|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press conference on business response to hiv/aids
While important strides had been made in getting business to acknowledge its role in the fight against HIV/AIDS, it was only a scratch in the surface, Richard Holbrooke told correspondents at a Headquarters press conference today, as he presented the first ever baseline report on best practices in business response to HIV/AIDS on the occasion of the United Nations High-Level Meeting on AIDS.
Introducing the report, entitled “The State of Business and HIV/AIDS (2006)”, Mr. Holbrooke, former United States Ambassador and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and President of the Global Business Coalition (GBC) on HIV/AIDS, said the Coalition had been organized as a non-governmental organization to get businesses to do their part against HIV/AIDS. Secretary-General Kofi Annan had asked him to take over the GBC in 2001, when the organization had only 17 members and he had become a private citizen. Today, the Coalition had over 215 members. The GBC moved its annual dinner around the world and gave a series of awards to companies, including most recently to L’Oreal, the National Basketball Association (NBA) and Merck. Booz Allen Hamilton had played the lead in the report being launched today.
Outlining three major developments, he noted that Trevor Nielson was stepping down today as GBC’s Executive Director and would be succeeded by John Tedstrom, the President and Founder of Transatlantic Partners against AIDS (TPAA). The GBC and the TPAA would then merge, which meant that the GBC would almost double in size, with offices in Moscow and Kyiv, London, Paris, Johannesburg, Nairobi, Beijing and Geneva. That was particularly significant, as Russia and Ukraine were the two countries where HIV/AIDS was spreading at the highest rate.
He added that last year, the GBC had been designated as the official organizing non-governmental organization for the global business community for the Global Fund on AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. In that capacity, the GBC was working with the Global Fund in Geneva to mobilize the private sector. While the GBC had only focused on AIDS, at the suggestion of the Global Fund it would now assume responsibility for mobilizing the business sector on malaria and TB, as well. The connection between AIDS and TB was self-evident. Malaria was a separate disease, but one that should have been conquered a long time ago.
Booz Allen, one of the GBC’s most active members, had created the publication, which went together with the reports that Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) Director Peter Piot had issued today, he said. The report was an attempt to start a more intense and analytical discussion about how companies were doing. While many companies understood their responsibilities, many did not. He was not boasting about the GBC’s achievement. Two hundred fifteen companies was a lot, but it was only a fraction. The Coalition had no Japanese members, and no one had figured out how to address the issue of small and medium-sized enterprises. The report was an attempt to start focusing on that issue.
Presenting the report’s key findings, Peter Parry, Vice-President of Booz, Hamilton Allen said the report was the first attempt to provide a foundation for which business could consider the pace, range and content of its response to the pandemic. The baseline report drew together the actions and programmes of 75 companies, who were publicly committed to the fight against HIV/AIDS. The study was designed using GBC’s Best Practice AIDS Standard (BPAS), a 10-component self-assessment tool enabling companies to confidentially monitor their business AIDS response and examine their progress.
The baseline captured responses in 10 areas, and looked at five actions within each of those areas, he said. The report showed that business had been enormously successful in two areas, including in the area of community and government partnerships, where over 90 per cent of the companies were active in those kinds of relationships and 56 per cent of companies co-investing in public-private partnership activities.
The second strongest area, he said, was that of prevention, education and behavioural change, where over 80 per cent of the companies in the survey had workplace information in place, of which 55 per cent were extending it beyond workplace boundaries. Other areas were proving more difficult. Companies found it more problematic when looking to engage business associates and supply chains in the fight against HIV/AIDS. That area was the one with the lowest score in the exercise. For example, only 9 per cent of companies had been able to successfully engage their supply chain contractually in supporting their HIV programmes.
The response also varied widely around different industry groups, he said. Sectors such as food and beverage, metals and mining and energy stood out. Those kinds of companies were active in all of the 10 areas of the GBC report. The sectors where there had been less pickup by industry were in such areas as transportation and automotive, largely because those industries had not faced the same kind of immediate challenge. It took about three years for a business to get fully into action around its own response to the pandemic. After that, a company was generally active in 20 of the 50 specific activities that the BPAS looked at. That grew to about 30 action areas, or 50 per cent more after five years. Companies were increasingly strategic in the way they considered their partnerships and programmes.
On the issue of prevention and treatment programmes, he noted that 82 per cent of companies were providing workplace information on HIV/AIDS, or to around 11 million workers. But only 41 per cent of those companies were conducting surveys and assessments to make sure that the programmes in place were hitting the targets they were aiming at. In the area of treatment, 84 per cent of the companies in the exercise ensured that their staff had access to treatment. At the current stage, however, only 34 per cent of companies surveyed fully subsidized that treatment. Some 94 per cent of HIV-infected employees were able to continue normal working life after receiving treatment.
He said there were many ways to look at the baseline, including differences of approach between large and small companies. The smaller companies tended to focus on products, service donations, advocacy and philanthropy. Larger enterprises focused the bulk of their attention on workplace programmes and activities.
The other aspect of the discussion was around leadership and advocacy of business, he said. Some 55 per cent of the companies that participated in the survey secured their CEOs to support communications with employees and externally on the company’s position relative to HIV/AIDS. Advocacy was essential in reducing stigma and encouraging employees to come forward for testing and treatment, particularly in high-prevalence areas. Around 41 per cent of companies promoted recognition of their CEO as a leader in that area.
The leadership role was about creating the best possible conditions for business to succeed in, he said. The baseline report underlined that the fight against HIV/AIDS was now a real strategic concern for business and had moved on from simply being a corporate responsibility.
While still a scratch in the surface, that scratch was getting deeper, UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot said. The GBC was UNAIDS’ main partner in terms of working with the private sector. It was not only an issue of enrolling companies in the Coalition. What they were doing in the field mattered most. He welcomed the report, which, until now, was the ultimate report on the business response to AIDS. L’Oreal, a winner of the GBC award last week, for example, was training hundreds of thousands of hair dressers to add a 30-minute presentation on AIDS when promoting their products. Other examples included the NBA, which was reaching young people through sport.
The reason why he loved the L’Oreal project, Mr. Holbrooke added, was that it bypassed all the bureaucratic, political and faith-based objections to the issue. It was a creative and organized programme.
Responding to a question, Mr. Piot noted that the General Assembly, in its 2001 special session, had set a target of $7 billion to $10 billion to be spent in 2005. While there had been enormous scepticism at that time, this year they were at $8.3 billion. That money came from various sources, including Governments, donors, private money and the Global Fund.
The original General Assembly special session in 2001 had been his proposal in 2000 when he served as United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Mr. Holbrooke said. With the election having taken place and the outcome in doubt, he had wanted to lock in the next administration, if power was going to shift to the Republicans. In the last two months of his ambassadorship, therefore, he had put in a General Assembly motion to create a special session on AIDS for June 2001, forcing the new United States Administration to confront the issue early. In June 2001, Secretary of State Powell had given one of the best speeches of his term. President Bush then followed up with his PETFAR proposals, in his 2003 State of the Union address. That was, in his view, the outstanding foreign policy achievement of the current administration and a bipartisan issue that was strongly supported by both parties. This was the five-year follow-up.
To him, World AIDS Day was a great celebration of empty rhetoric, he added. While he would not oppose World AIDS Day, what happened on that day did not have much to do with the fight against AIDS. What L’Oreal, the NBA and Peter Piot were doing on the other 364 days really mattered. But that was a personal bias. He did not like empty symbolism. He wanted to see action, such as L’Oreal’s project to get hairdressers to talk about AIDS.
Asked to comment on the list of companies in the GBC, Mr. Holbrooke said there were a handful of Russian, Ukrainian and Latin American companies. There were two reasons for that. In the case of the former Soviet Union, the GBC had left it to the TPAA, which had some very important members. Latin America was the Coalition’s biggest shortfall. The GBC had at least several Brazilian members, including Volkswagen of Brazil, which had been one of the biggest leaders in the fight.
Asked whether it was a cultural issue, Mr. Holbrooke said that Latin America was the fault of the GBC. As for Japan, he was not going to make a long statement about Japanese culture, but he would love to come back with the first Japanese member. Japan had its own organization, called Friends of the Global Fund. But as Japan had such a small HIV/AIDS problem, it did not see it as a priority.
Regarding the shortage of transport companies, he noted that most truckers were independent. The overwhelming bulk of people in the non-agriculture sector worked in organizations with less than 50 people. It was really a matter of small and very small enterprises, and perhaps self-employed.
Responding to several questions on the annual membership fees, Mr. Holbrooke said the Coalition was supported by its members, and not by foundations, Governments or the United Nations. It was dependent, therefore, on contributions. Not all 215 members paid the $25,000 fee. In the case of Booz Allen, it was a multiple of the $25,000 fee. Their work had made a tremendous impact. The GBC did not ask a small company in Kenya or India, for example, to pay $25,000. There was a discount for poor countries.
Asked how a company could benefit from joining the Coalition, he said some companies joined to show support, just because they wanted to be on board. In that way, their membership was like a contribution. Other companies were deeply involved and needed the Coalition’s help. Others joined, but got pulled in bit by bit. Sometimes companies were shamed into joining, others wanted to do something. The question had 10 different types of answers. The Coalition was trying to get companies to realize that AIDS was their business. L’Oreal was brilliant in the way in which it had taken their core competency and applied it to the problem. Very few companies had been so creative.
Participation in the GBC accelerated companies’ own ability to move forward, Mr. Parry added.
* *** *For information media • not an official record