Remarks by H. Fisk Johnson, Ph.D.
Chairman and CEO, S. C. Johnson & Son, Inc.
Upon receiving USCIB’s 2007 International Leadership Award
Monday, December 3, 2007
New York City
First, let me thank United States Council for International Business for this honor. It is great to know you can win some things without steroids.
But actually, I want to accept this award on behalf of all the people at SC Johnson, because they are the real ones who have made us a leader in all of the areas that Bill [Parrett, USCIB’s chairman] was so kind to mention.
Tonight, I want to talk very briefly about reputation and responsibility.
We have all heard the stories about recalled products from China that have been tainted with dangerous chemicals – toys, toothpaste, and dog food, and so on.
My seven year-old daughter loved to play with a toy called Aqua dots, which was just recently recalled. And when she would play with them it never even crossed my mind that swallowing some of the tiny beads could put a child into a coma.
I suspect that, until recently, American consumers thought little about the safety of products made in China, not so much because they had faith in Chinese manufacturing, but because they had faith in American companies who import those products, and faith in the federal agencies who regulate them.
Blaming the Chinese is not the answer. That will only create problems in our relations with China and push America into protectionism. And by blaming China, what we are really doing is letting ourselves off the hook. We here in the U.S. have the ultimate responsibility.
I recently visited a factory in China that we were interested in buying. Right at the end of the manufacturing process as the product is coming off the line it is sprayed with chemicals and the workers pick it off the line with their bare hands. And from the tips of their fingers to the elbows they were soaked in insecticide. And they were exposed like that for 12 hours a day.
This factory also had this big hydraulic press which was about 20 feet wide and about 15 feet high. It was used to print stamping on cardboard boxes. And in order to put a sheet of cardboard into the press, a worker stuck his arms up to his elbows into this machine which opened and closed every few seconds.
I stood there wondering how many people lost arms or hands in that machine.
To provide heat for the manufacturing process, this factory burned high-mercury, high-sulfur content coal. And this facility alone would have increased SC Johnson’s global carbon footprint alone by 25 percent.
I don’t even want to think about how this company disposed of its chemicals.
Now, although we did not end up buying this factory, we had plans to bring this factory up to our standards. It was our moral responsibility to do so. We owed it to the culture of our company, to our consumers and to the Chinese.
I believe we, as responsible U.S. multinationals, must do more to help improve conditions in China or wherever else in the world we operate. We have to do more to help them or our suppliers reach a higher standard. And, this is particularly true when you have a long supply chain.
Getting the suppliers of your suppliers and in turn their suppliers to work to a higher standard – it is not such an easy task. But ultimately, it is we who have the responsibility to ensure that the ingredients in our products and the processes that make them are safe.
We must have the knowledge of the environmental and health impacts of the ingredients before we formulate them into our products. And we must have the audit systems in place to verify what is in our products.
We are the ones that must take the lead. We can’t leave it to the Chinese. We can’t leave it to NGOs. We can’t leave it to the federal regulators. The government cannot test everything. The government cannot write regulations for everything. And we do not want it to. We must be responsible.
I am very proud of the people at SC Johnson who have a very long history of doing this. In 1975, for example, at the first hint of an issue, my father removed CFCs from aerosols years before it was required by the federal government.
And over the past 7 years, SC Johnson has spent millions upon millions to develop a patented “Greenlist” which inventories and rates more than 2,000 chemicals and their products reporting on their impact on the environment and human health.
With Greenlist, for years we have been systematically selecting better raw materials for our products and phasing out ingredients in favor of those that we know are better. We use this system in our product development, in managing our supply chain and in all aspects of our decision making.
While we do not pretend to be perfect, this is about continuous improvement and getting better and better at what we do, and how we do it, no matter where we operate in the world.
And we believe so strongly in this system that we are offering any company, even our competition, the use of Greenlist, absolutely free.
In closing, let me say – as a CEO, as a scientist, as a citizen – I genuinely believe that we need more rigorous help and safety standards and more rigorous monitoring. But the question is who is to do it?
I believe we must act as a unified multilateral business community. We must not wait for China. We must not wait for federal regulators. We must set the pace. We must set the standard. We must lead.
Thank you very much.