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December 01, 2005
First Steps: Corporate Engagement on HIV/AIDS Improves Since Last World AIDS Day
    by William Baue

Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS Best Practice AIDS Standard represents an important step forward, and companies such as Intel are responding to shareowner dialogue with ICCR.


World AIDS Day today finds the business community making first steps forward on addressing HIV/AIDS. Considering the long path ahead toward comprehensively counteracting the pandemic, the current status of corporate engagement on AIDS is both promising, given the pervasive influence of companies on society, and disappointing, given the grave stakes.

"Corporate engagement on AIDS is better than it was this time last year, but the business community in general is not sufficiently engaged with this issue," said Dan Rosan, director of the public health program at the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), a coalition of 275 faith-based institutional investors that conduct shareowner action. "It's a very small universe of companies that is addressing AIDS in any way, and to get quality responses to the pandemic, you have to shrink the universe even further--but the companies that are taking action are doing a really good job."

Exemplifying this positive work is the launch of the Best Practice AIDS Standard by the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS (GBC), a consortium of 200 member companies from around the world at various degrees of commitment to addressing AIDS.

"We've taken what we think is a bold step--there's never been a quantitative system for measuring corporate involvement on AIDS," said Trevor Neilson, executive director of GBC.

The tool comprises ten categories: non-discrimination; prevention and education; testing and counseling; support and treatment; product and service donation; corporate philanthropy; partnerships; supply chain engagement; advocacy and leadership; and monitoring and reporting. Companies self-assess, scoring their practice on a ten-point scale in each category to rank overall performance on a 100-point scale.

"There's a specific example for each point in each category," Mr. Neilson told SocialFunds.com, referring to GBC's database of case studies. "None of this is theoretical--it all comes from our work with companies."

For example, in the treatment category, companies assign themselves two points if they provide information about where employees can get treatment, five points if they pay for treatment, and seven points if they pay for treatment for employees' spouses and children.

"We tried to go as far as we can to make it objective, but we acknowledge that this is a first step," said Mr. Neilson. "We know we'll to need to work with others to improve it."

Mr. Rosan applauds the Best Practice AIDS Standard.

"One of the things the Best Practice AIDS Standard is going to do is separate out companies taking a real leadership role from companies that are simply putting their name on the list," he said. "If I were a company manager responding effectively to AIDS, I would really like the fact that there is now going to be a tier of leaders that will be recognized and held to certain standards, because it makes my job easier in terms of trying to justify why my job adds value to the company."

One company manager responding to HIV/AIDS is Dave Stangis, director of corporate responsibility at Intel (INTC).

"To be honest, HIV/AIDS has not had a significant impact on Intel or our employees directly," Mr. Stangis told SocialFunds.com. "However, that said, we recognize that as a global company operating worldwide, the locations we sell to and potentially will grow into in the future are clearly impacted by the pandemic."

"We also know that as a global brand, we will be expected to 'do our share' especially if we are selling into those geographies," he added.

India is one of the geographic regions that is particularly vulnerable to the spread of AIDS, and India's the strategic positioning for tech makes this sector particularly vulnerable to AIDS risks.

"The consensus from public health experts is that India will be the next wave of the pandemic," said Mr. Rosan. "The lessons drawn from Thailand, South Africa, and Botswana are that dramatic urbanization, great wealth disparity, subjugation of women, and an insufficient healthcare system are the ingredients of a generalized HIV epidemic--all of these ingredients are there in India, so it's as if everybody is just waiting for the other shoe to drop."

"If the tech industry responds this year instead of in 2010 or 2012, they can head this off at the pass with significant benefits to shareholders, and that's what we're trying to generate," he added. "I don't think you're going to see a lot of resolutions on AIDS coming out of the technology industry, because they have a history of responsiveness to engagement on social issues, so I'm hopeful we'll see a lot of action from companies--which is, after all, our goal."

Intel is one of seven technology companies and 31 companies overall that ICCR is dialoging with over their response to HIV/AIDS. These dialogues have not been fruitful enough to avoid filing shareowner resolutions at five companies with filing deadlines thus far, including Abbott Laboratories (ABT), Pfizer (PFE), Conoco Phillips (COP), Marathon Oil (MRO), and Anheuser-Busch (BUD).

For its part, Intel has signaled its willingness to respond to dialogue with ICCR, according to the letter Mr. Stangis sent ICCR after their October 31 meeting.

"One item we discussed was disclosing more information on our HIV/AIDS efforts on our web site, and I agreed to pursue this," wrote Mr. Stangis. "I am also exploring how we might publicly disclose more of our internal policies related to HIV/AIDS, and we are evaluating the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS for possible membership."

 

 
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