IMBIZO Business Conference
South Africa, 5 May 2001
Sir Mark Moody-Stuart
It is a pleasure to be here to address the NAFCOC/SACOB Conference on behalf or Business Action for Sustainable Development and to be able to join in the celebration of the formation of a united South African Federated Chamber of Commerce. May I add my congratulations and best wishes to the united organisation? It was a great celebration last night, with that unique blend of South African spontaneity, creativity and energy.
In a way the initiative of Business Action for Sustainable Development is also a product of two organisations with similar aims but different scope and focus coming together to have a single front in relation to the Johannesburg Summit. The International Chamber of Commerce is a truly global organisation which has to represent the interests of businesses large and small, national and international on the full range of business related issues - from business support and trade negotiations, through Sustainable Development to assisting in arbitration. So you can see that the challenge of a membership diverse in size, scope and even sometimes objectives is not unique to South Africa. The ICC has I think shown that it can be successfully tackled. On the other hand the World Business Council for Sustainable Development is an organisation with some 150 member companies in thirty countries specifically concentrating on the challenges of Sustainable Development. Business Action for Sustainable Development was formed, initially by ICC and WBCSD, not as an organisation but as an initiative to forward the business contribution to WSSD. And many other business organisations, sectoral and regional, large and small are now using BASD as a tool to co-ordinate the business approach to Johannesburg.
A key part of the approach of global business to the WSSD is to work with the South African Business Co-ordination Forum, formed in South Africa for exactly the same purpose. I would like to say here that we in BASD have been enormously helped by the BCF - and again, although of course our scope and range is different, our aims are largely overlapping, so that co-operation is natural. I am delighted that Reuel Khoza is a member of the BASD Steering Committee, providing an essential link and South African view. BASD is here to assist the BCF also.
We have just had a two day meeting in Paris of some 130 representatives of business organisations from all around the world to identify some of the best examples of progress made by business in the field of Sustainable Development and to agree how to co-ordinate efforts towards Johannesburg. I would like to share with you some of the conclusions of that meeting.
During the last ten years business all around the world has come to realise that our contribution to the other two legs of sustainable development - the environment and society - is also essential. A major business with excellent economic performance which damages the environment will be punished in the market place. Equally if the activities of business are not seen to benefit society at large, not just their shareholders or customers, it becomes unsustainable in the long run. But a business, large or small, which is not economically sound, however good its environmental and social performance is, ceases to be a business and shortly thereafter ceases to exist.
We were fortunate to have at our meeting in Paris both Nitin Desai, the UN Under Secretary with specific responsibility for Johannesburg and also Emil Salim, who chairs the 10th UN Commission for Sustainable Development, which will play a key role in determining the agenda. We were able to get their views on the contribution expected of business.
I believe that we have many encouraging examples where different sectors of business have made good progress, most often in partnership with others. Many sectors have also mapped out the future direction that they need to travel, even if they have not committed to specific targets.
The main objective of the meeting was to identify some of the best examples of progress to date and visions of future direction. We discussed how we can best project those examples and the lessons learned from them, and how business will best participate at Johannesburg. We also looked at the issues which cut across all sectors, for in my brief experience of multilateral meetings it is clear that while we in business tend to address issues by sector, and at as specific a level as possible, governments and others tend to look at the overarching themes, and understandably often take the discussion up to a more general level. So it is up to us to be ready to relate our specific examples effectively to general themes and still get our message across.
We in business must continually bear in mind that this is a global summit and the views and examples of business will not be the only ones there - in fact even the few hundred business people who may be present are likely to be completely outnumbered by both government representatives - probably ten times as many as business people - and by NGOs - probably represented by over thirty thousand diverse people.
While we in business see good examples and the role models of leading business examples, others see the need for legislation and codes with teeth to make sure that business, which they regard as unlikely otherwise to pay any attention to anything other than short-term profit, is compelled to adopt certain standards and procedures. While the effectiveness of business is often acknowledged, a by-product is a deep suspicion that the economic power of business allows it to exert undue influence. Many others believe that if business simply made enough of what they consider goods with socially desirable qualities, our customers would buy them and patters of consumption would change. There is a strong feeling that large not for profit organisations have inherent legitimacy from their membership and should be included in the "governance" process. There is a tension between some NGOs who concentrate exclusively on environmental impacts and many in the developing world and elsewhere who seek to make sure that the social leg of sustainable development is given due weight.
Lastly, there is a strong desire in some quarters, particularly emerging from many European ministers at the European and North American WSSD preparation meeting in Geneva, which I also attended, that some kind of "deal" should emerge from Johannesburg, whereby the different elements of society, including business, make mutual commitments. Others rightly point out that the Summit is in fact an intergovernmental meeting and that any declaration coming from it will be negotiated between governments. I doubt whether there is anyone in business who has much enthusiasm for involvement in such a negotiation.
None of these dilemmas will go away and we need to take them into account in the business approach to Johannesburg. We must argue vigorously from our corner, while being co-operative and constructive in relation to other players and partners.
What is success at Johannesburg?
When BASD was formed we were clear on the aims of the initiative - to ensure that the voice of business is properly heard in Johannesburg, to identify areas where business can play a constructive role and to demonstrate that business has many initiatives and partnerships promoting sustainable development. Here we rightly asked what would be a successful outcome of Johannesburg for us. We in business know that we cannot progress sustainable development on our own or in isolation, so I think I would define success from a business point of view if others attending, whether from national governments, local governments, communities, labour organisations, NGOs left Johannesburg saying "I have seen examples of how business is contributing, not enough perhaps, and there are ways that I feel it could be done better, but I see the constructive role that they play and I would like to work with business to see how we can spread the good examples, and make them even more effective and relevant" For us in business, we will see after open discussion and even criticism how what we think are our best examples could be made better and multiplied, and how we can contribute even more to making the world a more stable, sustainable and prosperous place for all its citizens.
Criteria for Examples
We saw many examples of work that had been done in all sectors, from energy, through natural resources and infrastructure, industrial processes, biosciences, finance and information and communications. I am not going to give examples now - they will be accessible in the coming days and months on the BASD-action.net website. But we agreed on common criteria which should run through all our examples.
- First projects should address all three pillars of sustainable development -the economic, the environmental and the social.
- Second, projects should embody the notion of partnership.
- And third, they should have measurable or demonstrable outcomes, credibly presented - not necessarily numerical verification, but perhaps third party evaluation or comment.
Examples have to be presented by those who lived them. BASD is an initiative, an amplifier, not an organisation. There will be many opportunities to present examples, and many business organisations will be presenting their own separately. But it will be much more powerful if every organisation and presentation concentrates on these simple criteria - the three legs of sustainability, partnership and credible concrete results.
Openness and transparency are keys. Without this and credible measures of progress, we will inevitably be accused of "greenwash".
And indeed there was a small group of demonstrators to greet the participants as they arrived at the ICC, drumming and denouncing both "greenwash" and what they called the "privatisation" of the UN. I and other participants talked for half an hour or so to the demonstrators, who were peaceful and civil if noisy and blocking the entrance. I invited them to come in and tell us what they wanted. Did they not think that business should contribute to sustainable development? Their answer was that business had no place "at present". After some discussion among themselves the group declined our invitation to address the meeting. Subsequently they explained in a press release that this was to avoid giving us credibility by talking to us.
This is why concrete examples will be so important. Multiples of concrete examples delivering results are difficult to argue with. We may all agree that we need even more, but we will have a strong common base to build on. Clearly South African input and examples will have particular importance and impact.
A programme forming in Johannesburg
Out of our discussions and the feedback from Nitin Desai and others we can see a programme emerging. In the first week of Johannesburg Nitin Desai has said that he sees stakeholder dialogues, where business with others contributes on issues which are still being chosen. BASD will keep in close contact, feeding back to members opportunities and needs for input to such dialogues. Topics will emerge as we go through the preparatory process, and we will have to be ready to select form our sector examples matters which demonstrate business contribution to the chosen issues. This will require alertness and flexibility. We do not (and should not) control the agenda.
But business needs a focus and an agenda which we control. So BASD should organise a business day at the beginning of the second week when the Heads of State begin to arrive. This can be a focus of business activity. Clearly it is impossible to compress the countless examples we have heard, so we will have to be very selective. Perhaps in addition to applying the common criteria and ensuring a representative sector and regional spread, we should give preference to those which can be presented at least in part by partners. How better to exemplify businesses outreach to partners than to have a day with examples of business sustainability presented largely by partners?
The business day would allow a transition into the second week where Heads of State will be present and there will be an opportunity for CEOs to interact with the intergovernmental actors at that level.
So what will BASD actually do at Johannesburg?
It is the intention that throughout the summit BASD will provide a really professional press suite, ensuring dissemination of information from business organisations and individual businesses, with daily press conferences as appropriate and interview rooms. There will be a linked business centre supplying services to business.
BASD will organise the business day or days, securing an appropriate venue. BASD will have the unenviable task with business organisations of selecting examples and building a representative programme based on the common criteria, and work to get CEOs into appropriate slots in the Head of State Section.
In the meantime BASD will continue to be represented at the regional preparation meetings to ensure both input and up to date information.
Apart from the few examples selected for presentation at the business day, there are very large numbers of examples from individual businesses and organisations. Through the BASD-action.net website, BASD can provide a portal to guide people to these examples. We cannot rework them, and it would be a waste of effort, but we can provide direct links in a structured form so that we all have examples to quote.
It has been pointed out however that electronic access is not so freely available in parts of the developing world - there is still a big role for printed material. There is much material being developed - a WBCSD work book of examples, a USCIB case studies and there are also UNEP case studies, including the award scheme launched jointly by UNEP and the ICC. I believe it would simply be duplication to try and produce a separate BASD book. We can act as a channel to this excellent material.
South Africa's needs
Reuel Khoza in his opening mentioned three areas of possible contribution from a South African point of view - sponsorship of the summit as a whole, the best practice exhibition and the legacy projects.
BASD has made clear in both public and private that funding for a global intergovernmental summit should come from developed country governments. South Africa should not bear the burden, but if business funds it this will arouse suspicion. From much experience we know that much of society is concerned about business influence through funding on government. Even from the demonstration in Paris we heard of fears of "privatising the UN". Any funding of the summit will only re-inforce these suspicions. So we agree that all those attending the meeting should go to their home governments and tell them of the need for them to play their part and of the dangers for business and the summit if they fail to do so. I have already made this point to the Ministers attending the European and North American Prepcom in Geneva two weeks ago.
The best practice exhibition is still in a process of development. We know where it will be. We only have indications of the cost. We believe that apart from broad guidance on subject and some selection to ensure good regional and sectoral cover, space will be available on a commercial basis to businesses and organisations to demonstrate what they believe are examples of best practice. Decisions will be up to each organisation although BASD in conjunction with the South African business Forum will make sure that all are kept updated. BASD continues to point out to the organisers that the timing is getting very tight, with real costs not available until late November and very preliminary costs looking high. Without early firm commitments based on real costs it would be foolhardy to proceed with the exhibition.
The most appropriate input that business can make is to look to funding legacy projects which ensure that a lasting memorial is available after the disruption of the Summit. The city of Johannesburg has many small and large urban renewal projects for which they seek partners. In addition there are other projects around South Africa, and a need in Africa as a whole for increased awareness of investment opportunities and infrastructure, in line with the New African Initiative. Legacy projects or investment are clearly the most appropriate channel for business support.
Where does business stand on the idea of a "Deal" between stakeholders, with mutual commitments?
There may well be pressure on business to make commitments. Clearly individual companies and some sectors set targets and report progress, but there is relatively little that business as a whole an commit to and any mechanisms for reaching such commitments are very difficult and time consuming.
From what was said at the Paris meeting, business is clearly very open to working in partnership with others towards clearly defined. We are also committed to the broad principle of setting targets and reporting openly against them, and being held accountable for our performance.
To those general commitments we could perhaps add words on the subject of transparency (corruption), possibly being able to express support for something such as the OECD Convention, for which G8 governments have firmly declared their support.
I hope that this has given you an idea of how we see the global business contribution to Johannesburg shaping up and how I see the role of BASD in facilitating this. If South Africa can host a summit during which there is real constructive dialogue between all stakeholders, and if at the end we have achieved recognition by others that business is keen to continue to move forward and very willing to work in partnership with others in the process, valuing their advice and input, that will be a real step forward. And it is my hope that at the end of the summit Johannesburg and South Africa will have been left with a legacy more concrete than just a memory of crowds and inconvenience. We also have to make sure that small business examples from all around the world are represented - small businesses everywhere are great generators of employment.