USCIB Provides Feedback on AI to the National Institute of Standards and Technology

As the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) works on its principles of explainable “Artificial Intelligence (AI),” USCIB welcomed an opportunity to submit comments on behalf of its members. The comments, sent to the NIST Director and Undersecretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology Dr. Walter Copan, draw from industry experience, as well as from USCIB’s direct input to the development of the OECD’s AI Principles through USCIB’s affiliation with Business at OECD (known as “BIAC”).

“NIST’s effort represents a positive first step in terms of grappling with the issue of AI explainability,” remarked USCIB Vice President for ICT Policy Barbara Wanner. “The draft, and NIST’s broader program to develop approaches to AI trustworthiness, should significantly contribute to the private and public sector’s understanding of the many considerations necessary to implement AI, while ultimately enabling broader, faster and more responsible use of AI. We believe that, to be most effective, humans and machines should collaborate, combining their respective strengths to provide sustainable value for consumers, businesses, governments and society.”

In its comments, USCIB also highlighted the work of USCIB members such as Facebook, Google, IBM and Microsoft within an Experts Group that developed the OECD’s AI Principles. The U.S. government also contributed actively to the development of the OECD principles, under the leadership of the State Department.  On May 22, 2019, the OECD’s 36 member countries, along with Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Peru, and Romania,  endorsed the OECD Council Recommendation on Artificial Intelligence. The principles contained in the recommendation were subsequently endorsed by the G20.

Diversity in the Workplace Amid Topics at Annual Engaging Business Forum

USCIB co-organized the twelfth annual Engaging Business Forum on Human Rights on October 7, however due to COVID-19 precautions, the usual two-day forum was condensed into a virtual event. Hosted by The Coca-Cola Company every year since 2008, the Forum has gathered hundreds of practitioners to discuss leading issues at the intersection of business and human rights. Despite the virtual nature of the forum, this year was no different in terms of interest and engagement by over 500 leading practitioners.

With opening remarks from The Coca-Cola Company Chairman and CEO James Quincy and a keynote address from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, as well as the International Labor Organization Director General Guy Ryder, participants were guided through a program that included discussion of the increasingly important role of business in respecting human rights as the world works towards a post-COVID-19 recovery that is sustainable for all. As in years past, USCIB led some of the discussions; USCIB Vice President for Corporate Responsibility and Labor Affairs Gabriella Rigg Herzog contributed her expertise on the panel “Diversity at the Workplace and Beyond – What Now Needs to Happen?”

“Diversity covers a range of factors, including age, gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, religion, culture and disability,” said Herzog. “Our goal today is to explore the connection between diversity and business and human rights, as well as to bring heightened awareness of the critical role companies play in advancing progress.”

Herzog was joined on her panel by President and CEO of the Center for Civil and Human Rights Jill Savitt, Chair of the UN Working Group on Business & Human Rights Anita Ramasastry, Founder and Chair of Omnia Strategy Cherie Blair and Global Chief Diversity Officer, The Coca-Cola Company Lori George Billingsley.

The Forum was co-organized by the International Organization of Employers (IOE), the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and hosted by The Coca-Cola Company.

What COVID-19 Has Taught Us About Digital Transformation of the Economy

USCIB released a thought piece with concrete policy recommendations on “What COVID-19 has Taught Us About Digital Transformation of the Economy: Early Lessons Learned,” with a specific focus on the role of digital technologies, including on the issues of infrastructure, connectivity, capacity building and the digital divide, data flows and trust, as well as on the importance of Artificial Intelligence. To download, please click here.


The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the transformative power of digital technologies. These cutting-edge technologies not only have enabled real-time information exchanges about the virus, but also have facilitated the provision of critical medical services and government financial support for business and individuals as well as provided a means of continuing commercial and economic activity. The ability to connect online has served as a lifeline to literally millions of global citizens anxious for safe, virtual social engagement and a way to continue their children’s education, among other societal needs.

Responding quickly to the global crisis, companies across all sectors stepped up to work closely with governments and other stakeholders to deploy and drive digital technology solutions in response to these urgent medical, economic, and social needs. Whether it be via AI-powered applications, enhanced broadband connectivity, cloud computing services, data and cybersecurity or other digital technologies, companies in all sectors have been proving how important digital technology is for the health and well-being of all.

Even more important, digital technologies have the potential to shape a sustainable recovery from the pandemic, including accelerating the digitization of such government services as licensing, permitting, tax collection and procurement. Key to realizing this, however, is a policy framework that creates an enabling environment for investment in technology innovation and deployment. Such policies may address economic, social/cultural, technical, and governance issues, all of which are interlinked and cross-cutting. This holistic approach will best enable development of a secure digital infrastructural foundation to realize greater resilience and preparedness in the face of whatever natural or man-made challenge we may face going forward.

As of September 2020, the COVID-19 virus still was far from under control – and was anticipated to remain a challenge well into 2021.  U.S. business regards the following issues as key early lessons from the COVID-19 crisis. These lessons will require the urgent attention of policymakers to address healthcare, employment, education, commercial, and economic development needs in the near-term. Equally important, is imperative that we accelerate policy implementation in order to realize the best chance of a soft landing and solid return to commercial and economic activity when the pandemic eventually has been conquered through rigorous scientific means.

Infrastructure, Connectivity, and Spectrum – Public policies should focus on fostering robust connectivity. The benefits of digital transformation in responding to a global crisis can only be realized if there is adequate broadband infrastructure and spectrum.  In addition, the availability of licensed spectrum for exclusive use and shared use as well as unlicensed use has an important and complementary role in promoting the accessibility of the Internet and its developmental potential. There are many important uses of spectrum, including broadcast and mobile broadband as well as for Wi-Fi.

Policy Recommendation – Governments should incentivize investment in broadband technologies and streamline regulatory policies in order to facilitate broadband deployment, focusing on under-served areas. In addition, effective and technologically neutral management of spectrum – and increasingly scarce resource — must be a priority for policymakers while ensuring the integrity of services offered by existing spectrum license holders.

Capacity Building and Bridging the Digital Divide – The COVID-19 crisis highlighted the gap between the digital “haves” and “have nots,” the latter group suffering most acutely from the virus access to healthcare and medical resources. In a 2017 report, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) found that while more than 7 billion people now have access to voice services, more than 70 per cent of those living in the least developed countries (LDCs) still cannot afford a basic Internet connection, and less than half the people in the world regularly use the Internet.

Policy Recommendation – In order to proactively safeguard against the devastating effects of future crises, the global community must join in building digital and connectivity capacity in developing countries as well as enabling the necessary digital skills, especially for marginalized communities, to fully utilize internet connectivity.

Closing the E-Government Utilization Gap – Related to the above, the pandemic also exposed significant gaps in the ability of our governments to pivot online quickly to provide services.  Government services simply have not digitized fast enough or taken full advantage of the availability of broadband to improve their customer service, capacity, resiliency, adaptability, transparency, and security. Not only is the physical infrastructure lacking, but the rules for provisioning virtual services and teleworking for government employees remain unclear as well.  Given the demonstrated capacity and capability of our networks, governments are suffering from a utilization diffusion lag, which particularly harms marginalized and vulnerable communities.

Policy Recommendation – Governments should take aggressive steps to address their technology utilization gaps and leverage the capacity and capability of networks to conduct government business and offer online citizen services. In doing so, governments should ensure data and cybersecurity are prioritized to protect government and citizen information and harness the benefits of cloud computing for operational efficiency. To speed the rebuilding of the economy, governments should prioritize the digitization of the licensing and permitting process, such as in construction, to provide rapid stimulus to a global economy slowed by COVID-19. Governments also should leverage public-private partnerships and invest in the development, deployment, and procurement of digital services for the benefit of their citizens.

Data Flows and Trust – U.S. business embraces the view that the free flow of data and information is critical for economic development and addressing societal needs. The pandemic underscored the imperative for medical professionals around the world to share data in real-time critical to containing and mitigating the virus. That could not happen if a country’s policies hampered data flows. At the same time, however, U.S. business realizes that the medical, economic and other societal benefits enabled by data flows will only be embraced by consumers, businesses, and governments who trust the online environment. Users must feel confident that the privacy of their personal data will be respected and that their online systems are secure.

Policy Recommendation – Business believes that trust in the online environment is best achieved through risk-based and globally interoperable approaches to privacy and security protections. These conditions will ensure that data free flows with trust, an approach endorsed by the G20 countries in 2019.

Data and Cybersecurity – The importance of data and cybersecurity to the accelerated digital transformation brought on by the pandemic should not be understated.  As business and government networks have become more decentralized with remote work, new data and cybersecurity risks and vulnerabilities have emerged. Organizational leaders have needed to ensure they are extending the same security capabilities and best practices in their enterprise networks to all at-home network environments, leveraging cloud-delivered security technologies to do so rapidly and at scale. The pandemic has reshaped many global governments’ understanding of critical infrastructure and “essential” services, to better recognize the complex and interdependent nature of modern supply chains and that data and cybersecurity are essential to business continuity. 

Policy Recommendation – Governments should recognize the criticality of cybersecurity to continuity of essential services across all critical infrastructure sectors; help educate businesses and citizens about data and cybersecurity risk management and their respective responsibilities related to secure remote networking; incentivize the use of cloud-delivered security to enable secure remote workforces and schools at scale; and promote greater voluntary sharing of cyberthreat information and online safety best practices.

E-Commerce and Delivery of Essential Goods and Services – While the COVID-19 crisis accelerated digital transformation in general, the accelerated progress was especially evident with respect to the online sale and provision of goods and services. E-commerce driven by large companies and SMEs alike helped to ensure economic continuity especially during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Policy Recommendation – Policies should be reviewed and updated, if necessary, to ensure that they do not impede expeditious online provision of goods and services, including public sector services.

Importance of Artificial Intelligence (AI) – The pandemic highlighted how AI could be used to control the impacts of the virus as well as aid mitigation. For example, Amazon Web Services (AWS) launched the AWS Diagnostic Development Initiative, committing $20 million to accelerate diagnostic research, innovation, and development to speed collective understanding and detection of COVID-19 and other innovate diagnostic solutions to mitigate future infectious disease outbreaks.  More broadly, U.S. business recognizes the potential of AI to address economic, societal, and environmental inequalities. AI and other virtual/augmented reality technologies will continue to evolve and develop in ways that will facilitate mitigation of future crises.

Policy Recommendation – Business believes that existing regulations are sufficient for many AI applications and that any new requirements should be carefully considered in consultation with stakeholders to ensure they are narrowly tailored to address specific concerns as they arise. It is essential that all stakeholders work together to shape the development of AI to foster trust and broaden deployment so we are poised to use it effectively in addressing future crises.

USCIB Submits Comments to USTR on China’s Compliance With WTO

USCIB submitted comments on China’s compliance with WTO commitments on September 17. The comments were in response to the U.S. Trade Representative’s (USTR) request for input. In its comments, USCIB welcomed the “Phase One” trade agreement between the United States and China, as well as China’s actions to date to implement its commitments under that agreement. According to USCIB, if fully implemented, the agreement will help address a host of policies and practices maintained by China that undermine the ability of U.S. businesses to operate, including unfair and discriminatory governmental practices.

USCIB also noted that U.S. tariffs and Chinese retaliatory tariffs imposed as a result of the U.S. Section 301 investigation into China’s forced technology transfer, intellectual property, and innovation policies have been disruptive to U.S. business.

“While the Phase One deal partially addresses some of these tariffs, more must be done to restore the ability of U.S. business to compete effectively in the global marketplace,” said Eva Hampl, who leads USCIB’s policy work on China. “As described in this submission, many issues affecting business remain a concern in China. Accordingly, high-level bilateral dialogue between the United States and China continues to be of the utmost importance.”

USCIB urges both countries to utilize, in addition to the World Trade Organization (WTO), the full range of formal multilateral fora, including Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Forum and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), to work toward improved commercial relations. Plurilateral dialogues that include U.S.-friendly jurisdictions such as the European Union, Canada or Australia should also be considered.

“USCIB and its members understand and appreciate that U.S.-China economic relations are complex and multifaceted, and that American business holds a direct and important stake in this relationship and in its success,” added Hampl. “As the world’s largest economy, China’s practices and policies have a significant impact on its trading partners, and engagement with China can be challenging.”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there will not be a public hearing this year. USCIB’s submission is public and can also be found on www.regulations.gov under Docket Number USTR-2020-0033.

 

ILO Reaches Ratification on Worst Forms of Child Labor

USCIB applauds the recent universal ratification by the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) Convention on the Worst Forms of Child Labour. All 187 Member States of the ILO supported ratification. The Convention forms the basis for international action to eliminate child labor; its application assists governments globally in developing and adopting effective national laws and policies to eliminate child labor practices. The ILO works with employers, trade unions and governments globally to develop and adopt these standards as part of its unique tripartite approach to work issues.

Child labor has dropped forty percent between 2000 and 2016, but progress has slowed in recent years, particularly among children aged five to eleven and in some geographic locations. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic presents an additional risk to progress, potentially leading to the first increase in child labor for the first time in twenty years.

The United States, through the strenuous efforts of the Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB) at the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), was an early and prolific supporter in the global efforts to eliminate child labor. DOL funding and collaboration has been central to the ILO’s work through the International Program on the Elimination of Child Labor, which has supported over 100 countries in their efforts to eliminate child labor, especially the worst forms.

ILO Director-General Guy Ryder held a virtual ceremony on August 4 to mark the occasion.

Global Business Coalition Launched to Advocate Workforce Use of New COVID-19 Vaccines, Pending Availability

New York, N.Y., July 30, 2020 – The United States Council for International Business (USCIB),  The USCIB Foundation, and Business Partners for Sustainable Development (BPSD) have launched Business Partners to CONVINCE, a global communication and education initiative to promote COVID-19 vaccine acceptance among private sector employers and employees.

The new partnership will play an integral role in a broader multi-sector CONVINCE (COVID-19 New Vaccine Information, Communication, and Education) campaign to advance vaccine literacy and help ensure a strong and swift recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic through widespread acceptance of safe, effective and accessible vaccines. The CONVINCE business coalition will leverage USCIB’s extensive global network of leading international business organizations and multinational corporations to help large employers and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) worldwide to promote vaccine literacy and uptake, while BPSD will help to create public-private partnerships to extend the reach of the Coalition, especially in the developing world. Research has shown that employers are among the most trusted sources of information about pandemic response and recovery.

The global CONVINCE effort was developed initially by Wilton Park, a global forum for strategic discussion affiliated with the UK government, in collaboration with the City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy and the Vaccine Confidence Project™ of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. Earlier this year, Wilton Park hosted a series of international dialogues to address the urgent need for collective action to ensure widespread uptake of COVID-19 vaccine(s) when available and boost trust in vaccination in general. Participants in these discussions, which included USCIB, agreed to form the CONVINCE initiative as a mechanism to complement and potentially help integrate existing worldwide efforts to build acceptance and uptake of a COVID-19 vaccine.

USCIB President and CEO Peter Robinson stated, “We were pleased to contribute extensively to the Wilton Park dialogues and to highlight the potential role for employers as ‘Trusted Influencers’ as part of the CONVINCE initiative. As the United States affiliate of the International Chamber of Commerce, the International Organization of Employers, and Business at OECD – three of the world’s largest and most representative business organizations – we expect to engage an extensive network to help corporate employers, SMEs and governments meet the intense global and local challenge of health and vaccine promotion. Together, we can mount an unprecedented response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Prof. Heidi Larson, Director of The Vaccine Confidence Project at LSHTM, and author of Stuck (Oxford University Press, 2020), a definitive overview of global vaccine hesitancy, stated: “We need to start now to listen and engage local communities to build resilience against COVID-19 and recover as societies, schools and economies build a new future. We are thrilled to be part of this important initiative to build public confidence through CONVINCE.”

Nancy Lee, Programme Director at Wilton Park, said, “We are very pleased that the private sector has taken part in our multisector dialogues and has now made this important commitment to promote COVID-19 recovery by supporting global business efforts to build vaccine literacy and support for the potentially game-changing impact of a COVID-19 vaccine.”

Dr. Scott Ratzan, executive director of BPSD and Distinguished Lecturer at CUNY, said “Many people say the only way we can achieve a ’next normal’ world is with a vaccine, but it will take collective action to make this happen. We are pleased to work across sectors with business leaders, employees and customers on the innovative communication programs that are needed urgently to build the foundation of trust that can lead us towards vaccine-protected communities.”

In collaboration with global leaders in the private and public sector, Business Partners to CONVINCE will be a resource to generate evidence rapidly of COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy, and to develop, test and widely disseminate responsible communication programs in line with the goals of the United Nations and respected science and evidence-driven organizations worldwide.

About USCIB: USCIB promotes open markets, competitiveness and innovation, sustainable development and corporate responsibility, supported by international engagement and regulatory coherence. Its members include U.S.-based global companies and professional services firms from every sector of our economy. As the U.S. affiliate of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), Business at OECD (BIAC), and the International Organization of Employers (IOE), USCIB provides business views to policy makers and regulatory authorities worldwide and works to facilitate international trade and investment.

More information is available at www.uscib.org.

Contact: Mike Michener, Vice President for Product Policy and Innovation

Email: mmichener@uscib.org

 

About The USCIB Foundation, Inc.: Since 1980, The USCIB Foundation has been dedicated to a single mission: advancing the benefits of a free market economy and promoting the essential role of the private sector in stimulating economic growth and progress in social development. Today, the Foundation pursues that mission through a portfolio of initiatives that strives to inform future choices made by stakeholders and policy makers that benefit people around the world.

Contact: Abby Shapiro, Secretary and Director

Email: ashapiro@uscib.org

 

About BPSD:  BPSD was launched in 2019 as a Center to create new international public-private partnerships in support of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). BPSD provides a framework for governments, business and civil society to share information, resources, activities and capabilities, and works in collaboration to achieve objectives together that the sectors cannot achieve independently.

Contact:

Dr. Scott Ratzan, Executive Director, Business Partners for Sustainable Development

Email: sratzan@businesspartners4sdgs.org

Jumpstart American Jobs Series: Robinson Shares Views on Trade, Supply Chains, Inclusive Multilateralism

President & CEO of GBA Nancy McLernon interviews Peter Robinson, President of RILA Brian Dodge and President & CEO of FMI Leslie Sarasin

Just as American companies and employers led the way in responding to the coronavirus pandemic, they are now prepared to help drive America’s economic recovery. In a series of virtual interviews, the Global Business Alliance (GBA) has provided a forum for leading executives to share perspectives with top policymakers on what it will take to jumpstart American job growth. In the most recent installment, “Sold. Separately”, USCIB President and CEO Peter Robinson joined Food Marketing Institute President and CEO Leslie Sarasin and Retail Industry Leaders Association President Brian Dodge to share views from members and to emphasize the importance of open trade, diversified supply chains and inclusive multilateralism. President and CEO of GBA Nancy McLernon led the discussion.

Robinson kicked off the discussion with highlights of what some USCIB members, such as Target, Amazon, Hanesbrands, Nike and Mastercard, have been doing to address the pandemic.

“One distinctive attribute of USCIB members is their global perspective and action as partners in multilateral institutions to advance response and recovery,” said Robinson. “And they are very concerned about the health of the constituent components of their global supply chains overseas, as well as at home.” He noted that USCIB supports initiatives by ICC, IOE and BIAC calling for governmental support of SMEs to ensure business continuity.

Throughout the discussion, Robinson underscored the imperative of free and fair trade and competition, particularly in light of COVID-related disruptions in supply chains which have given air cover to embracing of protectionist measures by governments.

“We are still in the middle of the pandemic,” noted Robinson. “The only way to ensure that economies grow again is to ensure open trade and investment environments. Increased digitization is going to be a big part of that. The business community, including USCIB, has been vocally opposed to resorting to protectionist policies. It is our view that a reversal of many of these policies in place is necessary to ensure a sustainable, post-pandemic economy.”

Robinson also highlighted the depth of global interdependence and the need to join hands across borders to work on an inclusive pandemic recovery: “COVID-19 knows no borders: it’s a one-world enemy and we need a one-world response”. According to Robinson, “We are entering a ‘new reality’ for business and society—and a new imperative to enhance and strengthen employment, societal resilience, and sustainable development. Multilateral institutions are the vehicles to ensure we have an all-out collective and coordinated effort to ‘Build Back Better’—and all institutions across humanitarian, health, economic, trade, and environmental roles need to work closely with representative private sector organizations.”

USCIB Advocates Multilateralism, Partnerships, Vaccine Acceptance During HLPF

Given the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s United Nations High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) was drastically different, necessitating a virtual platform as hundreds of governments, NGOs, and civil society tuned in remotely to side-events rather than congregating at the UN headquarters in New York. Despite the challenges of a remote HLPF, USCIB retained its active leadership role, co-organizing side-events on inclusive multilateralism, the private sector’s role in educating the public about vaccines, and partnerships to fight COVID-19 and to advance the UN 2030 Development Agenda.

Inclusive Multilateralism

USCIB kicked off the week with a side-event on “Inclusive Multilateralism in Action: Working Together to Build Stronger, Resilient and Sustainable Economies” on July 7. USCIB, which serves as co-chair of the UN’s Business and Industry Major Group, partnered with the International Organization of Employers (IOE), the UN Global Compact, the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and the American Chemistry Council on the event. Dialogue among experts during the panels highlighted synergies at the national and global levels of COVID-19 response and recovery with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and made the case of mainstreaming private sector partnership and expertise into the UN Decade of Action and Delivery.

The USCIB Foundation’s Business Partners for Sustainable Development (BPSD) Initiative Executive Director Dr. Scott Ratzan spoke on one of the panels alongside, First Vice Chair of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) Maria Fernanda Garza, Secretary General, International Organization of Employers (IOE) Roberto Suarez Santos and UN Global Compact Executive Director Sanda Ojiambo. USCIB Vice President for International Strategic Engagement, Energy and Environment Norine Kennedy moderated a panel which explored best practices from business in developing partnerships to address food security, health and waste management challenges, all of which have become more difficult for the global community to tackle in light of COVID-19.

“The presentations highlighted the role of business as ‘first responders’ in several key areas of the pandemic response,” said Kennedy. In concluding the panel, Kennedy summed up what is needed as businesses merge their SDG plans with crisis response and recovery: “Inclusive multilateralism involving and mainstreaming private sector dialogue and implementation is not a nice-to-have; it is a must-have for a successful UN Decade of Delivery, Action and Recovery.”

Partnerships

BPSD was also featured at a July 7 side-event organized by the UN 2030 Agenda Partnership Accelerator. Titled “Partnerships against COVID-19 – building back better together to advance the 2030 Agenda,” the event explored how partnerships can assist developing countries in addressing challenges of the coronavirus and its aftermath while promoting synergies between key sectors, such as the scientific and technological community and the private sector. Ratzan, representing BPSD, joined a select group of experts including Sustainable Development Officer, Division for Sustainable Development Goals, UN DESA Ola Goransson, Resident Coordinator, Mauritius and Seychelles Christine N. Umutoni and Professor and Department Chair of Development Sociology, Cornell University, member of the Independent Group of Scientists for the Global Sustainable Development Report Parfait Eloundou-Enyegue.

Scientific Advances and Vaccination Acceptance

BPSD Executive Director Scott Ratzan

BPSD, together with the UN Technology Facilitation Mechanism, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), and City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy organized “COVID-19 vaccines: scientific advances, access models and vaccination acceptance,” on July 10 to explore the status of scientific research advances, implications for policy, and generating public trust in science and building vaccine literacy, and addressing misleading vaccine information.

“Despite the major technological advances that have enlisted industry to fast track a COVID-19 vaccine, all these efforts will be for nought if not enough people accept a vaccine to reach the necessary community protection, also termed herd immunity,” warned Ratzan. “Vaccine hesitancy threatens uptake for a COVID-19 vaccine before it has even been developed. Anti-vaccination advocates are spreading disinformation and inciting fears including vaccine side effects, safety and/or efficacy. Compounding these ongoing issues is a reality in which globally, many do not believe COVID-19 is a real threat. While we are not sure how entrenched these groups are in their disbelief of the risks of coronavirus infection or believe the pandemic is a conspiracy,  there is much work to do to build vaccine literacy and combat a pervasive anti-science, anti-truth rhetoric.”

Ratzan also presented “The CONVINCE Initiative” (COVID-19 New Vaccine Information, Communication, and Education), which will bring together key players in a multisectoral collaboration to formulate a whole-of-society approach to create frameworks, best practices and platforms to ensure vaccine uptake.

Brands on a Mission: USCIB Interviews Public Health Expert and Acclaimed Author Myriam Sidibe

Myriam Sidibe

USCIB sat down (virtually) with Myriam Sidibe, author of “Brands on a Mission: How to achieve social impact and business growth through purpose” (Routledge, 2020). “Brands on a Mission” was released on May 26 and immediately secured a #1 New Release Business Ethics category in Amazon Prime, being reviewed by Forbes, the FT and Global CEO Forum. Sidibe has worked with USCIB through The USCIB Foundation’s partnership with Business Fights Poverty; she has also worked closely with The USCIB Foundation “Business Partners for Sustainable Development” Executive Director Dr. Scott Ratzan.


You are a strong believer that brands must play a major role in promoting public health.  What led you to this view?

When I was ten years old, I fell into a septic tank. I couldn’t get out, I flailed around in the dark, screaming for help, sure I would die. I nearly drowned in shit. Today I remember the taste, the smell, the shame like it was yesterday. It remains one of the worst days of my life.

But it was also one of the best days of my life. It kicked off my career in health and hygiene – a career that has taken me all over the world – from Boston to Bujumbura, London to Mumbai, from the public to the private sector. Because I fell in that toilet’s septic tank, I was inspired and motivated to spend decades of my life getting rid of shit, literally! Whether by building toilets or washing hands.

Of course I didn’t want anyone else to have that hellish sensation, that near-death experience, that burning shame. I could relate to the 2 billion people that still lack a toilet.

After studying at some of the world’s greatest universities, I joined an NGO in Burundi, building toilets and handwashing facilities in war zones. Many of them remained unused as people preferred open air to our toilets, often using them for storing dried grain. Something didn’t feel right. We kept talking about ‘beneficiaries’, a term that bothered me deeply, as did the constant focus on the donors who paid for everything. Our success depended on writing grant applications for funding, and those grants measured success by how many toilets we built.

But I kept seeing a lot of empty toilets, as the ‘beneficiaries’ weren’t using them. I wondered, was my career going to be constantly chasing donor money to build unused toilets? Was I going to make decisions for powerless people? As a young African woman, I wanted to be part of the development of my continent. But my work felt both undignified for the beneficiaries and unsatisfying for me. So if the humanitarian route wasn’t for me, what else was there?

I went back to school, equipped myself with a doctorate in public health from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, then spent a few years researching and monitoring children washing hands or rather not washing hands. And then I presented my findings to the company that had funded my research: Unilever. They offered me a job.

And very soon, I fell in love – not with a fancy marketer but with a word. Crazy as this sounds the word was ‘consumer’. I realised that Unilever didn’t treat its audiences as beneficiaries, but as

consumers. Instead of offering hand-me-downs and pity, Unilever treated consumers, however vulnerable they might be, with respect and dignity. That’s because consumers have a choice: they choose with their wallet what to do with their money.

It was an exciting moment that changed everything for me. I went from giving resources to beneficiaries in Burundi who had no choice, to making solutions attractive to consumers who did have a choice, however humble their circumstances. And by doing so I have achieved so much more than I could have done in the public sector alone.

Health and wellbeing is the foundation of social justice – the most rewarding business investment in every sense of the term.  And I know now that through marketing, businesses – brands – are uniquely well-positioned to make consumption conscientious and improve both society as a whole and individual customers.

Do you think the message is getting through?  What are some of the best examples of companies taking a leadership position, in your view?

The message is definitely getting through.  As we are seeing right now with brands like Nike, Walmart, Ben & Jerry’s, Twitter and Google taking a stand on pressing issues such as racism and the accuracy of statements by political leaders, brands are becoming increasingly aware of their impact on society and their potential to make that impact a positive one.  That awareness is all the more clear in the steps many brands, such as Aunt Jemimah and Fair & Lovely are taking to drop racist product names and devote significant amounts of money to raise awareness and facilitate conversations about racism. Brands are recognizing that they no longer have a choice, and that they will be held accountable for their actions.

Unilever as a corporation has set an excellent example by integrating the 1 billion goal into Lifebuoy’s business strategy and actually combining global partnerships for public health.  Other great examples are Danone, which is beginning to identity as a Brand on a Mission, and LIXIL, which developed SATO, short for “Safe Toilet”, which helped vastly improve sanitation conditions  in 25 countries across Africa and Asia, among the poorest of the world’s poor.  LIXIL’s mission is to bring better living solutions to the world for today and the future.

While brands in general are seeing the value of purpose, they have changed and gotten better at this, we still need to hold them accountable.

It seems that Unilever was ahead of its time in recognizing the power of purpose in business success.  Can you talk about your time there?

I spent 15 years at Unilever, where I was provided with an excellent platform for developing initiatives that I could never have undertaken in the public sector. Thanks to this platform I was able to create a movement to change the handwashing behaviours of one billion people, the single biggest hygiene programme in the world.  I also helped  Pepsodent toothpaste improve oral hygiene in Africa and Knorr bouillon cubes fight anemia through encouraging mothers and girls to eat more green leafy vegetables alongside its iron-fortified cubes.

As I mentioned earlier, I was inspired and energized by the fact that Unilever didn’t treat its audiences as beneficiaries, but as consumers, and that however vulnerable these consumers might be, Unilever treats them with respect and dignity. Thanks to all of this  I have achieved so much more than I could have done in the public sector alone. I talk more about this in my book,  Brands on a Mission.  Of course I have my shares of stories of navigating the system as an intrapreneur and as a black woman in dominantly white corporate environment but my purpose which is to inspire and pioneer new ways to address social justice through sustainable business kept me going. And I have not regretted it.

What more can be done to ensure that government and business recognize the need to work together to address global challenges, including of course, COVID-19?

Above all, we need successful examples to follow.  Examples of coalitions between the public and private sectors  which launched Global Handwashing Day, or The National Business Compact for Coronavirus in Kenya, which brings together competing brands in the hygiene business, the Kenya Association of Manufacturers, a number of industry associations and the UN family in Kenya whose mandate is to accelerate local action and support government efforts in countering the pandemic. They also collaborate with Business Fights Poverty and other Business networks alike on global best-practice sharing.

Such examples can serve as a blueprint for others striving to do the same.

You’ve called for a “global marketing campaign” to beat COVID-19.  What do you mean by that and who would be involved?

Yes, we need an industry-wide approach to help support handwashing and other prevention measures.  Kenya’s National Business Compact for Coronavirus is an example.  We must get businesses to work together to distribute hygiene products.  In Kenya, we’ve set up over 4500 public handwashing facilities and ran a national campaign. We’re also supporting governments to help more people to grow their own foods.  When people are hungry, they won’t respect any of these measures such social distancing.  When your choice is die of Covid19 or die of Hunger I suppose the choice is easily made.

How do we address issues of public mistrust in our large institutions, particularly government, business and the media?

The most important factors are time and positive examples. It takes time to build trust, and to come back from the mistrust that disparity and inequality create.  Over time, with enough positive examples as reinforcement, we can build (or rebuild) the public’s trust in institutions.

What do you see as the role of organizations like Business Fights Poverty and the USCIB in the post COVID-19 world?

These organizations must leverage their strong reputations and reach to help companies and businesses create brands that embrace social missions, are more inclusive in both their hiring and their marketing, help educate the public about the issues their business affects and are intentional about their social footprint.  By reinforcing the need to continue in a direction that upholds a world of positive change and inclusiveness, such organizations can make a real difference.  And of course share my book lol.

Your new book is titled “Brands on a Mission: How to achieve social impact and business growth through purpose.” In it you say brands are crucial to addressing social justice, infectious disease, violence, fitness and a range of challenges.  Why are they so powerful?

With their natural incentives to get people to buy their products, brands have an inherent ability to reshape people’s views and habits. They have decades of experience convincing consumers to do just that, and the tools, resources and creative heft to change social norms and influence conversations.  They can spread messages far and wide, among both consumers and their employees.

In today’s world, brands have become tantamount to individuals who hold great power.  With such power and influence, it is simply no longer acceptable for brands to remain silent, especially in these times when consumers are craving positive examples to fill the void left by governments.

After spreading the word about the importance of handwashing for years, COVID-19 has put your work in the spotlight.  How are you responding to all the attention and momentum?

I’m going out there and making things happen. I helped create Kenya’s National Business Compact for Coronavirus, and have been doing a lot of speaking to keep spreading the message and building momentum. This has been catalyzing further response, which in turn is inspiring companies to innovate to respond to social and public health challenges we’re facing, including by supporting handwashing.

How do you stay optimistic in this difficult time?

I look at my three children and think about how the future will look when this difficult period has passed. They give me hope that these times will perhaps open up an opportunity for us to build a better world going forward, since the current crises we’re experiencing are exposing so many inequalities and injustices  we need, collectively, to address and rethink.

USCIB Statement on USMCA Entry Into Force

Washington, D.C., July 1, 2020 – The U.S. Council for International Business (USCIB), which represents many of America’s leading global companies, welcomes today’s entry into force of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) trade agreement, preserving and deepening the economic ties in North America and bolstering the global competitiveness of our companies and workers. The implementation of this agreement comes at a critical time of restoring certainty to U.S. industry in the North American market, as the global market is working toward recovery from the impacts of the current crisis.

The three partner countries must continue to work together to ensure effective implementation of this agreement, so that the benefits of the agreement in its updated and modernized provisions including on digital trade and customs can be realized. Over 12 million American jobs depend on trade with Canada and Mexico, and continuing to build on this economic relationship is important for U.S. industry for future economic growth. USCIB looks forward to a seamless transition to the new agreement.

About USCIB:
USCIB promotes open markets, competitiveness and innovation, sustainable development and corporate responsibility, supported by international engagement and regulatory coherence. Its members include U.S.-based global companies and professional services firms from every sector of our economy, with operations in every region of the world, generating $5 trillion in annual revenues and employing over 11 million people worldwide. As the U.S. affiliate of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), the International Organization of Employers, and Business at OECD (known as BIAC), USCIB helps to provide business views to policy makers and regulatory authorities worldwide, and works to facilitate international trade and investment. More information is available at www.uscib.org.