Boohoo partners with Kuwait’s Alshaya to grow Debenhams in Middle East

Boohoo partners with Kuwait’s Alshaya to grow Debenhams in Middle East
Last month Boohoo showed it had weathered negative publicity over its supply chain failings, reporting a 32 percent rise in first quarter sales. (Reuters)
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Updated 15 July 2021

Boohoo partners with Kuwait’s Alshaya to grow Debenhams in Middle East

Boohoo partners with Kuwait’s Alshaya to grow Debenhams in Middle East
  • Alshaya partnership will see Boohoo brands in Debenhams stores from Q4 2021
  • New Middle East online platform for Boohoo from early 2022

LONDON: British online fashion retailer Boohoo has formed a partnership with Kuwait-based Alshaya Group to build its Debenhams brand in the Middle East region, it said on Wednesday.
Boohoo, which sells clothing, shoes, accessories and beauty products aimed at 16 to 40-year olds, purchased the Debenhams brand out of administration for 55 million pounds ($76 million) in January.
It said Alshaya, a franchise operator which runs Debenhams stores in shopping malls, will have exclusive rights to operate the stores and a local e-commerce platform in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, Oman and Qatar.
Boohoo’s says it seeks to work with strategic wholesale partners in key regions to extend its reach. The Alshaya partnership will see Boohoo brands in Debenhams stores from the fourth quarter of 2021 and on a new local online platform across the Middle East from early 2022.
“The Debenhams brand has been popular in the region for a number of years so this is a great opportunity to build on the existing brand awareness, while expanding the product ranges and brands available to customers,” said Boohoo Chief Executive John Lyttle.
“It also offers a new route to market for brands within the boohoo group, raising their profile in a growing new market.”
Shares in Boohoo, down 15 percent so far this year, closed Tuesday at 291.4 pence, valuing the business at 3.7 billion pounds.
Last month Boohoo showed it had weathered negative publicity over its supply chain failings, reporting a 32 percent rise in first quarter sales, benefiting from rising demand as lockdown restrictions eased.


Super cruise ship sets sail from Saudi for first time

Super cruise ship sets sail from Saudi for first time
Updated 4 min 43 sec ago

Super cruise ship sets sail from Saudi for first time

Super cruise ship sets sail from Saudi for first time
  • Cruise headed to Aqaba in Jordan and Safaga in Egypt
  • Ship has a capacity of 4,500 passengers, one of the world's largest

RIYADH: A super cruise ship has departed Saudi Arabia for the first time, setting sail for regional waters as the Kingdom seeks to expand its tourism industry and diversify its oil-dependant economy.
The MSC Bellissima, a vessel longer than three football fields, departed for the first in a series of voyages from Jeddah Islamic Port to Aqaba in Jordan and Safaga in Egypt.
The launch of the service on Friday comes two days after Saudi Arabia opened its first cruise ship terminal at the port in Jeddah, on the kingdom’s west coast.
“The inauguration of the first cruise ship port represents an important step... to support the growth of the tourism sector in the kingdom,” Cruise Saudi managing director Fawaz Farooqi said, quoted by Saudi Press Agency.
Developing the tourism and leisure sector is one of the foundations of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 plan to prepare the Arab world’s largest economy for the post-oil era.
The Gulf country enacted a landmark decision in 2019 to offer tourist visas, relaxing rules that had largely restricted visits to business travelers and Muslim pilgrims.
Citizens from 49 countries — mostly European — had become eligible to apply to visit the kingdom, which has a population of around 35 million.
Constructed in France, the MSC Bellissima is 315 meters (345 yards) long and has a capacity of 4,500 passengers, making it one of the world’s largest cruise ships.
First launched in 2019 and operated by Swiss-based MSC Cruises, it will embark on 21 trips up until October 30.

GYMS, SWIMMING POOLS
The mammoth vessel has an array of amenities, including swimming pools, gyms, restaurants, cafes and ballrooms.
The price of journeys start at 2,195 riyals ($585), according to travel agencies, with some itineraries including Luxor in Egypt and Petra in Jordan.
Cruise Saudi, owned by the Kingdom’s Public Investment Fund, also struck a deal in April with MSC Cruises to launch winter voyages between November 2021 and March 2022.
These cruises will start out from Jeddah and Dammam on the eastern Gulf coast of Saudi Arabia in the hope of attracting 170,000 guests.
The global cruise industry has taken a severe hit as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, which has so far resulted in the death of more than four million people worldwide.
Saudi Arabia is accelerating a nationwide Covid-19 vaccination drive as it moves to revive tourism and host sports and entertainment events.
On Thursday the Kingdom announced that it will open its doors to fully-inoculated visitors.
MSC Bellissima’s crew stayed in quarantine for 14 days before the trip on Friday, according to Saudi state television.
Since becoming de facto leader in 2017, Prince Mohammed has introduced sweeping economic and social changes, including allowing women to drive, the reopening of cinemas, and allowing mixed-gender music concerts and other entertainment options.


Mining in the dark: how Lebanese crypto miners are dealing with the electricity crisis

Mining in the dark: how Lebanese crypto miners are dealing with the electricity crisis
Updated 17 min 28 sec ago

Mining in the dark: how Lebanese crypto miners are dealing with the electricity crisis

Mining in the dark: how Lebanese crypto miners are dealing with the electricity crisis
  • GPUs now mine $1-$5 of bitcoin every 4 hours vs. $10-$20 before power crisis
  • Mining rigs now powered by diesel

BEIRUT: Lebanese crypto miners are in trouble. Lebanon has plunged into near total darkness because of its recent electricity shortage crisis, leaving mining machines suspended mid-way in their operations and their owners writhing over their financial losses.

In the last two years, a growing number of Lebanese youths have turned to trading and mining cryptocurrency in a desperate attempt to gain financial freedom and secure the much-needed remittances of USD cash. This movement was spurred by distrust of the Lebanese banking sector, which has all but swallowed up people’s life savings.

Today, the electricity crisis constitutes a thorny problem for crypto miners who have invested a fortune in buying mining machines that were supposed to function 24/7, mining as many cryptocurrencies as possible.

“Before the electricity crisis, each GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) used to mine $10-$20 worth of bitcoin every four hours,” 34-year-old electrician Alaa Ayash, who is the co-owner of a gaming-turned-mining lounge in Mar Elias, Beirut, told Arab News. “Now they mine about $1-$5, almost a quarter of what they used to.”

What exactly happens when a mining machine is turned off due to an electricity shortage?

Put simply, mining is the process of getting rewarded for solving complex computational math problems with chosen cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin. The miners are actually being rewarded for completing a secure transaction using the blockchain. There is value to solving these problems because otherwise, there would be no way to securely exchange bitcoins. The transaction, however, stops when the electricity is cut off and there is a huge chance that the miners will not be rewarded with their bitcoins.

How are miners in Lebanon dealing with the electricity shortage?

Their first option is to rely on generators that run on diesel. These generators are effective in supplying the GPUs with electricity- until the diesel runs out, another thorny problem.

This comes after Lebanon has recently agreed to partially lift government subsidies on all kinds of fuel in a bid to ease their shortage. This also meant a significant increase in cost to the consumers who can no longer obtain fuel at the official exchange rate of 1,500 Lebanese pounds to the dollar, but instead must resort to the black market and bargain with fuel importers.

“One gallon of diesel used to cost around 30,000 Lebanese pounds,” said Ali Mortada, a Syrian janitor who is responsible for securing diesel to the building he works for. “Now it costs somewhere between 100,000 pounds and 150,000 pounds in the black market, if not more.”

“We used to pay 1,000,000 pounds monthly for the generator for our gaming lounge, with 12 GPUs included,” Ayash said. “Now we pay 3,000,000 pounds, sometimes more, because diesel is so expensive.”

Another issue that cannot be overlooked is the fact that crypto-mining is an overwhelmingly energy-hungry process that often consumes much more electricity than a generator can cover. In May, Iran blamed major power outages on illegal bitcoin mining and banned the latter after it was confirmed that 4.5 percent of all bitcoin mining this year has taken place in the Persian country. One wonders if Lebanese miners would share a similar fate.

Are there any substitutes for diesel when the fuel runs out?

There are two substitutes: UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) and computer batteries. The former device allows a computer to keep running for a short time when its primary power source is lost while providing protection from power surges. Meanwhile the batteries supply energy for two-to-three hours. Both devices can be purchased from local and international manufacturers (mainly China), but because of skyrocketing demand on behalf of crypto miners and dealers, they are constantly in short supply.

“Demand for UPS and batteries have certainly soared at our company,” said an employee who works at a Lebanese hardware manufacturing company. The employee wished to remain anonymous.

“We used to have orders of about three containers of UPSs per week, and now our orders are up to 12 containers a week. We can’t keep up with all that supply.” The employee added that she was worried that very high demand may translate to an increase in hardware prices, as was the case with GPUs in the last two years.

“Customers used to be able to import GPUs from the US for $300 in 2019. Now the prices are bordering $1,200 per GPU,” she said. “Everything is getting more expensive for mining. I wonder if it’s worth it.”

Indeed, if one were to add up the many costs of mining mentioned in this article and compare them to the meager income of $5 every four hours (as mentioned above), the numbers certainly don’t add up.

“I wish I wasn’t so hasty in my insistence to risk everything I have and give mining a shot,” said 28-year-old Sary Mohsen. Mohsen had sold two iPhones in order to buy two GPUs. “I joined a mining pool three months ago, right before bitcoin crashed, and things have been downhill ever since.”

Indeed, bitcoin’s decline in the past few months saw its value more than halve since its April peak of $63,745, falling below $30,000 on July 21. Bitcoin has since rebounded and was trading at $41,695 on July 31.

Another source of worry for miners who want to cash out but fear they will be missing out if bitcoin’s value rises again.

“I’m glad I cashed out my bitcoin when it was at its peak in [April],” a miner who goes by the gaming nickname Commando1 told The New Arab. “Today all bitcoin owners have no choice but to wait and hope bitcoin’s value rises again. I don’t envy their situation.”

If anything is keeping the youth in Lebanon hopeful about mining, it’s desperation and fear from the looming specter of unemployment and financial crisis. Whether all their efforts to keep their mining boat afloat turns out to be worth it, however, remains to be seen.


Global fashion’s workshop returns as Bangladesh factories reopen despite virus surge

Global fashion’s workshop returns as Bangladesh factories reopen despite virus surge
Updated 30 min 36 sec ago

Global fashion’s workshop returns as Bangladesh factories reopen despite virus surge

Global fashion’s workshop returns as Bangladesh factories reopen despite virus surge
  • Country’s 4,500 garment factories employ more than four million people
  • Nation suffered 80,000 pandemic deaths, experts predict

SHIMULIA, BANGLADESH: Hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshi garment workers rushed back to major cities Saturday, besieging train and bus stations, after the government said export factories could reopen despite a deadly coronavirus wave.
With the economy badly hit by the pandemic, the government excluded the factories that supply top brands in Europe and North America from a nationwide lockdown order.
Authorities had ordered factories, offices, transport and shops to close from July 23 to August 5 as daily coronavirus infections and deaths hit record levels.
Officially, Bangladesh has reported 1.2 million cases and more than 20,000 deaths. Experts say the real figures are at least four times higher.
The government said however that the country’s 4,500 garment factories, which employ more than four million people, can reopen from Sunday, sparking a rush back to industrial cities.
The influential garment factory owners had warned of “catastrophic” consequences if orders for foreign brands were not completed on time.
Hundreds of thousands who had gone back to their villages to celebrate the Eid al Adha Muslim festival and sit out the lockdown, headed to Dhaka in any available transport — some just walking in the monsoon rain.
At the Shimulia ferry station, 70 kilometers (45 miles) south of Dhaka, tens of thousands of workers waited hours for boats to take them to the capital.
Garment factory worker Mohammad Masum, 25, said he left his village before dawn, walked more than 30 kilometers (20 miles) and took rickshaws to get to the ferry port.
“Police stopped us at many checkpoints and the ferry was packed,” he said.
“It was a mad rush to get home when the lockdown was imposed and now we are in trouble again getting back to work,” Jubayer Ahmad, another worker, told AFP.
Bangladesh is the world’s second largest garment exporter after China and the industry has become the foundation of the economy for the country of 169 million people.
Mohammad Hatem, vice president of the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association, said up to $3 billion worth of export orders were at risk if factories had stayed closed.
“The brands would have diverted their orders to other countries,” Hatem told AFP.


How Islamic finance can help build a better future for all

Islamic finance products ‘aim to reduce the risk of asymmetric information and are contract-based, making them a natural fit for investors.’ (Shutterstock)
Islamic finance products ‘aim to reduce the risk of asymmetric information and are contract-based, making them a natural fit for investors.’ (Shutterstock)
Updated 31 July 2021

How Islamic finance can help build a better future for all

Islamic finance products ‘aim to reduce the risk of asymmetric information and are contract-based, making them a natural fit for investors.’ (Shutterstock)
  • Shariah-compliant finance is a rapidly growing industry that prioritizes sustainable expansion

LONDON: The Islamic finance investment model is a natural fit for investors looking to use their money ethically and sustainably, and could be a key industry in helping the world to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), experts have told Arab News.

Islamic finance takes a different approach from today’s profit-above-all investment orthodoxy.
It prioritizes low-risk investments, and avoids markets such as pork, alcohol and gambling — as well as barring the payment of interest and ensuring ethical governance.
Far from impeding growth, however, this alternative approach to investing is rapidly evolving into a booming industry, Martina Macpherson, senior vice president of partnerships and engagement at Moody’s ESG Solutions Group, told Arab News.
She and her team expect the industry to hold over $4 trillion in assets by 2030.
“Islamic finance (will) continue to expand in the next decade across regions and asset classes, and there is an opportunity for Islamic Finance and Shariah-compliant investments to align with the UN Sustainable Development Goals,” she said.
Aligned with Saudi Arabia’s own Vision 2030, the SDGs lay out a vision of a just, fair and prosperous world by 2030, codified into 17 interlinked goals designed by the UN as a “blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all.”
The growth of Islamic finance as an alternative investment model will help to meet these goals in two ways: By uncovering sustainable and ethical opportunities and by reducing risk, she said.
The “SDGs and Islamic finance share joint values and fundamentals,” she said. “They are ethically linked, asset-backed, focused on risk and opportunity management, and centered on good governance as well as stakeholder impact.”

FASTFACTS

• Islamic finance products a ‘natural fit’ for meeting the UN sustainable development goals — Moody’s.

• The growth of Islamic finance as an alternative investment model will help to meet these goals through uncovering sustainable and ethical opportunities and by reducing risk, says expert.

“Islamic finance products aim to reduce the risk of asymmetric information and are contract-based, making them a natural fit for institutional investors committed to positive impact.”
Much like the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, one of the central goals of the SDGs is to tackle climate change, and this is “one of the key areas for Islamic finance to synchronize with the SDGs,” Macpherson said.
Stella Cox, managing director of Islamic finance intermediary firm DDCAP Group, speaking with Arab News, echoed Macpherson’s views on the role that Islamic finance can play in addressing issues like climate change. She emphasized, however, the importance of developing “a set of common standards, laws and regulations that will ensure shared best practice” moving toward 2030.
This cooperation, she said, “should be perceived as opportunity, rather than challenge, and that opportunity will enable Shariah compliant firms to work more closely with others in addressing and providing solutions for the biggest environmental and social challenges that the world has ever faced.”
Samina Akram, managing director of Samak Ethical Finance, told Arab News that the importance of ethical investing has only grown as the millennial generation have been “exposed to the harsh realities of the conventional financial system” in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.
They have been turned off conventional investing by “bad governance, bad leadership, casino type banking, and a lack of transparency,” Akram said.
And critically, she added, “they want no part to play in damaging the environment.”


4IR can help KSA become a global hub for new drone technology

There were also key areas where 4IR technology could be used in the campaign against climate change. (SPA)
There were also key areas where 4IR technology could be used in the campaign against climate change. (SPA)
Updated 31 July 2021

4IR can help KSA become a global hub for new drone technology

There were also key areas where 4IR technology could be used in the campaign against climate change. (SPA)
  • Improving the Kingdom’s logistical infrastructure is a priority area of the Vision 2030 strategy

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia could become a global center for new drone technology under plans being advanced by the Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) recently inaugurated in Riyadh in partnership with the World Economic Forum (WEF).

Mansour Alsaleh, director of the center, told Arab News that heavy lift drone technology had been prioritized by the Kingdom as one of its 4IR projects. “Saudi Arabia can be a leading country in developing the regulatory framework for heavy-lift drones. It can be ahead of the world,” he said.
Heavy lift drone technology has advanced to a stage where it requires a more sophisticated regulatory framework, he said, not just in the Kingdom but globally, and these are being developed in partnership with the Saudi General Authority of Civil Aviation, the Ministry of Transport and Saudi Aramco. “The applications are endless,” Alsaleh said.
Advanced drones have been used to deliver vaccines in Africa in the course of the pandemic, and American drone manufacturers have also been accelerating their efforts to transport heavy loads — up to 500kg depending on the technology — to locations with poor access. Improving the Kingdom’s logistical infrastructure was identified as a priority area of the Vision 2030 strategy, and drones are seen as a key enhancer of existing transport systems.
“By integrating these two mutually supportive components of regulatory transformation and pilot tests, Saudi Arabia can be a model for the rest of the world while supporting its own industrial development and social goals,” the WEF said in a recent report of which Alsaleh was a co-author.

Mansour Alsaleh

Alsaleh said that the Kingdom had identified 70 opportunities to apply 4IR technologies, and was prioritizing plans in five other areas, apart from drone technology — artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), blockchain, government data systems, and “smart cities” such as NEOM.
Each potential project goes through four stages, he explained: Identifying and selection; framework development in partnership with other stakeholders; prototyping and testing; and scaling up within a regulatory framework.
At the recent two-day event run from Riyadh to celebrate the inauguration of the 4IR center, many speakers underlined the need for partnership between government and other parts of the economy and society. Alsaleh reinforced that view. “We are looking for an eco-system, involving the public and regulatory sector, along with private industry and research and academia. It is about having the right blend between those areas,” he said.
One of the challenges was to identify technology at an early stage and take it through the phases of “sandboxing” and testing to further development, even as a regulatory framework was being fully developed. “Sometimes you have just got to take the risk,” he said. Some experts have warned of the challenges associated with rapid technological development, such as vulnerability to cyberattack and concerns over data privacy, but Alsaleh was confident these issues could be met and overcome. “There is no one single recipe to solve these challenges, we need to tackle them one by one. But if we focus more on the benefits that will flow from 4IR technology, it will help you overcome the challenges. We have to minimize the risks from emerging technologies,” he said.
The impact of 4IR technologies cuts across all aspects of human social and economic activity, Alsaleh said. “You cannot limit it to one particular sector, it is everywhere. If you do not keep up with the pace and become an early adopter, you will fall behind,” he explained, underlining the need to strike a balance between the “explore” and “exploit” phases of a 4IR project. But he said that IoT and AI technologies had great market value and could be used in multiple different applications. “You never know what will be shaping the future,” he said.
There were also key areas where 4IR technology could be used in the campaign against climate change. “We have the Circular Carbon Economy initiative. To make a clean energy transition, 4IR must be at the heart of that,” Alsaleh said.
Advanced technologies have been crucial in helping confront the big issues presented by the pandemic, and some changes — such as remote working via virtual communication systems — may become a permanent feature of the post-pandemic world.
Saudi Arabia is one of 13 centers for 4IR around the world, and Alsaleh said the benefits would have global impact.

“Organizations such as the WEF and 4IR are reaching out to everybody. It is all accessible and everyone can benefit from the work,” he said.