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Uncovering A Colombian Diaper Cartel

Dirty business
Dirty business

BOGOTA How dirty can business get? In Colombia, it can get as dirty as a diaper. An investigation by the country's Superintendence of Industry and Commerce (SIC) has uncovered a series of illegal, coordinated price hikes in the highly lucrative diaper industry.

Trade and industry inspectors started investigating price-fixing practices in late 2013, with the aim of ridding Colombia's economy of illegal business activity. They looked into product industries as diverse as rice, sugar and cement.

Thanks to the Benefits Program for Collaboration, a project that follows the U.S. practice of protecting whistleblowers, investigators found a "diaper cartel." This group of domestic and international companies is suspected to have "artificially" raised prices from 2000 to 2013.

Colombia's Trade Ministry has announced that it would file charges against a total of five companies and 44 individuals — including directors and employees — for the unfair practices. Evidence began emerging in November 2013, when two accomplices gave inspectors ample proof of the formation of the cartel.

Diapers are big business in Colombia. With two million babies using disposable diapers there, consumers buy a billion of them every year.

The discovery is the government's first major blow to illegal price-fixing practices since the investigation started nine months ago.

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Life On "Mars": With The Teams Simulating Space Missions Under A Dome

A niche research community plays out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another planet.

Photo of a person in a space suit walking toward the ​Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

At the Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

Sarah Scoles

In November 2022, Tara Sweeney’s plane landed on Thwaites Glacier, a 74,000-square-mile mass of frozen water in West Antarctica. She arrived with an international research team to study the glacier’s geology and ice fabric, and how its ice melt might contribute to sea level rise. But while near Earth’s southernmost point, Sweeney kept thinking about the moon.

“It felt every bit of what I think it will feel like being a space explorer,” said Sweeney, a former Air Force officer who’s now working on a doctorate in lunar geology at the University of Texas at El Paso. “You have all of these resources, and you get to be the one to go out and do the exploring and do the science. And that was really spectacular.”

That similarity is why space scientists study the physiology and psychology of people living in Antarctic and other remote outposts: For around 25 years, people have played out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another world. Polar explorers are, in a way, analogous to astronauts who land on alien planets. And while Sweeney wasn’t technically on an “analog astronaut” mission — her primary objective being the geological exploration of Earth — her days played out much the same as a space explorer’s might.

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