Business leaders ‘babbling’ on Aids fight

Business leaders’ new-found interest in climate change at this year’s World Economic Forum is taking their attention off other pressing causes, the chairman of a United Nations initiative to co-opt businesses in the fight against Aids warned on Friday.

“There’s complacency and fatigue and more babbling,” William Roedy, president of MTV Networks, said on the fringes of the Davos gathering of business and political leaders. “I think Aids should have had a bigger profile here. Focus is an issue.”

A year after the Red campaign was launched at the forum to “put global marketing genius to work for people dying of Aids in Africa” and two years after Davos delegates promised to make poverty history, such issues have fallen down the agenda, raising questions about corporate attention spans for corporate social responsibility causes.

Mr Roedy, chairman of the UN Global Media Aids Initiative, praised the growing business consensus on environmental issues, saying the debates in Davos would “take it to the next level”.

MTV is aiming for to become a “carbon neutral” company and is screening public service messages about the issue across its channels, including Nickelodeon programmes aimed at young children.

However, Mr Roedy warned against business complacency on Aids and its economic impact: “$9bn is being spent on the Aids epidemic this year [yet] the numbers [dying from the disease] are completely out of control. That’s why I’m trying to get it back on the agenda.”

Neville Isdell, chairman and chief executive of Coca-Cola, cautioned that companies “cannot be involved in every single issue that needs resolving at the moment”.

Companies should stick to areas integral to their business, such as the availability of clean water in Coke’s case, or issues such as Aids in Africa where there is an overwhelming importance to society. “If communities don’t prosper then we don’t prosper,” he told the Financial Times.

“We’re selective,” Mr Isdell added. “In China and India [Coke’s investment in anti-retroviral programmes, condom distribution and education] is relevant but we’re not involved in a major way in the US because there is no need for us to be involved.”

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