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This is an audio transcript of the FT News Briefing podcast episode: Boris Johnson to host Afghanistan crisis talks

Taylor Nicole Rogers
Good morning from the Financial Times, today is Monday, August 23rd, and this is your FT News Briefing. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is preparing to meet with world leaders to discuss the crisis in Afghanistan. And in the US, cinema owners are gathering this week to grapple with the existential crisis in their own industry. Plus, I’ll be chatting with our employment columnist Sarah O’Connor about the spread of non-disclosure agreements. She says they’re not good for workers, but they’re also not good for companies.

Sarah O’Connor
If you as a good employer, want to distinguish yourself from other employers who perhaps don’t treat their workers so well, it’s harder to do that, actually, if there isn’t enough of a free flow of information about what’s working for various companies is really like.

Taylor Nicole Rogers
I’m Taylor Nicole Rogers, in for Marc Filippino. And here’s the news you need to start your day.

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Taylor Nicole Rogers
British prime minister Boris Johnson is preparing to host world leaders tomorrow for talks on the crisis in Afghanistan. He’s the chair of the G7. They’ll talk about evacuation arrangements for both Western nationals and Afghan citizens. Johnson also wants the talks to focus on a longer-term approach to the crisis. He accepts that China and Russia are now going to be major players in the region. Britain and France are now working on a UN Security Council resolution aimed at winning support from both Moscow and Beijing. The resolution will cover counter-terrorism and humanitarian aid and also terms of engagement with the Taliban.

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Taylor Nicole Rogers
American cinema owners are descending on Las Vegas this week to discuss what has been a miserable year in their industry. Many studios release blockbusters online and others are holding their films back from the theatres in hopes that Covid will soon recede. But the FT’s Christopher Grimes says things aren’t as bad now as they were last year.

Christopher Grimes
People have been going back to theatres in places like New York. You can go to a theatre if you prove that you’ve got a vaccine, so that’s better. But, you know, a lot of the studios have delayed releases. They’ve pushed back their blockbusters in hopes that they can release them in a better time Covid-wise. So you know, realistically, there’s probably not gonna be a big recovery possible for the cinema industry until next year. It all depends on Covid, really.

Taylor Nicole Rogers
Chris, there’s also been a lot of tension between the Hollywood film studios and the film distributors about streaming. Where does that leave cinema owners?

Christopher Grimes
Right. So this is a huge topic in Hollywood and certainly it’s topic A for the, or one of the big topics, for the cinema owners. We had a big shift this summer thanks to the pandemic, which was Warner Brothers and Disney Plus deciding to release some films on their streaming services at the same time as the films were in theatres. And this is a huge departure from how things have historically been done, where the theatre got its own window, where they had the movies to themselves, and that’s how they would rake up big box office takes over time. By going straight to streaming, this really hurts the cinemas. And they’re fighting back on that and are hoping to negotiate with the with the studios to get something. Maybe it’s not as long a window of exclusivity that they used to enjoy, but at least some window of exclusivity. And I think that discussion is gonna be going on for a while.

Taylor Nicole Rogers
Christopher Grimes is the FT’s Los Angeles bureau chief.

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Taylor Nicole Rogers
For many workers, signing non-disclosure agreements or NDAs is just another thing you have to do to start a new job. These agreements bar employees from saying or writing anything negative about their employer, even after they’ve left. But the MeToo movement, in particular Harvey Weinstein’s sexual assault case, shows just how troubling NDAs can be and not just for workers. The FT’s employment columnist Sara O’Connor says they’re also bad for companies. She’s here with me now to talk more about this. Hi, Sarah.

Sarah O’Connor
Hello.

Taylor Nicole Rogers
What are companies’ rationales for making so many workers sign non-disclosure agreements?

Sarah O’Connor
I think it’s just become a sort of boilerplate clause that is inserted into, as you say, new employees’ contracts. And I mean, this is sort of grown up over time, right? I mean, originally NDAs were used to protect trade secrets. You know, specific types of confidential information, which for very understandable reasons, you know, companies didn’t want employees blabbing about, particularly after they left. But as the years have gone on, they’ve become much broader in scope and also they extend to just many more different kinds of employees. So there’s new research being done now on the breadth of the issue. And the latest data that I saw suggested that maybe 57 per cent of of US workers are now subject to an NDA. And from an employer’s point of view, I suppose it makes sense that you don’t want people talking about what’s going on in the company. You don’t particularly want people bad-mouthing the company, particularly if you feel that they’re doing it unfairly. And so they have the option to put these clauses in there and so they do. But from my perspective, there’s quite a lot of unintended consequences there as well.

Taylor Nicole Rogers
What kind of unintended consequences have there been?

Sarah O’Connor
So I think there’s a couple. Obviously, one of the unintended consequences is that information that is useful to employees doesn’t get out into the public domain. And that’s a problem for workers who might be thinking about switching jobs, changing jobs, getting into the labour market for the first time. I think it’s also a problem for good employers sometimes, because actually there’s a there’s an information gap here. And so if you as a good employer, want to distinguish yourself from other employers who perhaps don’t treat their workers so well, it’s harder to do that. Actually, if there isn’t enough of a free flow of information about what’s working for various companies is really like

Taylor Nicole Rogers
I would imagine a lot of workers already had misgivings about signing these NDAs. But the MeToo movement really blew open the discussion on this topic. Can you tell me about what happened?

Sarah O’Connor
Yeah. So as all of these allegations started to appear about Harvey Weinstein and then, of course, a series of other men in powerful positions, one of the questions people were asking was, well, how has this been allowed to go on for as long as it has? You know, it turned out that some of the women who had been on the receiving end of the abuse had basically ended up having to sign NDAs as part of their settlement agreements. And then, you know, most famously, as Zelda Perkins, who was Harvey Weinstein’s assistant, went on record, she broke the terms of her NDA to talk about the fact that she thought these NDAs were a big part of the problem because they were basically suppressing information which future employees and other women really could have done with knowing about.

Taylor Nicole Rogers
So we’re a few years out from the start of the MeToo movement. Has anything changed?

Sarah O’Connor
Yes. So specifically with regards to NDAs that are used in settlement agreements and in employment contracts, there are a number of places now which are looking at trying to stop employers using those to gag people from talking about sexual harassment, sexual abuse. In some places, you know, discrimination of any kind. And so the MeToo movement, I think, has really galvanised policymakers in places like California, in the US. Ireland is now looking at doing something similar. But so far, the only limitations to the NDAs that people are looking at are around issues of kind of sexual harassment and abuse. And my view is that while I think it’s welcome that they’re being addressed in that area, it doesn’t really make sense to me that you would think that that kind of behaviour is a problem, but that it’s fine to continue to allow NDAs to gag information on lots of other things that are problematic, actually.

Taylor Nicole Rogers
Sarah O’Connor is the FT’s employment columnist. Thanks, Sarah.

Sarah O’Connor
You’re welcome.

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Taylor Nicole Rogers
And before we go, a word on the corporate pay gap, British companies have been appointing more women to their corporate boards, but a new study shows that female board members are paid about 40 per cent less than their male counterparts. The report is from New Street Consulting Group. It also found that at Footsie 100 companies, male executive board members make an average of around two and a half million pounds. Women executive board members make one million pounds less. An activist who works to get more women on corporate boards says the pay gap is likely because fewer women hold higher-paying top positions like board chair.

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Taylor Nicole Rogers
You can read more on all these stories at FT.com. This has been your daily FT News Briefing. Make sure you check back tomorrow for the latest business news.

This transcript has been automatically generated. If by any chance there is an error please send the details for a correction to: typo@ft.com. We will do our best to make the amendment as soon as possible.

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