Sep 22, 2009
Thank you, Rabbi Arthur Schneier,
Friends, ladies and gentlemen,
Tonight, I’m merely a proxy for the one million associates of the Coca-Cola Company, and our partners around the world who are deeply, deeply committed to our mission of refreshing the world. Inspiring moments of optimism and happiness, and making a positive difference in the communities, we are so, so proud to serve in more than 200 countries around the world.
Thank you. That beautiful award is their award, and I’m humbled, and I’m privileged to represent them tonight. For all of us in the Coca-Cola family receiving this award, from a person, from a gentleman and an organization, that has played such a profound role in promoting interfaith dialogue, as well as cross cultural understanding is truly an honor, and we will never forget that.
Rabbi Arthur Schneier, just as you recognize us tonight, we salute you and all the important programs that have been advanced by the Appeal of Conscience Foundation for almost half a century. Last year, I was in attendance when President Sarkozy, Mayor Bloomberg, and Jeff Immelt were honored with these wonderful awards. Tonight, I’m proud to be here with an icon, not only of French business, but also a global business, Mr. Bernard Arnault.
The great work that LVMH, Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton is doing across the sustainability platform is an inspiration to all of us in the consumer goods business. Our two companies share a common heritage, a common heritage of fiercely protecting and enhancing world class brands. Indeed, today, like Louis Vuitton, Dior, Dom Perignon, and so many other LVMH brands, are among the most recognized, and among the most respected in the world. And speaking of Dom Perignon, the last time I was in Paris, I ordered a nice cold Coca-Cola at a café, and the waiter just smiled and said, “Ah, American champagne”.
But Bernard, your bubbles or my bubbles, bubbles are good.
At Coca-Cola, we also admire the sustainability leadership of our great retail partner, Carrefour, which is also one of the companies that you guide, whom we are proud to work with to bring value and quality to consumers around the world. And I think the CEO of that wonderful retailer, one of the largest retailing businesses in the world is here with us. Lars Olofsson, I couldn’t see you, but if you are here, wonderful to have you here.
Congratulations again, Bernard, and everyone … everyone at LVMH. We’ve also had the great, great fortune of working closely with Prime Minister Gordon Brown in the United Kingdom, as well as around the world. This morning, I participated in the opening plenary of the Clinton Global Initiative. We talked at length about the Prime Minister’s business call to action, and the imperative to bring new innovations and economic development to the emerging world.
Last year, Coca-Cola made a commitment to the business call to action to help create around 2,000 new independent distribution businesses across the whole continent of Africa by the end of 2010. This commitment will create almost 10,000 new jobs and generate revenue of almost half a billion dollars, and that will come on top of the 2,500 such entrepreneurial ventures that we have across Africa, apart from our normal business. These small businesses are owned and operated by local entrepreneurs whom we help train, many of whom are getting their first ever taste of economic empowerment. And I’m proud to report that we are ahead of track to fulfill that commitment.
Thank you. Another important issue that was discussed this morning, and which has been mentioned tonight, is the global financial crisis and its impact on businesses’ sustainability efforts. Without question, the financial crisis has touched everyone. No one has been immune. While some nations, primarily China, India, Brazil, have been more resilient than others, no one nation, no one business, no one individual has been immune from this crisis. We’re in this together, and the only, only way out of this crisis is together. This is also, in essence, the theme of the G20 Summit convening in Pittsburgh tomorrow.
In a world that requires, above all else, much, much greater collaboration and understanding, we can all learn from the example of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation. Rabbi, the challenges we face today, the economic ones, social ones, environmental challenges, can only, only be solved by building those strong bridges, bridges of cooperation, bridges of empathy, trust, dignity, among businesses, governments, civil society.
This is not the time to scale back on sustainability investments and sustainability innovations. As we endure this global financial crisis, brought upon us largely as a result of broken promises, the virtues of trust, the virtues of social responsibility beam brighter than the lights of Times Square. Indeed, today, trust is more valuable than actually gold. Consider just a few alarming statistics:
According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, nearly 70 percent of informed citizens trust corporations a lot less than they did only 12 months ago. And when respondents were asked about the trust in business in general, only 38 percent said they trust business to do what is right, a huge 20 percent drop over the prior year.
I must say, I’m troubled, not surprised, but troubled by these findings, and the implications for business, for our companies, our brands, even our respective nations are actually pretty profound. On this last point, we would all do well to remember that in foreign affairs, corporate diplomacy is actually more important these days, as important at least as political diplomacy.
As you all are aware, anti-Americanism abroad was for some time quite a significant concern. Over the past year, President Obama has done an incredible job in improving these attitudes. But we still have a long road ahead.
The world needs a strong brand America, and a strong brand America needs not just strong political leadership, but also strong business leadership overseas. Like all of you, we at Coca-Cola believe in creating a better world through cross cultural understanding. We think it is a noble as well as crucial calling.
On this final note, I’d like to once again thank all of our Appeal of Conscience Foundation supporters. Your support, your passion for peace and tolerance inspires all of us and sends a powerful message in this time of great need. Thank you again, very much, for being with us. Thank you.