May 22, 2006

Business Urged to Do More in War on AIDS

By Ben Hirschler

LONDON -- Four leading companies pledged to do more in the fight against AIDS in Africa on Monday, in a move designed to spur other corporations into action.

The initiatives come on the heels of rock star Bono's "Red" scheme, under which companies with global brands -- from credit cards to clothing -- agree to channel a portion of profits to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

Former U.S. ambassador Richard Holbroke, who heads the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS (GBC), said attitudes were starting to change but more businesses needed to get involved, with Japanese firms notable by their absence.

Executives and policymakers attended a meeting at Reuters Group Plc headquarters in London to discuss ways to tackle the pandemic, which has already killed 25 million people.

Companies are seen as pivotal in the fight, since prevention and treatment schemes are often most practical in the workplace.

"Corporations can do more. They have the skills, networks and resources to make a difference," Standard Chartered Plc Chief Executive Mervyn Davies said.

A key objective is finding new ways to mobilize resources for the Global Fund, which has already committed $5 billion to providing life-saving medicines and money for disease prevention programs to poor countries.

Standard Chartered, which has extensive banking operations in Africa, said it was offering to second staff to help countries manage HIV/AIDS projects more efficiently.

International consultancy Accenture is also providing management expertise, while Nike Foundation and Becton Dickinson Co. are each giving $200,000 for support programs.

Companies around the world are becoming increasingly concerned about the impact of AIDS, according to a survey in January by the World Economic Forum, which found 46 percent expected it to affect their operations in the next five years.


The GBC has seen its membership grow to 220 from just 15 in the past five years and its members now employ over 11 million people in every country of the world.

Britain's foreign minister Margaret Beckett and singer Elton John will honor successful programs from, among others, American Express Co, Unilever Tea Kenya Plc and Merck & Co Inc at a dinner in London.

With an estimated 40.3 million people living with HIV/AIDS worldwide and a record 4.9 million new infections last year, the disease has the potential to cripple economies and decimate workforces, hitting the bottom line of many businesses.

Mark Moody-Stuart, chairman of mining giant Anglo American Plc, said offering testing and treatment for workers in its South African mines was "a good business opportunity," as well as the right thing to do, since it had an enormous impact on productivity and industrial relations.

Standard Chartered calculates that more than 10 percent of its Kenyan employees are off work every day as a result of AIDS, either because they are sick, are caring for relatives or are attending a funeral.