26 June 2001


Press Briefing


In the fight against HIV/AIDS, businesses have done less than 10 per cent of what they should have been doing so far, Richard C. Holbrooke, former United States Ambassador to the United Nations and President and CEO of the Global Business Council on HIV/AIDS, told correspondents this morning during a press conference at Headquarters.

Also participating in the press conference were: Bill Roedy, President MTV Networks International and Chair of the Global Business Council; Peter Piot, Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS); Juan Somavia, Director-General of the International Labour Organization (ILO); Carl Ware, Executive Vice-President of the Coca-Cola Company; John Demsey of M*A*C Cosmetics; and John Otten, Director Corporate Relations of Daimler Chrysler A.G.

Mr. Holbrooke said the Global Business Council was not a United Nations organization but a collection of businesses working to organize the business world in the fight against HIV/AIDS.  As yesterday’s debate in the Assembly’s special session had shown, governments are constrained by political factors that do not affect companies.  Mr. Holbrooke’s target is to organize 200 companies working in Africa and other regions affected by the pandemic and have them commit to the work guidelines provided by the Business Council.  They should start with their own workers.  It was not the Council’s intention to raise money for the Global AIDS Fund.

He said HIV/AIDS was the single worst problem facing the world today.  It was not only the worst health crisis in 700 years, but directly attacked the social structure of society.  The countries in denial about the problem today will be the countries in mortal peril in the future.  The Global Business Council was a small part in the fight, but could provide important support and incentives.

Bill Roedy, President MTV Networks International and Chair of the Global Business Council, said business response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic had been inadequate, although there had been some quality response.  It was important that businesses played to their own strengths, because one size did not fit all.  Strengths that businesses could bring to the fight against AIDS were leadership, marketing and infrastructure, among other things.  The Business Council had compiled a blueprint.  He advised businesses to first think “employees” and then think “customers”.  The Global Business Council wanted to energize all businesses.  Businesses did not “pay lip service -- they don’t wait around”.  He added: “When all is said and done, business will be a leader in the fight, but the fight is still ahead of us”.

Answering a question about the contributions of business to the fight against HIV/AIDS and the cost of HIV/AIDS to business, Peter Piot, UNAIDS, said there were no figures available on the business contribution.  There were some macro-economic figures available on the impact of AIDS, showing that gross domestic products are going down. 

Juan Somavia, ILO, added that of the total amount of people infected with the disease, 23 million were in the workplace, which showed the impact of AIDS on business.  In some cases, companies had to contract two people for one job.  Mr. Holbrooke said that Business Council’s message to business is that HIV/AIDS is bad for the bottom line.

A correspondent said most companies in the Business Council were consumer-related, but a lot of companies in Africa were more about resources; he asked what the Council's pitch to them would be.  Mr. Holbrooke answered that mining companies in Uganda were paying attention to the problem.  the Global Business Council would tackle the companies one by one.  Companies could not afford not to join the fight.

Mr. Somavia said it was a workplace issue and had been recognized as such for the first time during the special session.  The ILO had designed a Code of Practice on HIV/AIDS.  That Code had been negotiated by representatives of labour and business.  The business representative came from the mining industry in South Africa.  Asked what the current state of compliance with that Code was, he said it had been approved only last Friday.  It was just beginning.  The Code was not about enforcement, but about the need to work together.

Asked whether it was the intention of the business world to supplant governments, Mr. Piot said there was no clear role for business.  Companies should play to their strengths and had a responsibility to their employees.  Governments worked in the public sector.  “If we have learned one thing, it is that we need partnerships”, he said.

In answer to a question on why other companies should jump in where pharmaceutical companies seemed to be reluctant, Mr. Carl Ware of Coca-Cola said the fight against AIDS was a pragmatic business issue, addressing problems such as absenteeism, high turnover of jobs, pension costs, and costs of treatment and education on prevention of the company's workers.  It also affected consumers.  His company’s intention was to use its marketing and logistic skills to reach everybody anywhere in Africa with its AIDS message.

Mr. Roedy said half of the people newly infected with the virus were under 25 years of age:  exactly MTV’s audience.  There was an enormous knowledge gap among that audience, which MTV could address, as well as the issue of stigma.

Jack Demsey, M*A*C Cosmetics, said his company had joined the fight because it was a good global corporate citizen.  It made a difference in the fight against AIDS by raising awareness and contributing funds. 

Norbert Otten, Daimler Chrysler G.A., said his company had joined the fight  to share its knowledge and strategies.  Last week, it had launched a multi-million-dollar AIDS strategy in its South African subsidiary, aimed at its 4,400 employees and their families and focusing on education.  It had been active on the issue in South Africa since 1996, and was the first company to provide HIV drugs free of charge to its employees.

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For information media. Not an official record.