn't stand in their way," Shuler said. "Every company basically fights us when workers want to organize."

A Microsoft sign at the U.S. tech giant's offices in Issy-les-Moulineaux, near Paris

A Microsoft sign at the U.S. tech giant's offices in Issy-les-Moulineaux, near Paris, France, January 25, 2023. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes/File Photo Acquire Licensing Rights

Microsoft previously agreed to a legally binding labor neutrality agreement when Activision Blizzard employees expressed interest in joining a union as part of Microsoft's acquisition of the company.

Microsoft has a major partnership with ChatGPT maker OpenAI and is committed to pumping more than $10 billion into the startup. The surging popularity of so-called generative AI, which uses data to create new content like ChatGPT's human-sounding prose, could remake human society and make obsolete many jobs.

Smith said it was important for tech companies to design AI "with the needs of workers in mind and for workers to have a voice and provide feedback that influences the direction this technology takes."

Both the union and AFL-CIO have agreed to work jointly on public policy to ensure workers have the skills "as the country moves into the future."

Shuler and Smith are holding a joint event on Monday about AI and work. The goal of AI is to "boost the productivity of workers, reduce the drudgery in jobs" and translate those efficiency gains into higher standards of living, Smith said.

Shuler said workers want a voice in how AI gets deployed "And do I have a future pathway if indeed my job gets downgraded."

 The federal jury found Google's Play Store to be in violation of antitrust laws, based on a lawsuit filed by Epic Games. This decision, if upheld through the appeal process, could significantly impact how Google and Apple control the distribution of third-party apps on mobile devices. The jury agreed with Epic Games on all aspects, including Google's monopoly power in the Android app distribution and in-app billing services markets, as well as anticompetitive behavior that caused injury to Epic. Epic's CEO, Tim Sweeney, celebrated the verdict on social media, expressing gratitude for the support and emphasizing the need for "Free Fortnite!" On the other hand, Google's vice president for government affairs and public policy, Wilson White, stated the company's intention to challenge the verdict, highlighting their competition with Apple and other app stores. This legal battle stems from Epic's update to its Fortnite game in 2020, which allowed players to make direct in-app purchases, bypassing the standard 30% cut imposed by phone makers. Both Apple and Google removed Fortnite from their stores, leading to Epic's lawsuits alleging anti-competitive behavior and monopoly control.  

 Disney is just starting to pair its top franchises with leading game development studios, as explained by Sean Shoptaw, Disney's head of gaming. This marks a resurgence for Disney in the gaming industry, achieved by offering its iconic characters to top game publishers and elite developers. Notable successes include Marvel's Spider-Man 2 developed by Sony's Insomniac Games and Marvel Snap from Second Dinner. Although there are rumors of Disney considering acquiring a gaming giant like Electronic Arts, Disney is currently content with its strategic approach of collaborating with external developers.

Disney's gaming group, led by Shoptaw, consists of about 100 professionals working on licensing games connected to various Disney-owned properties. Instead of merely offering franchises to any interested developers, the team engages in dialogue with top studios to ensure the right fit. This approach has led to successful partnerships, such as the upcoming Indiana Jones game with Microsoft-owned MachineGames and Bethesda.

Disney also carefully manages release windows to prevent competing games within the same franchise from conflicting with each other. Despite challenges and some unsuccessful partnerships, Shoptaw remains open to working with studios again and acknowledges the inherent difficulty in game development.

Looking ahead, EA is working on Iron Man and Black Panther games, while Skydance is set to release another Black Panther game. Additionally, a significant Star Wars game is anticipated from Ubisoft, and a game based on Marvel's Blade was teased by Microsoft-owned Arkane at The Game Awards.  

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