Dr. Daniel Vasella Upon receiving the Appeal Of Conscience Award
September 07, 2000
Dr. Daniel Vasella  Upon receiving the  Appeal Of Conscience Award Thank you Rabbi Schneier. I am particularly honored to share the dais with Chancellor Schroeder, who is doing so much in bringing Germany to a new position of exciting economic growth.

Dear Mr. Secretary-General, Mr. President, Mr. Chancellor, Rabbi Schneier, your Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, dear friends. Receiving the appeal of conscience award this evening is to some degree confusing to me. On the one handside I feel honored, on the other handside my conscience clearly says that I deserve just the appeal, not the award.

As a business leader and the head of a global corporation, one is thought by many people to have suspicious motives. Some of the words, which come to one’s mind and are being used by our critics are suspect to many. Aanonymity, scale, resources, mega-mergers and globalization. These factors ,create new powerbases and to many their sole purpose seems to be to exerciseing control over local communities and interests forwith the sole objective ofto increasinge profits. Scientific advances inspirespark hope but then also create uncertainties and fear of the unknown. In biotechnology for example the progress and new possibilities to intervene even on a genetic level are frightening to some.

Is this just a perception or is it true? Do global businesses act without controls and ethical responsibilitycompunction? And if not, what are some of the greatest challenges? How do we deal in pursuing desirable but mutually exclusive objectives?

The market economy, free trade and competition have brought economic growth, innovation and productivity improvements. Democracy has proven to be the best governance system, and transparent and stable governance and legal systems create the basis for long-term investments. On all these levels the world has achieved great progress over the past decades. But important problems remain unsolved.

A year ago my colleague Percy Barnevik spoke to you about environmental challenges. Today I would like to touch upon another important and most disturbing theme, the problemone of poverty.

In the last 50 years more progress has been made in the fight against poverty than in the previous 500 years before. And as we know, increasing wealth normally leads to more democracy.

Overall international relationships have become friendlier, and the legal protection of human rights is increasing. All these improvements have been achieved in spite of the fact that the world population has doubled since 1960.

Nevertheless we have to acknowledge that this progress has not brought the same benefits to everybody. Today, more than 1.3 billion people still need to live with a daily income of 1 dollar or less. An Additional 2 billion bio people are only slightly better off – their daily income is equivalent to 2 dollars. Even if some of these figures need to be seen in relative terms as well as in a broader context, they reflect human tragedies, destinies and suffering which cannot be disregarded and cannot be measured by statistics alone figures.

About two years ago I was sitting in the back of a limo in the midst of Mumbai, in India, when at a crossroads the traffic lights turned red and we stopped. Two little girls, aged of may be maybe 8 andand 10 years old knocked begging at my window begging for money. Their dark eyes had a questioning and haunted look. I did not know what to do. What could I achieve by giving them anything? There was so much misery all over the place. But I simply could not remain seated passively seated. As I reached into my pocket I glanced at them and was deeply moved by the incredible joy I could see in their little faces, the excitement, the twinkling in their eyes, the expectation. I held the money in my handtook the bills and … but suddenly the car started, for the lights had turned green. I hesitated and looked at the girls., and Nnever in my life had I seensaw such deep disappointment, so much desperation in a face. As tThe car accelerated, I opened the window and threw the money out to them. Turning back I saw them picking up the billsobserved how they picked it up. Cars honked and my driver scoldedblamed me for throwing money out of the window. He was right but so was I. I still feel ashamed thinking of children having to knock at the windows of limousines appealing to men in dark suits sitting inside.

Social disparities are increasing in a number of countries. The differences are widening between those participating in the economic and social progress and those seeing no development at all or havingeven tosuffering from the transformation of their societies.

The reasons for these inequalities deficitsin development vary from country to country. I share the view that the responsibility for eliminating these inequalities is incumbent upon the respective sovereign governments, At least to a great extent, however but not entirely.

Indeed, the international community has an obligation to contribute to further local development potential through transfer of capital, know- how and technology from industrialized to developing countries. This in turn should help to create appropriate conditions for self-sustaining economic and social development of the respective country.

The G8 recently committed itselfthemselves to prioritizing expanded immunizations, better nutrition and the prevention and treatment of infectious diseases., Bbut statistics show that over the past decade, development funding has fallen, with aid flows, in real terms, as much as a third below their 1990 level. Today in a number of developing countries spending in relative terms for arms is much more than for healthcare.

But Ppoverty does not only touch developing countries. We are all are aware of the poverty of some elderly people who often even hide their condition. it, And we know of the urban poverty, which we can see everyday in the streets of our cities.

How should we and do weact in regard tofront of these disturbing facts? What guiding principles should we apply? As leaders and as individuals?

One option is to ignore or deny the misery of others, or as a company leader to just follow Milton Friedman’s well known words:. Let me quote “There is one and only one social responsibility of business – to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits…”.

A second option is to adopt align oneself to the opposite view, to join those who are opposed toagainst making any profits, who fiercely attacking those who do, using all available means, includingeven violence; to join those groups trying to achieveget a short-term redistribution of wealthgoods in favor of the underprivileged, without worrying about the price to be paid in the long run.

Extreme positions often look very tempting. They free us from the task of analyzing complex situations and recognizing the inherent difficulties of ambivalent positions. In the Pharmaceuticals industry, we know that our medicines save lives and improve the quality of life of millions of people. But we also know that for every patient who can afford his or her medicine there are many more who can not.

We are being attacked for our pricing policies. Already some governments of developing countries intend to abolish patent protection to ensure cheap access to new medications.

Our critics condemn the enforcement of intellectual property by WTO as a way to extract additional profits from developing countries in favor of industrialized countries. According to a recent study by Keith Maskus of the University of Colorado, the U.S. would have received from developing countries an additional 5.8 billion dollars in 1988 for license fees had they been in existence. So in the short term a government thatwho disregards intellectual property might generate some savings. If one however takes a mid-term view, incremental technology transfers, trade, investments and sublicenses would more than outweigh these license fees. Profits also ensure that companies continue to invest in long-term R&D programs.

From a societal standpoint the purpose of a company - especially a pharmaceutical company - can not just be profits. However, for a company, profits are like the air we breathe: We do not live to breathe but we need to breathe to live. For a company’s long-term survival, profits at a competitive level are a prerequisite. We will therefore constantly come up against face dilemmas where, in order to attain a certain desirable end other desirable ends will have to be sacrificed.

In order to avoid destructive compromises corporations need guiding principles, a set of values and a globally applicable code of conduct. These rules must be explicit and broadly communicated in order to function as behavioral controls. But Never may a corporation may never sacrifice human dignity or disregard basic human needs. We have to know and respect the cornerstones for a non-violent reconciliation of divergent interests. Corporations have a moral obligation to respond to such problems as third world poverty. Not just by compassion but also by self-interest. Through our Foundation for Sustainable Development we at Novartis support for example small farmers, orphans with AIDS, and have recently decided to donate all medication needed for the worldwide elimination of Leprosy while WHO will fund the appropriate education. Before the year-end we will dedicate specific R&D resources for working on a treatment of a prevalent third world disease. We are following a pragmatic approach, which, although far from being perfect, enables us we are tryingto be guided as closely as possible by our ethical ideals.

So we must have ideals, spiritual ones as well as those expressed by people who have demonstrated exemplary behavior. Of course all of us have been influenced by values that have been transmitted by our parents. As an example, In this context I would like to share a memory from my childhood:

As a child my father let me sometimes gave me his wallet. I liked counting the money and looking at the pictures on the bills. The 50-franc bill had a picture of showed a flowery garden and an apple tree., Once he showed me a thousand-franc bill, which it depicted an allegory of death. The hundred-franc bill was dark blue and showed a knight, his sword in the hand cutting his coat in two with a sword and sharing it with a poor man. It was a picture of St. Martin and I often asked why he was cutting his coat in two. “He is sharing it with the one who had none” explained my father and “no”, he reassured me “it would not be too small for both”. Aside from of beliefs, ideals, rules and one’s conscience there is one other essential factor which should guide our actions: it is Empathy, the capacity to identify oneself temporarily with the other, an identification which leads to deeper understanding and appropriate responses.

Nearly 40 years ago, as an 8-year-old boy I was lying in a hospital bed high up in the Swiss Mountains. I was diagnosed with a Tuberculosis and Meningitis. The treatment was long and tiring, and I often felt lonely as my parents lived quite far away in a small town Fribourg, which Rabbi Schneier and especially his spouse know well. During these many months of hospitalization there was one procedure, that which I feared more than anything, the lumbar puncture. ion. Usually nurses hold me down, I felt helpless and overwhelmed. The procedure was done behind me, out of my sight, in silence. Then one day a new physician came to my room and told telling me that the next day he would have to do a lumbar punctureion. I cried silently. When he . He saw how afraid I was, he my fear and then promised that nobody would keep me down. As he sat down close to my bed the next day, he first showed me the needle, explained the procedure and asked me if I had any questions. I just wanted to said that the only things I wanted were to hold the nurse’s hand and give the go ahead. He did exactly as he said he would, punctured and for the first time it didn’t hurt. This physician showed empathy., He emotionally understood my fear situation and helped me to manage it by reassuring me, giving me the necessary understanding and control about what was going to happen.

And control. As I was preparing for this speech many thoughts, memories and emotions came to mind. I am of course aware that I failed in my attempt to express them all failed in my attempt to express them all, clearly and logically in a logical sequence. But as we mature we do not only learn about our the own limitations, but also discover the strength and weaknesses of our parents, of earlier ideals of our ideals, the strength and weaknesses of our parents - without any resentments - and so we learn to accept our own shortcomings, as they are part of our human condition. Nevertheless we all must do our best to must examine our actions, words and even thoughts candidly as we all bear a heavy responsibility. We must act according to our beliefs and our conscience and always with empathy, constantly balancing action and introspection. To use Gandhi’s words:

“As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world….as in being able to remake ourselves.”

Adonaï hé yé ozer li. – May God help me in this difficult task.

Thank you.
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