The first boardroom rule when commissioning an independent review after an alleged scandal is to commit to publishing the final document in its entirety. If the aim is transparency, there should be no half measures.
Boohoo failed on this front on Tuesday. The fast fashion group has asked Alison Levitt QC to investigate the supply chain in Leicester, but it hasn’t promised to put her report in the public domain in full. Instead, the company will “provide an update on the findings” in September. That’s not enough. The stance invites the suspicion that Boohoo will crow about the parts of the report it likes and massage the bad bits.
The model for how to conduct a review was provided by housebuilder Persimmon a couple of years ago. The charge in that case was shoddy workmanship on the houses, overseen by over-remunerated executives. Chairman Roger Devlin also summoned a QC to take a look and, critically, said at the outset that the report would be published in full.
Devlin honoured his word, even when the report’s contents were damning. The warts-and-all approach added weight to Persimmon’s pledges to reform. Going back to 2013, Barclays put on public display Sir Anthony Salz’s mammoth 244-page report into the bank’s culture and practices, commissioned after the Libor-rigging scandal.
It’s not clear why Boohoo thinks it is different, and why shareholders, customers, MPs and textile workers are supposed to be satisfied by a mere “update”. Mahmud Kamani, co-founder and executive chairman, should re-think. It’s Levitt’s voice that must be heard, not Boohoo’s summary of it. If Kamani won’t budge, then the non-executives, led by Brian Small, senior independent director, should make him.
What, no Kellogg’s corn flakes?
A revolution in online grocery shopping? Well, not exactly. Amazon’s willingness to throw millions of dollars or pounds at a venture should never be underestimated, but another round of hype for Amazon Fresh in the UK already feels a little stale.
For starters, the Amazonian monster – undoubtedly fearsome in the non-food jungle – has been pushing Fresh for four years in the UK, mainly in London, and hasn’t obviously upset the online growth of traditional supermarkets.
Amazon’s latest talk about launching “a nationwide online grocery service” later this year requires qualification. “Nationwide”, in Amazon-speak, doesn’t imply all parts of the UK. It means places further away from the south-east, with details to follow. The rate of rollout is yet to be seen.
The splashy element of the new pitch is the offer of free grocery delivery to members of the £79-a-year Prime service. That will be definitely be noticed by punters and will put downward pressure on delivery charges at Tesco, Sainsbury et al. But the product range also matters and Amazon’s current offer is an odd mash-up of Morrisons, Booths, Whole Foods, some big brands and some specialists. Yes, one can do a weekly shop on the site but there are basic gaps: no Kellogg’s corn flakes, for example.
Nor does Amazon bring any great technical wizardly. Groceries will be packed by hand, rather than by using robots that increasingly fill the company’s non-food warehouses. That’s an admission that online food delivery, involving chilled and frozen goods, is fiddly. Only Ocado (probably the business Amazon should have bid for five years ago when the shares were cheap) has managed true automation.
So judge Amazon’s success in UK groceries in another five years. Its triumph is not inevitable. UK supermarkets are actually quite good at the online game.
New man behind the wheel at Jaguar
Thierry Bolloré’s strategy review at Jaguar Land Rover shouldn’t take too long. The main conclusion should be obvious: the carmaker needs to get bigger in electric vehicles as quickly as possible.
The former Renault boss, the victim of a “coup”, as he put it, after the Carlos Ghosn affair, is an intriguing pick as new chief executive. He’s a cost-cutter, but he did get Renault into electric early, whereas Tata, JLR’s Indian owner, failed to capitalise.
The hard part, of course, is summoning the financial resources to catch up in electric. If the long-term destiny of JLR lies in an international partnership, make sure any alliance is happier than Renault’s with Nissan.
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