Security as the Key to Sustainability: Business Lessons from a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate
By Eric Baker, for Thai-Norwegian Chamber of Commerce
The 2015 Norway-Asia Business Summit in India was lucky enough to have Kailash Satyarthi as a guest speaker. Mr Satyarthi is an Indian children’s rights supporter and a labour activist. His Bachpan Bachao Andolan group (Save the Children Movement) has fought to protect the rights of 83,000 children in 144 countries.
Mr Satyarthi’s activism led the International Labour Organization to adopt Convention No.182 on the worst forms of child labour, and that standard is now followed in countries across the world. He is co-winner of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize with Malala Yousafzai, and he shared his thoughts on what businesses and governments can do and should think about the world, including operating in new markets.
“I can still feel the warmth of Norway from the day last year when I was invited to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, even though it’s a very cold country,” said Mr Satyarthi. “And when I came back to India, there was a big celebration in the streets for my achievement. But that same day came news of terrorists taking over a school in Pakistan. Journalists asked me what my feelings were, and I told them the terrorists should take me hostage instead, because all children are our children. 130 children were killed later that day.”
“We all know the role of the state is shrinking compared to civil society and popular institutions. Previously government agencies would talk about ways to stop violence against children and slavery. But now the government is looking to non-governmental agencies and businesses to combat these problems. Companies are now expected to become leaders on these issues of child labour and slavery.
“I think sustainability in business is dependent on security. How are we going to make this world safer for children, more secure for the environment? Every day we hear stories about how the world is becoming more unsafe. This month is the one-year anniversary of 190 girls being kidnapped by Boko Haram and still we have no idea where they are.
“We can’t rely solely on governments on these issues because there is a trust deficit. Business and the civil sector have to fill in the gaps.
“You can’t rely on merely a legal framework either. We have to create a moral system of accountability among people and our children. There is where the business community is so important. Business needs to have compassionate intelligence. This will help you better connect with the world and have better leadership.
“The best way to connect with the rest of the world is what I call the sustainable 4 ‘P’s. People are the most important P. We have 1 billion people living in abject poverty, with 1% of the people controlling 51% of the wealth in the world. We have to think long and hard about how to be responsible citizens in such a world. The one key to a sustainable society in this setting is education.
“The second P is planet as we need to change from a short-term perspective away from greed to a more long-term focus. The third P insists that prosperity be shared so that society gets rid of poverty. And the fourth P is peace, as business and society cannot be sustained without peace.
“This is not about dogma, it is about culture. How do we create more peace? Our youth are becoming more intolerant, and business can play an important role in solving this problem.
“If one single child is deprived of opportunities, I view this as slavery. We need to become a progressive society where every child matters, and I refuse to accept that collectively we cannot do this.
“In fact, I know we can do this because I have recently seen businesses take more responsibility. I tell you we can end child slavery in our lifetime. Now is the time because children cannot wait any longer.
“In India, the 2% mandatory corporate social responsibility law needs to be prioritised. Children are suffering here. Just remember that sustainability lies in what you contribute to the world.
“Normally I do not prepare remarks for a public speech, but the Nobel Peace Prize was a momentous occasion. Unfortunately in the run-up to the ceremony, I lost my papers. I was flustered until I remembered a story from my childhood.
“There was a massive fire and everyone was rushing to save themselves, including the king of the jungle — the lion. But he saw a small hummingbird rushing back toward the flames. He said ‘What are you doing?’ The hummingbird said ‘I am going to extinguish the fire.’ The lion said ‘How?’ The bird said ‘I have a drop of water in my beak and I’m going to do my part.’
“I urge you to do your part.”
Mr Satyarthi has been an advocate against child labour for 35 years and has won numerous human rights awards around the globe.