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Reflections from the BSR 2010 conference

4 November 2010

This week I have spent a couple of days at the BSR (Business for Social Responsibility) 2010 conference in New York, it's one of the largest conferences on corporate responsibility in the world, with over 1,000 delegates from major businesses, NGOs, governments and investors. One of the most interesting issues on the agenda has been the role of women in sustainable development - from their leadership within business to their role as active consumers, from the 60% of the world's food produced by female farmers to their role in product innovation. This morning we had a presentation from Zainab Salbi who founded www.womenforwomen.org sharing the powerful role women play in making communities stronger.

It is clearer and clearer listening to the CEOs speaking here from Monsanto and Avon, and talking to the delegates in the sessions, how sustainable development issues are being integrated into core strategy in company after company. It's a long way from the philanthropic view of CSR of 15 years ago. But this doesn't mean strategy which is created within the business alone. Many of the business challenges and opportunities companies like SABMiller face - such as how we involve more marginalised communities in our value chains to create greater economic growth - require collaboration with NGOs and governments, and that necessitates a new approach. It's an approach that I explored further in a recent book, co-authored with Dunstan Hope, one of BSR's Managing Directors and a speaker here, see www.bigresponsibilities.org.

One of the cases Dunstan discusses in the book concerns the internet and human rights, and there was a good discussion here about the difficulties of how a responsible tech company can meet both the expectations of those groups who promote a very liberal and open use of the web, and those governments who have legitimate security concerns. The www.globalnetworkinitiative.org is a collaboration that tries to bridge that gap and improve understanding.

Yesterday I was a speaker during the session on water scarcity - one of the big discussions at the conference. It's clearly an issue rising up the agenda rapidly as more and more companies begin to understand that both water quantity and quality challenges are going to affect their businesses in the future. We had a debate lasting more than 2 hours - and which kept going into the break - concerning how companies can best dimension water risk, put in place programmes to manage that risk, and then communicate to investors and other key stakeholders. SABMiller's Water Futures partnership with WWF, where we work together to understand water risk and then invest to protect watersheds upon which our businesses around the world depend, was much discussed as a new type of partnership approach.

In the context of continuing economic uncertainty and - here in the US at least - some significant political upheaval this week, the importance of companies, NGOs and governments working together to resolve sustainability challenges, and educate consumers about what they can do, is greater than ever.

  • Elaine Cohen on 12 November 2010 at 07:45:01

    Hello Andy, thank you for sharing your insights from the BSR conference. Your work at SABMiller on water risk is impressive.

    On your first point though, about advancing women, I note that only 19.5% of your workforce are women and 25% of managers are women. There are only 2 out of 16 women on your Board, and one out of 11 women on your executive team. I couldnt see any specific information in your report that talks to advancing women in your business and wonder what you are doing about this? With an almost all male Board and Executive team, do women really have a chance at SABMiller ?

    regards,
    elaine
    www.csr-reporting.blogpsot.com

    Reply from Andy Wales, SVP Sustainable Development
    on 16 November 2010 at 15:23:00

    Hi Elaine

    Thanks for your question. It’s an important issue and also a real challenge. There were stories in the press just yesterday which talked about the fact that across the FTSE 100, one in four companies has no female directors at all and among UK blue-chip companies, women make up just 12% of boardroom posts.

    So it’s an issue many companies across all sectors have to deal with to ensure that they reflect the cultural changes in society. SABMiller has a long-standing commitment to equal opportunity and intolerance for discrimination and we measure diversity and inclusion within all our businesses as part of our sustainability assessments.

    Around the world, some of our businesses are doing better. In Russia and Romania, for example, 28% of the executives are women and in Botswana and South Africa, the figure is 30%.

    However we fully acknowledge that we need to do more; not only to reflect societal changes but also to remain competitive and an employer of choice. We want to do better and are actively seeking to improve, but it would be very interesting and useful to know which companies you think are getting right.

    Andy

  • Rachel Weissenburger on 2 December 2010 at 19:10:26

    Andy -
    I am very interested in what SABMiller is doing to go "green" and become a sustainability corporate power. Ive been researching for the Edison Green Awards (www.edisonawards.com) and I have found numerous blogs and postings from various sources all noting the good work that is coming out of SABMiller. Kudos to you!

    Reply from Andy Wales, SVP Sustainable Development
    on 8 December 2010 at 12:47:00

    Hi Rachel, Thanks for your comment and good luck with this year's awards.

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