Former President Bill Clinton, speaking to executives of Chevron, HBO, Coca-Cola and others, said employers acting in their own self-interest needed to do more to fight HIV/AIDS and other treatable diseases like tuberculosis and malaria.
Clinton, whose foundation has provided antiretroviral medication to 750,000 people, spoke during the sixth annual awards ceremony of the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The nonprofit organization, whose 220 member companies represent a combined workforce of 11 million people in more than 200 countries, recognized businesses for their efforts to combat HIV/AIDS in the workplace and in the communities where they operate.
"We could be treating everybody for AIDS now," Clinton said during his speech in New York on Wednesday, June 13. "It’s irrational not to implement these business strategies."
The eight companies recognized for their workplace programs are Abbott and Abbott Fund, Chevron, Coca-Cola China Beverages, Eskom Holdings, HBO, Marathon Oil Corp., Eli Lilly & Co. and Standard Chartered.
"It’s a business imperative, you know, that if we invest in these people, to keep them [healthy]," Chevron vice chairman Peter Robertson told Workforce Management. "This disease is one that cuts people’s lives short. So here’s a very simple economic equation about looking after our most valuable asset, which is our employees, and keeping them on the payroll."
Chevron, which has 55,000 employees in more than 120 countries, more than half of whom are outside the United States, found that without a serious effort to reduce the prevalence of HIV/AIDS, its workforce would be decimated. The company’s highest prevalence rates were in those areas hardest hit by the disease. In South Africa, where 30 percent of the population is infected, 18 percent of Chevron’s 1,378 employees had the disease, compared with 0.6 percent of its 23,000 employees in the United States.
In 2002, the company instituted its global policy governing HIV/AIDS to protect employees from discrimination and harassment and to offer comprehensive prevention education, testing and treatment programs to employees and their families as part of their health benefits. The company hired 44 people to implement the policy globally and says that in areas like Zimbabwe, 89 percent of employees who participate in training get tested.
"In Angola, where we have 3,000 employees, we haven’t had one instance of a baby picking up HIV from its mother in the last two years, which frankly for us is a great accomplishment," Robertson said. "It’s a small indication of what this education is doing."
Despite the efforts of some of the world’s largest companies, "We are not winning the war on AIDS or tuberculosis or malaria," said Richard Holbrooke, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and president and CEO of the Global Business Coalition. "The numbers are not going down."
Clinton, whose remarks followed those of Virgin Group founder and chairman Richard Branson and actor Jamie Foxx, said enlightened self-interest is not just a business imperative, but a personal one. In explaining his own activities, Clinton said he is involved in the effort to reduce the ravaging effects of treatable diseases because helping others in great need makes him happy.
"We do it because it makes us happy," Clinton said. "If everyone was just as happy as we are, what a world it would be."