Select Committee on International Development Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Global Business Council on HIV/AIDS (Chaired by MTV Networks International)

  The Global Business Council (GBC) welcomes the decision of the International Development Committee of Her Majesty's Government to conduct an inquiry into the impact of HIV/AIDS on developing countries' social and economic development. We hope that the following memorandum, submitted on behalf of Bill Roedy, Chair to the GBC and President of MTV Networks International, will assist the Committee in considering the position and role of business in tackling the epidemic in those countries that are already feeling its worst effects.


  The GBC was launched at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Edinburgh in 1997 under the leadership of Sir Richard Sykes, its first Chair. The Council determined to expand and enhance the business response to HIV and AIDS through leadership and advocacy, a role defined by its members through discussions with UNAIDS, the National AIDS Trust and others. The GBC membership (listed below) reflects its international focus; member companies are either multi-nationals concerned to respond to the world wide epidemic or they are companies based in countries or regions seriously affected by HIV/AIDS.

  Levels of interest in AIDS, as a domestic concern and as a global epidemic, have varied in recent years, but HIV and AIDS statistics have not lost their ability to shock. The impact on life expectancy (reductions of 29 and 31 years in Botswana and Zimbabwe respectively by 2010), which the majority of new HIV infections still occur in people under 25 years of age. The predicted macroeconomic impact is no longer a concern for the future. But business has already felt the microeconomic impacts and these continue to grow. Some of our members can report the daily effect of increased sick leave, deaths in service, the loss of skilled and experienced employees. Yet in many affected workplaces, AIDS remains a taboo subject not to be acknowledged or discussed by colleagues.


  Of course business is motivated by the bottom line. Many of the case studies featured in the forthcoming Global Business Council UNAIDS Prince of Wales Business Leaders' Forum report "The Business Response to AIDS: impact and lessons learned" have that motivation. But many of the others prove that businesses can have the foresight to appreciate that while HIV and AIDS may not have a direct effect on their bottom line today, we should still join the world effort being mobilised against the epidemic.

  The GBC accepts that HIV and AIDS are formidable challenges: governments, international agencies and NGOs have scored some successes against the epidemic thanks to the work of dedicated people and the commitment of resources. But, globally, the epidemic is still growing. As the GBC's founding Honorary President Nelson Mandela said at the time of our launch:

    "The challenge of AIDS can be overcome if we work together as a global community. All sectors of society have to be involved as equal partners."


  The Council exists to advocate action from business, preferably in partnership with the other sectors tackling HIV and AIDS. The advocacy role adopted by GBC members covers the range of individual business responses as briefly described in our Corporate Leadership Statement (see attachment).

  It is our minimum expectation of business that they manage HIV and AIDS within their workforce with understanding and compassion, with a view to ending discrimination and ignorance, providing support to people living with HIV and preventing further infections. Addressing this need is often, but not always the starting point for a more extensive and involved response, addressing the needs of the wider community, starting with employees families, customers and business associates.

  Individual businesses have already achieved considerable success by playing to their natural strengths:

    —  Glaxo Wellcome's Positive Action programme has supported community level action around the world, assisted by their global presence and background in HIV research.

    —  Levi Strauss has moved from workplace programmes on the West Coast to being a market leader in support for HIV community initiatives, often using their retail outlet to promote and extend awareness and prevention campaigns.

    —  MTV has recognised the threat posed by HIV to its target audience of young people and responded with imaginative, hard hitting programming, taking HIV awareness and prevention right into the homes of young people all over the world; this programming, developed in conjunction with UNAIDS, has been offered to other broadcasters free of charge.

    —  The Body Shop has addressed HIV through identifying workplace, retail and supplier opportunities to act, helping to develop new models of health care and health promotion in areas where, without the intervention of business, there was scant provision.

  In all of these cases the businesses have worked on HIV and AIDS for some years, leading the projects, committing time, staff, and expertise, and acquiring a vested interest in the outcome.

  They have worked with appropriate partners, without whom some of the projects would not be tenable. The GBC advocates more of this type of response.

  Individual businesses can achieve important successes of this kind. But changing the course of AIDS nationally and internationally requires us to work together. The GBC is itself an example of this cooperation, a logical extension of some of the national coalitions business has begun to form to combat AIDS. In Africa there are now national business councils on HIV and AIDS in South Africa and Botswana, galvanising the support of companies and opening communications with government and NGOs. Similar networks have been started in parts of India, Asia, South America and in Europe.

  The GBC is a partner of the United Nation's International Partnership on AIDS in Africa (IPAA), representing the combined efforts of business, foundations and unions all of which have been represented at IPAA sessions. Through the IPAA we hope to influence the way business addresses AIDS in Africa, monitoring and promoting the most successful partnerships as models for the sector.

  The GBC's partners are crucial to our work. The GBC was founded with the help of the National AIDS Trust and UNAIDS. Our partners now also include The Prince of Wales Business Leaders Forum, The World Bank, the ILO, the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, and BEAD. Each brings important strengths to our role of informing business on HIV and AIDS, but these partnerships also provide us with invaluable opportunities to put the priorities of business directly to agencies and organisations working in the fields of development and HIV prevention at a strategic level.

  One such priority is that we must properly identify and define success so we can learn from it, helping us all to build effective programmes in the future. The GBC has started to gather examples of successful business responses through its awards scheme: some of the most longstanding business responses have emerged from a thorough assessment of the problems HIV and AIDS can cause. This type of assessment and the results of monitoring of the effectiveness of the ensuing response should be shared: commercial interests are best served by defeating HIV, Eskom, a GBC member and founder of the South African Business Council on HIV and AIDS, has demonstrated its understanding of this, sharing its models and the details of its programme with other businesses. Another of our members, Standard Chartered Bank, has similarly shared its HIV research and programme through cross-sectoral groups concerned with standards in terms and conditions.


  The GBC is determined that business will play its part in addressing HIV and AIDS. In many ways business has already shown itself committed and capable. In our efforts to encourage the corporate sector to respond according to the enormity of this challenge we welcome the support of governments willing to embrace the principle of an integrated private sector response. Communication between businesses and governments is vital if those countries hardest hit by the epidemic are to implement considered and effective strategies. We welcome any opportunity to open these lines of communication or to use them to promote proven HIV programmes.

The Global Business Council on HIV/AIDS

June 2000

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