Viking sperm-sales are plummeting right now

The other banking crisis.

Travelling on the London Underground in recent years you have most likely seen pictures of cute, blonde babies along with the slogan “Congratulations, it’s a Viking!” plastered across the ad. The advertisement is for the Danish sperm bank Cryos, the biggest of its kind in the world.

Cryos, along with other Danish sperm banks, has been marketing Danish sperm heavily across the UK, and demand for the popular Viking “donations”, has been on the rise. The amount of UK women buying Danish sperm has grown by about 40 per cent every year since 2005, according to one Danish insemination clinic and Cryos estimates that about 10 per cent of their sperm is exported to UK clients and clinics.

A shortage of sperm elsewhere, combined with differing rules about donor anonymity from country to country, means that Denmark, which can offer both anonymous and non-anonymous sperm and can deliver it directly to individuals across the EU rather than simply to licensed clinics, is an increasingly popular destination for women seeking to become pregnant.

Since the UK made it illegal to donate sperm anonymously in 2005, the shortage of British sperm has been daunting, forcing more and more British women to look towards other countries. Thanks to its liberal laws on sperm donation, Denmark has enjoyed the brunt of this demand.

But recent events might put a stop to the Viking baby invasion. Danish laws on donation have recently been tightened after a donor was found to have passed on a rare genetic condition to at least five of the 43 babies he has fathered. Now, potential donors are interviewed, their health evaluated and their history of disease is checked – making it harder to just walk in and donate.

Far more critical is the high-profile court case, where a UK mother bought DIY sperm from Cryos and proceeded to impregnate her 14-year old adoptive daughter with the sperm. After a miscarriage, the daughter gave birth to a donor-child at the age of 16. Now the EU and Danish politicians are looking to reform the Danish laws on sperm-donation and sales, making it harder for potential mothers and fathers to acquire the popular Viking-sperm. The question is now, whether the sperm banks have a responsibility to ensure that sperm sold to individuals isn’t misused. When potential parents buy sperm through an insemination clinic, they are screened and questioned on their parenting skills – individuals buying DIY sperm are not put through the same process.

But what will this do the UK demand for Viking sperm? Marketing in London has been put on hold temporarily as the court case runs its course and sperm-sales are encountering their first slump in over seven years. In the meantime, it is clear that Danish politicians are moving towards more regulation of the Danish sperm industry. With a potential sperm-draught ahead, it might be worth considering a liberalisation of UK laws. If not for reproductive reasons, then consider the economic potential. Sperm-tourism has been on a steady rise in Denmark for the past ten years, resulting in considerable revenue growth for sperm banks and insemination clinics. Cryos, for instance, doubled their revenue within their first five years. In a time of austerity, isn’t any market with high demand worth delving into?

Can't be good for them. Photograph: Getty Images

Sandra Kilhof Nielsen is a reporter for Retail Banker International, Cards International & Electronic Payments International.

 

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BHS is Theresa May’s big chance to reform capitalism – she’d better take it

Almost everyone is disgusted by the tale of BHS. 

Back in 2013, Theresa May gave a speech that might yet prove significant. In it, she declared: “Believing in free markets doesn’t mean we believe that anything goes.”

Capitalism wasn’t perfect, she continued: 

“Where it’s manifestly failing, where it’s losing public support, where it’s not helping to provide opportunity for all, we have to reform it.”

Three years on and just days into her premiership, May has the chance to be a reformist, thanks to one hell of an example of failing capitalism – BHS. 

The report from the Work and Pensions select committee was damning. Philip Green, the business tycoon, bought BHS and took more out than he put in. In a difficult environment, and without new investment, it began to bleed money. Green’s prize became a liability, and by 2014 he was desperate to get rid of it. He found a willing buyer, Paul Sutton, but the buyer had previously been convicted of fraud. So he sold it to Sutton’s former driver instead, for a quid. Yes, you read that right. He sold it to a crook’s driver for a quid.

This might all sound like a ludicrous but entertaining deal, if it wasn’t for the thousands of hapless BHS workers involved. One year later, the business collapsed, along with their job prospects. Not only that, but Green’s lack of attention to the pension fund meant their dreams of a comfortable retirement were now in jeopardy. 

The report called BHS “the unacceptable face of capitalism”. It concluded: 

"The truth is that a large proportion of those who have got rich or richer off the back of BHS are to blame. Sir Philip Green, Dominic Chappell and their respective directors, advisers and hangers-on are all culpable. 

“The tragedy is that those who have lost out are the ordinary employees and pensioners.”

May appears to agree. Her spokeswoman told journalists the PM would “look carefully” at policies to tackle “corporate irresponsibility”. 

She should take the opportunity.

Attempts to reshape capitalism are almost always blunted in practice. Corporations can make threats of their own. Think of Google’s sweetheart tax deals, banks’ excessive pay. Each time politicians tried to clamp down, there were threats of moving overseas. If the economy weakens in response to Brexit, the power to call the shots should tip more towards these companies. 

But this time, there will be few defenders of the BHS approach.

Firstly, the report's revelations about corporate governance damage many well-known brands, which are tarnished by association. Financial services firms will be just as keen as the public to avoid another BHS. Simon Walker, director general of the Institute of Directors, said that the circumstances of the collapse of BHS were “a blight on the reputation of British business”.

Secondly, the pensions issue will not go away. Neglected by Green until it was too late, the £571m hole in the BHS pension finances is extreme. But Tom McPhail from pensions firm Hargreaves Lansdown has warned there are thousands of other defined benefit schemes struggling with deficits. In the light of BHS, May has an opportunity to take an otherwise dusty issue – protections for workplace pensions - and place it top of the agenda. 

Thirdly, the BHS scandal is wreathed in the kind of opaque company structures loathed by voters on the left and right alike. The report found the Green family used private, offshore companies to direct the flow of money away from BHS, which made it in turn hard to investigate. The report stated: “These arrangements were designed to reduce tax bills. They have also had the effect of reducing levels of corporate transparency.”

BHS may have failed as a company, but its demise has succeeded in uniting the left and right. Trade unionists want more protection for workers; City boys are worried about their reputation; patriots mourn the death of a proud British company. May has a mandate to clean up capitalism - she should seize it.