Bung culture …it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 16th July 2021

I suggested last week that the post-pandemic landscape has become something of a grifter’s paradise. More evidence has emerged this week to support that theory. First up, those pantomime villains at shipping companies have been eliciting more boos after it turns out they have been attempting to coerce companies to buy a range of expensive add-on services in order to bump themselves up the list for shipments. While the shipping companies are careful not to guarantee the ability to queue jump, it appears they have been gently hinting that they are open to “prioritising business which offers the best revenue / value potential.” To be fair, I suspect that many businesses adopt a similar strategy from time to time; you just get the feeling that shipping companies have stepped over the line from ‘maximising opportunities’ into full-on ‘greedy b******’ territory.

Taking naked greed to a whole other level, an employee of Tesco’s Far East Sourcing arm has been jailed after being found guilty of soliciting bribes and loans from a toy supplier, in tandem with a colleague who was based in the UK office, who thus far appears to have escaped punishment. The story has not been widely reported, but thanks to the person who sent me a link to a press release on the Hong Kong Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) website, I was able to do some digging and find out more about the case.

When we ran the story online earlier this week, it prompted quite a few people to get in touch with questions I don’t have all the answers to. I can’t be categorically certain of the identity of the person working in the UK who apparently masterminded the whole scam, although there are strong suspicions as to who was responsible. If my sources are correct, the person involved is no longer living and working in the UK, and no longer associated with the toy trade or working for a retailer. I have no idea whether he was ever pursued legally by Tesco: it may be that it was deemed too difficult to go after him, as he had left the business (and the UK) by the time it all came to light. I also don’t know the identity of the toy company who blew the whistle, although my understanding is that it wasn’t a UK toy supplier.

I do know that the alleged individual’s former colleagues are absolutely gutted: although wholly innocent, they feel a mixture of disbelief and anger, and feel their own good names and reputations are at risk of being tarnished by the sorry affair. This happened under their noses: it was perpetrated by someone they worked and socialised with for years. Ultimately, they feel let down by their former colleague, and genuinely surprised that he has been able to get away with it. For that reason alone, I wonder if Tesco should be thinking about doing the right thing and pursuing legal action against the main perpetrator.

When I first came into the toy market in the early 80s, it was no secret that this kind of activity was rife and for years it went largely unchecked. There isn’t room here for all the stories I could tell, but this was a time when at least one trade show existed to facilitate the handing over of brown envelopes to buyers, while one toy company once told me they kept a record of which buyers were open to ‘inducements.’ Things have changed massively since then; the advent of EPOS (after which there was a trail of stock and payments that was much harder to cover up), together with the changing of the old guard in retail buying, effectively saw the scurrilous behaviour of old washed away. These days, some buyers can’t even accept the offer of a cup of coffee from a supplier, yet alone the Christmas deliveries (or even holidays) that used to be on offer. I am fairly certain the Tesco case was an isolated incident, but it does inevitably raise suspicion across certain retail channels, especially where Far East operations are run entirely separately from their parent companies in Europe & the US and given a significant degree of operational freedom.

On to far more positive matters, there have been several notable appointments this week: Julie Taylor has joined MGA as sales director, while Becky Matthews has been promoted to the newly created role of sales and marketing director at Golden Bear following Julie’s departure. Elsewhere, Simone Inskip has joined Casdon Toys as marketing manager, where she will be responsible for the company’s new brand and marketing strategy. We wish them all the best in their respective new roles.

Finally, the US and the UK have once again decided to battle it out to see which of us can do the daftest thing (at least this time the ‘battlefield’ wasn’t the ballot box). On this occasion, the red, white and blue (stars and stripes) corner is represented by the company which thought it would be a good idea to make a working handgun customised with construction bricks. A real gun which looks like a toy…I mean, what could possibly go wrong?! Thank goodness Lego jumped all over it immediately, issuing a cease-and-desist order which was thankfully complied with by the company, which had presumably got what it wanted out of the monstrously dumb fiasco (i.e., free publicity). Meanwhile, in the red, white and blue (union jack) corner, we have the bloke who celebrated England’s appearance in its first major football final for 55 years by being photographed in Leicester Square ahead of the game with a lit flare protruding from his rear end, producing so much smoke that the Vatican wondered whether a new Pope was about to be announced. This in the week when we are about to see a marked change in the government’s Covid strategy, with the PM claiming that he trusts the Great British public to take ‘personal responsibility’ for their behaviour. This chap may just be the poster boy for just how much of a gamble this move is. Happy Freedom Day everyone!