Sep 20, 2004
Rabbi Schneier, Prime Minister, Your Excellencies, Your Eminences,
distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, good evening. Paul, thank
you for your generous words. I am deeply grateful for this award; it is a
great privilege to accept it on behalf of myself and of all my colleagues at
HSBC - without them, I would not be here. I would also like to add my
personal congratulations to Prime Minister Goran Persson, and to the
Honourable John Whitehead my fellow honorees tonight. It's a great pleasure to be here in New York in such distinguished company.
The ACF's aims of promoting peace and tolerance around the world are
needed today more than ever. Indeed, mutual tolerance and respect for
each others' cultures are pre-conditions of both a peaceful and a
prosperous world. Over the last 50 years, the world has, by historical standards, been relatively peaceful. I am the first generation of my family who has not been called upon to go to war in a very long time.
Peace created the conditions for a period of unprecedented change, in
terms of economic development, advances in medicine, science,
technology and communications.
But these advances have not benefited the world equally. In the twentieth
century, in the struggle between the ideologies of capitalism and
communism, capitalism won decisively. One of the main functions of
capitalism and free markets is to raise everybody's standard of living, so
its success should be judged not by the gains the wealthiest in society
make, but by those of the least privileged people. In a world where one
fifth of people live in extreme poverty, we can see that the benefits of free
markets have not yet spread as far as they should. China and India, for example, account for just over a third of the world's population, but only around 5% of its GDP. By contrast the US, with less than five per cent of the world's population produces around a third of the world's GDP. This is a fantastic achievement and a tribute to the talents of the American
people, but there is an imbalance in the world that cannot be sustained
indefinitely. If we are to achieve a peaceful international order, prosperity will need to be more evenly distributed, both between nations and within their borders.
In my view, we are beginning to see an economic rebalancing of the
world, largely due to changing demographics and the globalization of
work. People around the world will improve their lot either by migrating to
countries where the better jobs are, or by international companies taking
jobs to them in their own country. Migration, both of people and of work, has become a feature of the human and economic landscape. It shows up in population statistics. Over the past 20 years, the number of foreign-born residents in the US, for example, more than doubled from around 14 million to 35 million. Migration into the European Union grew by 75 per cent during this period. Migrants create the rich tapestry of multiculturalism in society. And here in New York where over a third of residents were born outside the US, we can see the positive contribution that a multicultural society can make to the host nation.
Every country wants to develop its institutions, its economy in its own
way. Therefore, respect for other people's cultures is a pre-requisite of
economic development of a link made explicitly in this year's IJN Human
Development Report, which argues that cultural freedoms "can be a
source of political harmony and economy vitality."
Nations have become dramatically more interdependent as a result of free trade. Air travel, communications and the internet have made other
people's countries accessible in a way that was unimaginable 50 years
ago. Paradoxically there are still relatively few people who understand
properly the history, culture and aspirations of people in other countries.
There's no better way to understand another person's country than to live
in it. I have lived and worked in six different countries. For me, living in America and Asia were two of the most formative experiences of my life.
When I first came to America as an l8-year-old exchange student in
L959,I was bowled over by the space the energy, the can-do attitude and
the confidence of the USA, and I learned that there are different ways of
being democratic. And travelling to Asia as a 22-year-old, subsequently living in four different countries over 25 years, opened my eyes to different cultures in an exciting way. When I left the UK I was, dare I say it, a typical Brit, who assumed that British democracy, medicine, education and even
religion, were the best. My years in America and Asia challenged all
those assumptions. I learnt a vital lesson: t hat other people do things
differently and that no country has a monopoly over the right way.
Two thirds of the planet's nations have an ethnic or religious minority of
at least l0 per cent of their people. So we must resist seeing the world as
homogeneous place, and embrace diversity as an opportunity, rather than
viewing it as a threat.
This is where the ACF's work in bridging cultural divides is so important.
Especially in a world where the source of political power remains
essentially domestic, whereas most of the major influences on our lives,
the media, entertainment, religion, business, security, the environment,
are international. This creates a tension between domestic politics and
the intemational interests of people and the planet, which can be a fault
A domestic job lost in an advanced Western economy can be a highly valued job gained in a developing country, leaving an unhappy politician
and constituency in the West, and delighted ones in another country.
International companies can be a force for good, or they can exacerbate
tensions, depending on the responsibility of their Boards and leaders.
Companies cannot, nor should they, take on the responsibilities of
government. But they can be a conduit for investment they can set an
example of good corporate behaviour, and they can help create the
institutional framework that is fundamental of a developing economy.
And through the frequent, though often mundane contact between people
working for an international company in different countries, business can
play an important part in promoting mutual understanding. Sometimes
building bridges where politicians cannot. I believe that any success HSBC has achieved in the past 140 years arises in no small part from our respect for the culture of each country where we operate.
We describe ourselves as 'the world's local bank'. We have customers in
more nations than the UN has members. We have a clear cut set of
worldwide values which we practice wherever we operate; thereafter we
want to be a multicultural organisation. We have 200,000 shareholders
from over 100 countries. We want to be a Brazilian bank in Brazil. a Chinese bank in China and an American bank in America. Similarly, we value the diversity of our employees. Bringing together intemational trainees at our campus in the UK, and watching young people from different countries and cultures come together, is fascinating and uplifting. We start by asking every different nationality to explain their own country's culture; then we create diverse teams and set them a challenge, such as building a bridge over a river. We put Hindus with Muslims, Muslims with Jews, Jews with Christians; we cross all the political and cultural barriers.
There are very few places in the world where you will see a Saudi man,
who would not normally touch a woman in public, and an Indian woman,
who would not normally touch a man in public, lifting each other over an
obstacle course. We can be a force for better understanding in other ways. Our businesses also straddle some of the most sensitive international divides. W e are in China and Taiwan; Pakistan and India; Tel Aviv and Ramallah. Altogether, we operate in 76 countries and territories around the world, and have 110 million customers. Cultural diversity is part of our
everyday experience; it is an enriching daily reality which we embrace
because it is the right thing to do and it is good for business.
What is true of business is equally true in other forms of international
endeavour. Whether you are engaged in diplomacy, business, the media,
entertainment, or international politics, you will not succeed in the long
term unless you understand the culture of other countries; this requires
tolerance, which is always a precursor of peace.
Rabbi Schneier, distinguished guests, t hat is why we admire and support
wholeheartedly the mission of the Appeal of Conscience. Thank you
again for the tremendous honour you have conferred on HSBC with this