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TALKING POINTS

Sephora has sweeping plan to address racial profiling, discriminatory practices in stores

Peter Foley/Bloomberg

COSMETICS

Sephora has sweeping plan to address racial profiling, discriminatory practices in stores

International makeup chain Sephora is implementing sweeping changes in its merchandising, marketing, and employee training practices in one of the most public efforts by a major retailer to mitigate the potential for racial profiling and other discriminatory practices at its stores. The initiative announced Wednesday is the culmination of customer and employee surveys, interviews, and academic research that have been underway since 2019. But issues around race and inequality took on new urgency following the summer’s Black Lives Matter protests and the police killing of George Floyd in May, executives said. The chain also has faced backlash from Black shoppers, including the rapper SZA and comedian Leslie Jones, who have spoken publicly about unfair treatment by its employees. Among the changes, Sephora is pledging to double its assortment of Black-owned brands, to 16, by the end of the year and create programs to help entrepreneurs of color. It also will enact new customer-greeting protocols so all shoppers are treated consistently, as well as reduce the presence of third-party security guards and police officers in its 500 US stores. Racism in retail, academics say, has become a persistent problem in an industry that relies heavily on personal interaction. More Black Americans — 24 percent — said they had been treated unfairly in a store within a 30-day period than at work, restaurants, bars, health care settings, or in police interactions, according to a Gallup poll conducted last summer. — WASHINGTON POST

AUTOMOTIVE

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NTSB warns about safety risks of electric vehicle fires

Electric vehicle fires pose safety risks to first responders and guidelines from manufacturers about how to deal with them have been inadequate, according to US investigators. There are also gaps in industry safety standards and research on high-voltage lithium-ion battery fires, especially in high-speed, severe crashes, the National Transportation Safety Board said Wednesday. The agency, which has no enforcement powers and can only make recommendations, called for manufacturers to write vehicle-specific response guides for fighting battery fires and limiting chemical thermal runaway and reignition. The guidelines also should include information on how to safely store vehicles with damaged lithium-ion batteries. The recommendations come at a time when automakers are rolling out multiple new electric vehicle models, with many in the industry perceiving an inflection point in switching from gasoline power to cleaner electricity. — ASSOCIATED PRESS

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RETAIL

Target sees sales soar during the holidays

Target said sales jumped during the holiday period, with the big-box retailer appearing to solidify some of the gains it made in a turbulent 2020. Same-store sales, an important gauge of retail success, rose 17 percent, the company said in a statement. That’s a slight slowdown from the 21 percent the company reported in the prior three months, but still a brisk pace for a well-established retailer. The results were underpinned by e-commerce and newer options like ordering online and picking up at the store, with curbside pickup surging 500 percent. — BLOOMBERG NEWS

ECONOMY

Prices up in December, led by gas

US consumer prices rose 0.4 percent in December, led by a sharp rise in gasoline prices. Last month’s increase, the largest in four months, followed a 0.2 percent rise in November and no change at all in October, according to Labor Department numbers released Wednesday. Inflation for all of 2020 rose a modest 1.4 percent, well below the Federal Reserve’s 2 percent. Analysts believe inflation will remain subdued with the US economy still unable to break out of a pandemic-induced downturn. — ASSOCIATED PRESS

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BEVERAGES

Molson Coors to market drink with CBD but no alcohol

Move over, Miller — it’s CBD time. Molson Coors Beverage Co., the beer maker better known for popular brands like Coors and Miller High Life, has a new candidate for a big-time brand. But the drink, known as Veryvell, contains CBD instead of alcohol. Pete Marino, president of the emerging growth division for Molson Coors, said in a phone interview that the company seeks to create a new mega-brand within three years. Veryvell is one of the non-alcoholic candidates from the division, which has already produced La Colombe coffee drinks and ZOA Energy drinks. Colorado, an early adopter of cannabis, will be a testing ground for the new brand. — BLOOMBERG NEWS

AUTOMOTIVE

Volkswagen sales plummeted in 2020 because of pandemic

German automaker Volkswagen said its global sales fell 15.2 percent during 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic but showed significant recovery toward the end of the year. The company more than tripled its sales of battery-only vehicles. Global sales for all of Volkswagen’s brands amounted to 9.3 million vehicles. The fourth quarter showed a smaller decline of 5.7 percent and within that quarter the month of December was still further improved, showing a shortfall of only 3.2 percent from the same period the year before. — ASSOCIATED PRESS

INTERNATIONAL

It’s not just frogs legs anymore

Insects just moved a step closer to European dinner plates. Dried yellow mealworm, the larval form of the mealworm beetle, is safe for human consumption in both its whole form and as a powder additive, the European Union’s food watchdog said Wednesday, ruling on an application by French insect farmer Micronutris. The European Food Safety Authority’s opinion is a first step before officials consider whether to approve sales of snacks, protein bars, cookies, and other foods containing the bugs as ingredients. — BLOOMBERG NEWS

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CRYPTOCURRENCY

ECB president accused Bitcoin of aiding “funny business”

European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde took aim at Bitcoin’s role in facilitating criminal activity, saying the cryptocurrency has been enabling “funny business.” “For those who had assumed that it might turn into a currency — terribly sorry, but this is an asset and it’s a highly speculative asset which has conducted some funny business and some interesting and totally reprehensible money-laundering activity,” Lagarde said in an online event organized by Reuters. The remarks, made in a conversation largely focused on the euro-area’s economic outlook, show top policymakers are taking notice as a speculative fever sweeps cryptocurrency markets. Bitcoin prices have more than doubled since November and topped a record $41,000 earlier this month. — BLOOMBERG NEWS

INTERNATIONAL

Any EU country can go after Facebook for privacy violations

Any EU country can take legal action against companies like Facebook over cross-border violations of data privacy rules, not just the main regulator in charge of the company, a top court adviser said Wednesday. The preliminary opinion is part of a long-running legal battle between Facebook and Belgium’s data protection authority over the company’s use of cookies to track the behavior of internet users, even those who weren’t members of the social network. The advice from the European Court of Justice’s Advocate General Michal Bobek also paves the way for an onslaught of fresh data privacy cases across the EU, experts said. Facebook argues that the Belgian watchdog, which launched the case in 2015, no longer has jurisdiction after the EU’s strict General Data Protection Regulation took effect in 2018. The company says that under GDPR, only one national data protection authority has the power to handle legal cases involving cross-border data complaints — a system known as “one-stop shop.’' In Facebook’s case, it’s the Data Protection Commission in Ireland, where the company’s European headquarters is based. — ASSOCIATED PRESS

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