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Business leaders look to the heart of partnership.

Globalization, international debt remission and the role of business in inner city community development were among the issues tackled at the 27th annual Caux Conference for Business and Industry (CCBI), held from 25-30 July.

In his keynote address to the conference, Bill Peters, co-founder of the Jubilee 2000 debt relief campaign, deplored the lack of progress on debt forgiveness at the G8 Summit in Okinawa, where he had just been. `The outcome was pitiable--zero,' he said. `The poor asked for bread and were given a stone.' He pledged that Jubilee 2000's campaign for `total cancellation of unpayable debt' would continue. He now placed his hopes on UN Secretary General Kofi Annan who, in a report to heads of government, had urged `the most generous possible cancellation of debts as a millennium gesture'.

John Carlisle, President of the Sheffield-based Organisation for Cooperation and Trust, and a leading pioneer of partnering in business contracts, highlighted the increasing power of multinational corporations over national politics. `If the business world has such global power then we need it also to display an equivalent responsibility,' he said. Partnership between clients and their suppliers, particularly in the construction industry, was the most obvious manifestation of such responsibility. It yielded `efficiencies and qualities of work unobtainable in the competitive paradigm'. The UK supermarket chain Sainsbury was now building stores in 18 rather than 40 weeks, with better designs, and the owners of an underground extension in Hong Kong had saved $4 million in the first two months of construction.

Tibor Sulik, a Brazilian activist for human rights in the Latin American Workers' Union, warned that in many multinational corporations profit had become `the new god' where the ends justified the means. Communications and the human dimension were vital to companies' success. A Brazilian factory making airplane parts for Boeing had been due to shed 200 jobs as part of a closure package, but was able to reduce job losses and continue production after the management had entered into dialogue with the workforce.

With five daily discussion forums, on subjects ranging from `Partnership in economic, social and community development' to the role of small businesses, and a Junior Round Table of young professionals, there was plenty for the 200 participants in the CCBI `Heart of partnership' conference to get their teeth into. CCBI aims to `strengthen the motivation of care and moral commitment in economic life and thinking', in order to create jobs, correct economic and environmental imbalance, and tackle the root causes of poverty. Or, as Anastasia Lunyk from Ukraine, one of the conference organizers, put it: `I regard business as an opportunity to express inner creativity and discover the potential of people involved. It is all about the joy of doing the right things right and the love of your profession.'

An innovation of this year's CCBI was a forum organized by Hope in the Cities International, a coalition that promotes `honest conversation on race, reconciliation and responsibility' with chapters in 12 American cities. The forum brought together community and business leaders to look at `corporate social engagement', mentoring of the disadvantaged and discrimination in employment.

Paul Nouwen, Director General of the Royal Dutch Touring Club, a motoring organization with over three million members, emphasized that many immigrants had significant skills. The mayor of The Hague had called together the city's business leaders and appealed for their help in providing jobs and training. Nouwen had divided the businessmen into four groups each with different tasks, such as giving employment and training to immigrants from Morocco.

Naim Melhem, a city councillor from Dandenong, one of Australia's most multicultural cities, said that multi-agency partnerships there had saved `hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars' in a local industry. `Partnership is sharing resources and ideas. It takes consultation and unconditional honesty,' he said.

Richard Hawthorne from England, Chairman of Nottingham's Urban Partnership Council, and a director of a family printing business, said that partnerships between businesses and local community organizations, `soundly based on trust and ethical values', had a vital part to play. In Nottingham they had radically improved local services, including healthcare and employment.

But he had also recognized `a desire to be in control' as a key factor in business and local government. `A fundamental point for me is whether my life is controlled by fear of making mistakes and wanting a life of comfort or by God and the love he shows.'

For Bela Hatvany, co-founder of Silverplatter Information company, it was this spiritual dynamic which made the CCBI conferences unique: `the emphasis that if I want to see the world different the only place to start is with myself'. He had set up Silverplatter, 18 years ago, in a spirit of service to all stakeholders. Recently he had faced up to his alcoholism and now went most days to Alcoholics Anonymous. `I finally admitted to my powerlessness over alcohol and that my life is unmanageable. I admitted to my need for a higher power. It is the greatest discovery of my life.'
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Author:Everington, John
Publication:For A Change
Date:Oct 1, 2000
Words:837
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