Press Releases

    2 December 2004

    Secretary-General Calls for Change of Mindset among Business Leaders in Remarks at Wall Street World AIDS Day Event

    Corporate Programmes to Educate Workforce Can Become Cornerstone of Global Prevention Campaign, He Stresses

    NEW YORK, 1 December (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s remarks at Wall Street World Aids Day in New York, today, 1 December 2004:

    I am delighted to be here.  Allow me at the outset to thank colleagues in the sponsoring companies, in particular Lance LaVergne of Goldman Sachs, for helping to bring us together.

    I very much value this opportunity to talk to all of you on this World AIDS Day about the fight against HIV/AIDS, the role the financial services sector can play in it, and why doing so is in your own interests, as well as in the broader interest of the world.

    HIV/AIDS is a global problem of catastrophic proportions.  Experts now agree that it is the worst epidemic humanity has ever faced.  It has spread further, faster and with more devastating long-term effects than any other disease.

    In many countries, it perpetuates the spiral of poverty, destroys the fabric of whole communities and stands in the way of social and economic progress.  In today’s global economy, AIDS affects us all.

    AIDS is uniquely disruptive to economies, because it kills people in the prime of their lives.  Especially in its early stages, the epidemic tends to strike urban centres, the better educated, the leadership elite and the most productive members of society. These deaths leach profits out of businesses and economies.

    The loss of every breadwinner's income reduces the access of dependants to health care, education and nutrition -- leaving them in turn more vulnerable to infection. This cycle need be repeated only a few times and AIDS destroys an entire community.

    As you know, Africa has been hit disproportionately hard.  But the economic havoc of AIDS is not confined to Africa.  The epidemic is spreading at alarming rates around the world, especially in East Asia and Eastern Europe, where the number of HIV-positive people has leaped by 50 per cent and 40 per cent respectively over the past two years.

    India is now estimated to have more than 5 million people living with HIV/AIDS -- second only to South Africa -- and the virus continues to spread at alarming rates.  When you look at areas like Andhra Pradesh, known to many of you as one of the pioneering regions of Indian technology and a major hub of business outsourcing, it is particularly hard-hit.

    China’s fast-evolving epidemic has now spread to all 31 provinces.  Without our collective effort to halt it, millions of people will be affected throughout this vast country. 

    The negative impact on your activities, and the activities of your clients -- including in the rapidly developing economies of the world -- should be evident.  But you also have a window of opportunity to help change the course of the epidemic.

    So how can business help?  Can you really make a difference?  I’m sure most of you would ask yourselves.

    First, we need a change of mindset.  As the Chief Executive of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange declared in 2001, HIV/AIDS is no longer an issue to be dealt with by human resources departments alone; it has been elevated to the boardroom.  Directors must recognize the potential impact of HIV/AIDS on business, and provide meaningful input.

    There are already several examples of the enormous impact which corporate action can have in the fight against HIV/AIDS.  They exist both in the workplace, which is one of the most effective places to educate and reach people, and in global efforts through advocacy, in-kind support, engagement with partners and direct donations.

    The most immediate line of action starts in the workplace.  Companies can draw up effective AIDS policies in consultation with employees.  Corporate programmes to educate the workforce about HIV can become a cornerstone of the global prevention campaign. And when staff are affected by HIV/AIDS, employers can and must support them and their families by providing voluntary and confidential testing, counselling and treatment.

    The International Labour Organization has drawn up a voluntary code of practice on HIV/AIDS to help secure conditions of decent work and social protection in the face of the epidemic.  The code contains practical guidelines that can be used as a basis for action at enterprise, community and national levels.  It covers areas such as prevention, care and support of workers infected or affected by HIV/AIDS, and elimination of stigma and discrimination.

    In the developing world, treatment used to be regarded as prohibitively high.  But the rapidly falling price of HIV-related drugs is changing the whole outlook on treatment possibilities. 

    As anti-retrovirals become more widely available, it is now more profitable for companies to treat their HIV-positive employees than to recruit and retrain new ones as untreated workers die.  Indeed, one recent study in Africa showed that treating HIV-positive workers paid for itself up to 10 times over, and Latin American studies have shown the same.

    To learn more about fighting AIDS in the workplace, companies can turn to the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS -- a consortium working together to introduce better workplace practices, and to encourage chief executives to be leaders and innovators in the battle to halt the spread of the epidemic.  Let me thank Richard Holbrooke, seated here, for his leadership of the Coalition.

    Of course, the contribution of business in the fight against AIDS goes far beyond the individual workplace.  Business can have a wider-ranging impact as advocates for change, by speaking up about the HIV/AIDS epidemic and what can be done to stop it.  Silence and stigma drive the virus underground and fuel its spread.  Speaking up helps to halt it.

    Companies can use their skills and assets in marketing and communications, through product packaging and through advertising.  You can help build the logistic expertise and the capacity needed to deliver supplies of prevention and care materials.  And you can use brand loyalty to help boost commitment to the fight against HIV/AIDS -- especially among young people.  Some of these things I have indicated are not directly relevant to you, but you do have clients that you can also encourage to get involved in these areas.

    You can offer your expertise in public affairs, human resources, and corporate strategy planning, to help AIDS service organizations and community groups, which are on the front line in the fight against the epidemic, and desperately need these skills.

    You can join forces with others in the financial sector, and recruit new allies to become part of your initiative.

    You can reach out to your clients around the world, to encourage and assist them in adopting an engaged and proactive role in the fight against AIDS. 

    Finally -- whether you are a business, an individual or a foundation -- you can contribute as financial donors, by supporting the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, created three years ago to provide effective and efficient financing to scale up our collective struggle. The commercial private sector is strongly represented on the Global Fund Board by McKinsey, but donations from this sector still lag behind those of governments and those of some private foundations.

    You can also donate to the various United Nations entities working jointly under the umbrella of UNAIDS.  You can partner with a wide range of non-governmental organizations -- many of whom have built up outstanding experience in developing countries, working hand in hand with United Nations organizations, to provide needed services and treatment in many of the communities from which your global corporate clients draw their workforces.

    And you can team up as partners to foundations -- including the United Nations Foundation, which has invested some $50 million to date in projects to curb the spread of AIDS.

    Ladies and gentlemen, only through a truly global alliance will AIDS be defeated.  All of us need to be involved in the solution because -- one way or another, sooner or later -- all of us will be involved in the problem.

    And in this case, there is a happy convergence between doing good business and doing good.

    The financial sector represents one of the one of the most powerful forces in the world, but it has yet to be fully utilized in this fight.  It is high time we tapped your strengths to the full and engaged you in this fight.

    I am encouraged by the plan of action that the six sponsoring organizations have committed themselves to pursuing.  I hope you will seize this opportunity to do your best, and let me take this opportunity to thank all of you for being here today, and to thank Ambassador Holbrook and the Global AIDS Coalition for the work that they have done so far.  Of course, this is only a beginning.  We have a lot more to do, and we need more partners and I am really happy to see all of you here this morning and we look forward to working with you, as we move forward to the future.  Thank you very much.

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