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Oslo Business for Peace Awards

  • 5 May 2015

Keynote speech by ICC Secretary General John Danilovich at the Oslo Business for Peace Awards on 5 May.

Your Excellencies,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I consider it a great honour and a privilege to have the opportunity to speak at the opening of the 2015 Oslo Business for Peace Awards.

The International Chamber of Commerce greatly appreciates the importance of the Peace Awards and we are proud to be a supporting partner of the Business for Peace Foundation.

I’d like to say a few words this evening on the role of business in fostering sustainable development and the need to promote a better understanding of the fact that business is overwhelmingly a force for good in the world.

These are, in my view, vitally important issues, particularly this year as we approach the expected finalization of a new global development framework-the Sustainable Development Goals and a new international agreement to combat climate change.

They are-more broadly-issues that are at the very heart of ICC’s work.

And on this note, I’d like to counter a common misconception about ICC: specifically, that as an organization founded to promote international trade and investment, we have little-if any-interest in society or the environment.

In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Since our inception we have played a key role in promoting responsible business conduct the world over…

In the 1950 and 60s, for instance, we were the first organization to set out good practices for businesses investing internationally…work which-I think it fair to say-played a central role in coining the term “corporate citizenship”.

In the 1970’s ICC developed the first ever environmental guidelines for industry to promote self-regulation by business and spread best practice.

Since then we have produced a range of guides to support responsible business practices…

From our Anti-Corruption rules through to our Sustainable Development Charter, which was first launched in 1991.

Just a few weeks ago, we were delighted to launch an ambitious revision of ICC Sustainable Development Charter at a major public-private dialogue in Mexico.

We see this work as central to our mission as the World Business Organization.

But is also clear that-since the financial crisis in particular-business faces a significant challenge in promoting a fair and balanced understanding of the role it plays in society.

As some of you may know, I spent the majority of my business career in London and I was particularly disappointed to learn that recent polling suggests that almost half of the British public do not think that business makes a positive contribution to society.

This is, of course, partly a consequence of the financial crisis. But we also know that bad news sells.

Despite that fact that business scandals are the exception rather than the rule, there is continuing media and public appetite for these stories… With estimates suggesting the ratio of negative news stories to positive ones about business is 17 to 1.

My message is clear: we need to change the narrative. And we need to do so quickly.

The Financial Times columnist John Kay provided a useful perspective for doing just that, when he wrote at the height of the financial crisis that: “Profit is no more the purpose of business than breathing is the purpose of life”.

It’s worth repeating that again…”Profit is no more the purpose of business than breathing is the purpose of life”.

Profit is the result of business activity… the provision of goods and services that customers need and want.

Profit is not the purpose of business in itself.

It’s vital that we work together to make sure this message gets out to the wider world.

Across the ICC network, there are some great examples of business making a difference to society…

By taking meaningful action:

And the 2015 Business for Peace Honorees are prime examples of business leaders who are committed to placing business at the heart of society.

Just to take one example: Merrill Joseph Fernando, the founder of Dilmah, Sri Lanka’s leading tea brand. In the early 1960s, Mr Fernando began to share the earnings from his business with his staff and workers.

As the business has grown, a minimum 10 percent of its pre‐tax profit is used to fund the work of his MJF Charitable Foundation, which emphasizes empowerment of “differently able” and under-privileged people in their communities with dignity and in a sustainable manner.

It’s an inspirational story and I am so pleased that Mr Fernando has been honored by the Business for Peace Foundation.

It’s also vital that we are clear that the contribution business makes to society is not simply through its charitable or philanthropic actions.

We all know that business activity in itself can be-and is-a driver of peace, prosperity and sustainable development

Unilever, headed by Paul Polman, another of the 2015 Business for Peace honorees, is a great example of how investments by multinational businesses do just that.

I imagine that we all are aware of Unilever’s ambitious vision to double its corporate size while reducing its overall environmental footprint and increasing its positive social impact.

But what is often less understood is how Unilever’s investments play a key role in supporting development.

I was particularly struck by one report which examined the footprint the of Unilever’s operations in South Africa.

The study shows how from an operation employing just 4,000 people, the company and its employees were directly or indirectly responsible for generating output of more than 32 billion Rand… and, in the process, supporting approximately 100,000 jobs throughout the South African economy.

This means that for every job directly based at Unilever another 22 workers depended upon the company for some part of their livelihood, equivalent to almost 1 percent of total South African employment.

Those are truly staggering figures and ones which underscore the ability of business to promote higher global living standards and a prosperous future for us all.

But too often we see the debate on the role of the private sector in society framed in terms of how to minimize the negative impacts of business.

The emphasis needs to shift to how companies are an essential part of the solution to the big issues facing the world today.

From raising people above the poverty line… to eliminating corruption… to combatting climate change.

Changing that perception is particularly vital this year as we move towards the finalization of new UN Sustainable Development Goals and the anticipated agreement of a new global climate regime.

We believe it is vital that those frameworks work for and with business, ideally by recognizing the role of the private sector and encouraging public-private engagement to the greatest possible extent.

In conclusion: we have a unique opportunity to make 2015 the year of sustainable development and of green entrepreneurship.

To do so, however, we need to promote an informed view on the role business plays in society to ensure that global policies work with the private sector to tackle the challenges we face as a society.

And in this context, I’d like to pay tribute to the important work that the Business for Peace Foundation plays in showcasing and celebrating ethical business practices.

Thank you again for the opportunity to speak at this evening’s event…

And my congratulations to each of the 2015 honorees

I hope that their achievements will inspire many other business leaders and inform policy makers the world over.

Thank you.