Back in 1993, a good six years before the extraordinary events in Seattle, I was invited to give a talk to the International Chamber of Commerce at a meeting that was to be held in Cancun. I had just returned from two weeks being with peasant farm workers in Mexico and saw for myself some of the results of callous business practices in the tobacco fields. There are places I have been around the world where capital has newly, and temporarily alighted, where I've held mutated babies genetically handicapped by toxic wastes dumped in local streams. But this example was particularly upsetting, looking at the new babies that were being born there without genitalia. Scientists had tracked down the cause to the pesticides used on the nearby fields.
The American tobacco companies which bought the crops grown there refused to accept any responsibility because the fields did not belong to them. And knowing that representatives of the same companies were going to be in the audience in Cancun, and that this kind of corporate indifference was endemic among the people I would be speaking to, I did a talk about the key issue of the moment - NAFTA. And I showed them the slides of my journey with the Huichol Indians in the Sierra Madre.
I don't quite know what response I expected. I thought there would be some reaction, even if they howled me off the stage. But there was absolutely none - no embarrassment, no sense of outrage, just a collegiate sense of good manners.
I was chilled by the experience because these were no ordinary people. Leaders in world business are the first true global citizens. We have worldwide capability and responsibility; our domains transcend national boundaries. Our decisions affect not just economies but societies; not just the direct concerns of business, but world problems of poverty, environment and security. Yet if business comes with no moral sympathy or honourable code of behaviour, then God help us all.
Copyright Anita Roddick 2000. All rights reserved.
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