Living the Global Compact
What are some other major challenges?
Good business practices and behaviors are not a matter of exalted philosophical thought; it just requires some intelligence and moral common sense. But there are situations in which decision making involves the ranking of values of equal priority and creativity in finding acceptable solutions.
Let us take intellectual property as an example. On the one hand we need intellectual property protection to finance our research, but it can become an obstacle to access if the medicine is unaffordable for a patient in need. The dilemma behind the dilemma here is how you balance the risks for living patients against benefits for future patients.
Other dilemmas arise from clinical trials in developing countries, animal welfare or greenhouse gas emissions. How many people, after all, know that it is easy to install energy-saving technology but as a growing company, Novartis won’t be able to reach its voluntary commitment to the Kyoto protocol without additional carbon offset projects – putting up forests in Argentina or plantations in Mali.
Serious people don’t have simple answers for complex issues such as these. We should have the courage to say we do not have a solution for every dilemma or complex problem. That clearly requires teams of people with a diversity of skills, resources, approaches – creative partnerships where all members work together in good faith and are interested in finding a common solution, disregarding ideological preconceptions.
The Novartis Foundation for Sustainable Development always has shared dilemmas like these because we believe that only by doing so can the problems be understood and addressed. Our international symposiums held in 2003 and 2004, for example, addressed difficult human rights issues and the “right to health” as themes. Our symposiums are forums where different voices can be heard and where we can participate in the debate from a private sector point of view.
For a company like Novartis it would be a mistake not to observe and listen to what important stakeholders have on their agendas that might have an impact on our business. We should remain up to date about societal expectations and alert to trends, anticipate threats and opportunities and deal with them through proactive measures.
“Serious people don’t have simple answers for complex issues such as these. We should have the courage to say we do not have a solution for every dilemma or complex problem.”
How do you expect the Global Compact to evolve in the next few years?
Kofi Annan asked me the same question during the debriefing after I stepped down as his Special Advisor. Obviously, the Global Compact has achieved a critical mass and established standards underpinning its core principles.
Now I think it’s time to look into special conditions relating to regions or industries. It seems obvious that the mining industry has different labor and environmental issues than textile or pharmaceutical companies, or banks. Let’s go one step down in disaggregation and have peer group associations discuss specific conditions of different sectors and define best practices on the ground, not at the abstract level of the Global Compact.
I would like to see the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Associations (IFPMA – the main international industry group) go beyond the well-defined corridor of good corporate practice in this area and identify desired practices to deal with specific issues for pharmaceutical companies arising from principles of the Global Compact. This isn’t done at the moment and is an opportunity lost.
Corporate responsibility should become an entrenched habit despite the difficulty of measuring a return on investment. We know how much money we spend on environmental care every year but we never know the costs we avoid through these investments. It’s an insurance premium: you continue paying for insurance even if you haven’t had damage for 20 years.
I hope that by proving the business case for corporate responsibility more convincingly, we attract new and different partners. Rather than a stakeholder here and another there, it could be possible to pool resources and assemble diverse stakeholder teams to address and potentially solve specific problems. It would be a more constructive approach than what we have today; as long as we sit on the fence, pointing at each other, not one single poor person will be better off.