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No longer just ‘Business is business’

WHEN I was executive director of Amnesty International (AI) Pilipinas, one of the initiatives we pursued was business and human rights. Back then, in the 1990s, the other sections of AI like the United Kingdom, the United States and the Netherlands effectively engaged business with the slogan “Human rights are everybody’s business.” We made the same call and set up a human rights education, membership and fund campaign committee, tapping business leaders to help us mobilize broader support for the promotion and protection of human rights. Though our success was limited, I would like to think that we were able to sow the first seeds of greater understanding among business groups of their “responsibility to respect human rights in their own operations and ensure that their employees and other people with whom they work are entitled to rights such as freedom from discrimination, right to life and security, freedom from slavery, freedom of association, including the right to form trade unions, and fair working conditions.”

As executive director of Philippine Business for Education (PBEd) in 2006-2010, I adopted a similar call: “Education is everybody’s business.” It resonated well with business leaders and the academe—two sectors that PBEd aimed to bring together to better address, together with the government, the decades-old crisis in Philippine education. In those early years of PBEd, Edilberto de Jesus told us: “The education problem is too huge to leave to government alone.”

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Through PBEd, led by Phinma’s Ramon del Rosario Jr., business leaders first recognized their critical role in addressing and reversing the ills that plague the system, by pursuing a sustained advocacy program. They recognized that their engagement could go beyond granting scholarships, contributing desks, books and computers, and building classrooms. Of course, these inputs are important, but corporate social contributions and engagements have to be more strategic, more long-term, and more coordinated within and across sectors.

One such initiative supported by PBEd then was the 57-75 Reverse the Education Crisis campaign, led by the League of Corporate Foundations and ably pushed by Education Undersecretary Mario Deriquito, who was then an Ayala Foundation executive. The campaign emphasized the value of community involvement in improving the state of public schools and unlocking the potential of public school students.

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Not many may know that in 1992, captains of industry also formed the Philippine Business for the Environment (PBE) that has been the effective vehicle of business to better tackle its responsibilities for the environment. In fact, the PBE has ably “represented Philippine industry in the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and is the partner of choice of the government and of several international organizations for the implementation of environmental programs in the Philippines.”

Also operating actively alongside the PBE is the Corporate Network for Disaster Response and the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation (PDRF). At the end of this month, the PDRF will launch its first private-sector disaster operations center, which aims to better coordinate private-sector response to disasters. Its clear message: Environment and disaster resilience are everybody’s business.

There is also the Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP), the largest corporate-led social development foundation in the country. First established in 1970, the PBSP aims to help the poor rise above poverty and become self-reliant.

Its programs focus on education, livelihood and health. It boasts of having “benefited 4.5 million Filipinos and assisted over 6,200 social development projects through more than P7 billion in grants and development loans.” Through its many years of operations and with over 250 corporations on its membership roster, the PBSP has been spreading the word that poverty reduction is everybody’s business.

Many other effective national and international nongovernment organizations have acknowledged that their work needs the support of the business community. One such organization in which I am also an active volunteer is the Community and Family Services International (CFSI), which is committed to vigorously protecting and promoting human security, specifically the lives, wellbeing, and dignity of people uprooted by persecution, armed conflict, disasters, and other exceptionally difficult circumstances.

The CFSI’s main programs today are in the conflict areas of Mindanao and Typhoon “Yolanda” (Haiyan) disaster communities, as well as in Vietnam and Burma (Myanmar). In its many years of successful operation since June 1981—marking 35 years this month—it has always worked with corporate partners that not only provide financial support but also generate much needed volunteers as well as corporate foundation-based programs aligned with its vision, mission and goals. In the CFSI, we intend to make it clear that human security must become everybody’s business.

More and more today, it can no longer be “Business is business.” Today, business makes human rights, education, the environment and climate change impacts, disaster resilience, poverty reduction, human security, and a host of other national and international concerns, its business. And the purpose is not to profit from these, but to take on its shared responsibility as part of the communities it operates in to make lives better and help build a nation of peace and prosperity for all. It is making business part of the solution.

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Peter Angelo V. Perfecto is executive director of Makati Business Club and president of Integrity Initiative Inc.

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