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Apple to Require Employee Proof of COVID-19 Booster: Report

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By Reuters | Updated: 17 January 2022

Apple will require retail and corporate employees to provide proof of a COVID-19 booster shot, The Verge reported on Saturday, citing an internal email.

Starting January 24, unvaccinated employees or those who haven’t submitted proof of vaccination will need negative COVID-19 tests to enter Apple workplaces, the report said. The Verge said it was not immediately clear if the testing requirement applies to both corporate and retail employees.

“Due to waning efficacy of the primary series of COVID-19 vaccines and the emergence of highly transmissible variants such as Omicron, a booster shot is now part of staying up to date with your COVID-19 vaccination to protect against severe disease,” the memo read, according to The Verge.

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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Many companies in the US have been strengthening their COVID-19 rules, mandating vaccination and delaying back-to-office plans as the Omicron variant increases infections across the country.

This week, Facebook parent Meta Platforms mandated COVID-19 booster shots for all workers returning to offices. It also delayed US office reopenings to March 28, from an earlier plan of January 31.

Alphabet’s Google on Friday said it was temporarily mandating weekly COVID-19 tests for people entering its US offices.

A report by The Information said Amazon has offered its US warehouse workers $40 (roughly Rs. 2,970) to get a booster shot.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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US, EU Said to Halt Subsidy Race to Encourage Chips Production, Move to Be Announced Soon

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By Reuters | Updated: 16 May 2022

The United States and European Union will announce a joint effort to avert a “subsidy race” as they scramble to boost production of scarce semiconductor chips, a senior Biden administration official said.

The move will be unveiled at the second meeting of the US-EU Trade and Technology Council (TTC), taking place on Sunday and Monday in Paris.

The TTC pledged at an inauguration conference last year in Pittsburgh to deepen transatlantic cooperation to strengthen chip supply chains, curb China’s non-market trade practices, and take a more unified approach to regulating big, global technology firms.

“You’ll see us announce… a transatlantic approach to semiconductor investments aimed at ensuring security of supply,” a senior administration official told reporters in a call Friday previewing the meeting.

Both Washington and Brussels want to encourage chip investment, and to “do so in a coordinated fashion and don’t simply encourage a subsidy race,” the official added.

A persistent industry-wide shortage of chips has disrupted production in the automotive and electronics industries, forcing some firms to scale back production. But US legislation that would grant chipmakers $52 billion (roughly Rs. 4,03,970 crore) in funding to expand output has been stuck in Congress.

The official said an early warning system to pinpoint and address semiconductor supply chain disruptions would also be announced as part of the meeting, which will be headlined by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Commerce Department Secretary Gina Raimondo, and US Trade Representative Katherine Tai.

EU trade chief Valdis Dombrovskis and EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager will also participate, the official said.

The Council will also announce a new cooperation scheme which the official said was intended to combat disinformation online, such as false Russian claims related to its invasion of Ukraine. Moscow calls its actions in Ukraine a “special military operation.”

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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Facebook Owner Meta Criticises German Antitrust Order to Curb Data Collection, Calls it ‘Clearly Flawed’

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By Reuters | Updated: 10 May 2022

Meta Platforms, owner of Facebook, on Tuesday criticised a landmark German antitrust order to curb its data collection as ‘clearly flawed’ and which undermines EU data protection rules.

Meta’s criticism of the German antitrust watchdog came after the latter in 2019 said the world’s largest social network had abused its market power by collecting users’ data without their consent and ordered it to stop.

The competition enforcer said the data harvest included users’ browsing habits when they visited a website with a Facebook ‘like’ button on it – even if an internet surfer didn’t click on that button.

The German antitrust order was “clearly flawed” with its “far reaching restriction on Facebook’s data processing”, Meta lawyer Hans-Georg Kamann told the panel of 15 judges.

He criticised the German watchdog for not cooperating with the Irish data protection regulator which supervises Facebook because its European headquarters is in Ireland.

“The Bundeskartellamt has openly undermined the substantive and procedural requirements of GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) law,” Kamann said.

Joerg Nothdurft, lawyer for the German watchdog, dismissed the criticism, saying there had been contact with data protection regulators.

The German government defended the antitrust decision, saying that it was imperative for the competition enforcer to make data protection assessment as part of its investigation as online marketplaces use users’ data to gain market power.

The German order “serves the objective of protecting free competition” and was not about data protection, its lawyer Philipp Krueger said.

The case is C-252/21 Meta Platforms and others.

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Beijing Urges India to Treat Chinese Firms Fairly After Xiaomi Threat Claim

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By Reuters | Updated: 9 May 2022

China on Monday urged India to ensure Chinese companies operating in India were not discriminated against, after Xiaomi Corp said its executives there had faced threats of violence during questioning over alleged illegal remittances.

Reuters reported on Saturday that Xiaomi, the biggest smartphone seller in India, had outlined the alleged threat from officials of the Enforcement Directorate — which tackles financial crime in a court filing.

The Enforcement Directorate called the allegations untrue.

In late April it seized $725 million (roughly Rs. 5,600 crore) in Xiaomi’s India bank accounts, saying the firm had made illegal remittances abroad “in the guise of” royalty payments.

Xiaomi denies wrongdoing and says all its royalty payments are legitimate.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, asked about Xiaomi’s court filing, said Beijing resolutely upheld Chinese companies’ rights and interests.

“China hopes India will provide a fair, just, non-discriminatory business environment to Chinese companies with investments and operations in India, carry out investigations in compliance with the law, and enhance international investor confidence,” spokesperson Zhao Lijian told a news briefing in Beijing.

Neither the Enforcement Directorate, nor spokespeople for the government or Xiaomi, which has a 24 percent share of China’s smartphone market and around 1,500 staff there, immediately responded to Reuters requests for comment.

Many Chinese companies have struggled to do business in India since a clash between soldiers on the countries’ border in 2020. The government has cited security concerns in banning more than 300 Chinese apps since then — including TikTok — and tightened norms for Chinese companies investing in the country.

A court last week put on hold the Directorate’s move against Xiaomi’s accounts pending a hearing on May 12.

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Apple Supplier Quanta in Shanghai Faces Chaos Due to COVID-19 Lockdown: Report

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By Reuters | Updated: 9 May 2022

Quanta Shanghai Manufacturing City would seem like an ideal site to implement China’s “closed-loop” management system to prevent the spread of COVID that requires staff to live and work on-site in a secure bubble.

Sprawled over land the size of 20 football fields, the campus houses factories, living quarters for 40,000 workers, some living 12 per room, and even a supermarket.

But as COVID-19 breached Quanta’s defences, the system broke down into chaos on Thursday.

Videos posted online showed more than a hundred Quanta workers physically overwhelming security guards in hazmat suits and vaulting over factory gates to escape being trapped inside the factory amid rumours that workers on the floor that day tested positive for COVID.

The turmoil at Quanta underscores the struggles Shanghai faces to get its factories, many of them key links in global supply chains, back up to speed even as much of the city of 25 million remains locked down under China’s “dynamic-zero” COVID policy.

Taiwan-based Quanta puts together about three-quarters of Apple’s global MacBook production and also manufactures computer circuit boards for Tesla.

Quanta did not respond to a request for comment on the videos, which appeared on Chinese social media platforms before being taken down. Apple declined to comment and Tesla did not respond to a request for comment.

Quanta set up its closed-loop to restart work at the factory on April 18 with about 5 percent of its workforce, or 2,000 employees, with plans to triple that by April 22. Chinese state media touted the restart as an example of how Shanghai was keeping business open in the country’s biggest economic hub, while adhering to stringent COVID measures.

Daily cases

But cases have been reported daily at an address belonging to the campus from March 26 to May 4, according to Shanghai government data. Quanta has not disclosed the number of cases among its workers.

Calls seeking help to bring attention to positive cases which were not being isolated at Quanta began appearing on Weibo from April 6, five days after Shanghai implemented a city-wide lockdown.

More appeared throughout the month and employees began posting photos and accounts on Douyin, the Chinese equivalent of TikTok, that showed dozens of workers queuing for buses to be taken to central quarantine facilities.

They also took videos of themselves resting in Shanghai’s National Exhibition and Convention Center, one of the city’s largest quarantine centres, as well as at a facility purpose-built to house Quanta workers.

Reuters was not able to independently verify the footage, but two employees and a person with direct knowledge of the campus’s operations said there were multiple infections there.

“Each dormitory reported a few positive cases a day, and eventually everyone became positive,” said one of the two workers, who gave his surname as Li, adding that there were eight cases in his room, including him.

Employees said that cases were often not isolated for days after testing positive and the person with direct knowledge of the campus’s operations said there were not enough isolation spaces, resulting in continued infections.

That was a trigger for Thursday night’s chaos, employees said, as rumours spread that positive cases had been found among those working in the factories.

The workers were spooked by an order telling them not to return to their dormitories, raising fears that they could be locked down inside the plant.

While the videos of the fray were taken down by this weekend, discussion continued on Weibo and Douyin, with one user simply saying, “What a mess”.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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Xiaomi’s Allegations of Coercion Baseless, Enforcement Directorate Says

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By Press Trust of India | Updated: 7 May 2022

The Enforcement Directorate on Saturday rejected as “baseless” the allegations that the statements of Xiaomi India officials, the wholly-owned subsidiary of Chinese mobile manufacturing company Xiaomi, were recorded “under coercion”, saying the charges were an afterthought.

The federal agency was responding to certain news reports that said Xiaomi alleged in a recent filing before the Karnataka High Court that its top executives were threatened with “physical violence and coercion” during their questioning by ED investigators in Bengaluru.

The Enforcement Directorate (ED) issued a statement saying it was “a professional agency with strong work ethics and there was no coercion or threat to the officers of the company at any point of time”.

“The allegations that the statement of the officials of Xiaomi India was taken under coercion by ED is untrue and baseless.” “The officials of Xiaomi India deposed their statements before ED under FEMA voluntarily in the most conducive environment on various occasions,” the agency said.

It said the statements were deposed by them on the basis of documents and information provided by the company during the course of investigation.

“Their statements corroborate with the written replies submitted to ED and the material on record,” the agency said.

The development comes in the backdrop of ED passing an order on April 29 to seize Xiaomi India’s funds worth over Rs. 5,551 crore over the alleged violation of the Indian foreign exchange law (Foreign Exchange Management Act).

The Karnataka High Court earlier this week stayed this ED order.

The agency added that the statement of Xiaomi global vice president Manu Kumar Jain was recorded on four occasions, April 13, April 14, April 21 and April 26 while that of chief financial officer (CFO) Sameer B S Rao was recorded on six occasions.

Rao’s statement were recorded on March 25, April 14, April 19, April 21, April 22 and April 26, it said.

“However, no complaint was filed by them at any point of time during recording of statements at various occasions.” “Last statement of the officials of the company was recorded on 26.04.2022 and the seizure order was passed on 29.04.2022. It appears that allegation now made after passage of substantial time is an afterthought,” it said.

The agency said the allegations of Xiaomi are “baseless and far from the facts.” Xiaomi is a trader and distributor of mobile phones in the country under the brand name of MI.

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Xiaomi Said to Accuse Enforcement Directorate of ‘Physical Violence’ Threats During Probe

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By Reuters | Updated: 7 May 2022

Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi has alleged its top executives faced threats of “physical violence” and coercion during questioning by India’s financial crime fighting agency, according to a court filing seen by Reuters.

Officials from the Enforcement Directorate warned the company’s former India managing director, Manu Kumar Jain, current Chief Financial Officer Sameer BS Rao, and their families of “dire consequences” if they did not submit statements as desired by the agency, Xiaomi’s filing dated May 4 stated.

The Enforcement Directorate did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Xiaomi has been under investigation since February and last week the Indian agency seized $725 million (roughly Rs. 5,570 crore) lying in the company’s India bank accounts, saying it made illegal remittances abroad “in the guise of royalty” payments.

Xiaomi has denied any wrongdoing, saying its royalty payments were legitimate. On Thursday, a judge heard Xiaomi lawyers and put on hold the Indian agency’s decision to freeze bank assets. The next hearing is set for May 12.

The company alleges intimidation by India’s premier enforcement agency when executives appeared for questioning multiple times in April.

Jain and Rao were on certain occasions “threatened … with dire consequences including arrest, damage to the career prospects, criminal liability and physical violence if they did not give statements as per the dictates of” the agency, according to the filing in the High Court of southern Karnataka state.

The executives “were able to resist the pressure for some time, (but) they ultimately relented under such extreme and hostile abuse and pressure and involuntarily made some statements,” it added.

Xiaomi declined to comment citing pending legal proceedings. Jain and Rao did not respond to Reuters queries.

Jain is now Xiaomi’s global vice president based out of Dubai and is credited for Xiaomi’s rise in India, where its smartphones are hugely popular.

Xiaomi was the leading smartphone seller in 2021 with a 24 percent market share in India, according to Counterpoint Research. It also deals in other tech gadgets including smart watches and televisions, and has 1,500 employees in the country.

FIGHT OVER REMITTANCES

Many Chinese companies have struggled to do business in India due to political tensions following a border clash in 2020. India has cited security concerns in banning more than 300 Chinese apps since then and also tightened norms for Chinese companies investing in India.

Tax inspectors raided Xiaomi’s India offices in December. On receiving information from tax authorities, the Enforcement Directorate — which probes issues such as foreign exchange law violations — started reviewing Xiaomi’s royalty payments, court documents show.

The agency last week said Xiaomi Technology India Private Limited (XTIPL) remitted foreign currency equivalent of $725 million (roughly Rs. 5,570 crore) to entities abroad even though Xiaomi had “not availed any service” from them.

“Such huge amounts in the name of royalties were remitted on the instructions of their Chinese parent group entities,” the agency said.

Xiaomi’s court filing alleges that during the investigation, Indian agency officials “dictated and forced” Xiaomi India CFO Rao to include a sentence as part of his statement “under extreme duress” on April 26.

The line read: “I admit the royalty payments have been made by XTIPL as per the directions from certain persons in the Xiaomi group.”

A day later, on April 27, Rao withdrew the statement saying it was “not voluntary and made under coercion”, the filing shows.

The directorate issued an order to freeze assets in Xiaomi’s bank accounts two days later.

Xiaomi has said in a previous media statement it believes its royalty payments “are all legit and truthful” and the payments were made for “in-licensed technologies and IPs used in our Indian version products.”

Its court filing stated Xiaomi is “aggrieved for being targeted since some of its affiliate entities are based out of China”.

A Xiaomi spokesperson provided the following statement to Gadgets 360 about its reported accusation:

“The contents of the writ petition are confidential qua public at large. There seems to be a want to create some sort of sensationalism without considering the impact that it will have on the ED, Govt of India, and the company. This matter is subjudice and under the consideration of court of law. We refuse to comment on this. We reserve our rights in all respects and will take steps as we may be advised to safeguard our reputation.”

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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