Seminar on finance and ethics: Opening speech
Ladies and gentlemen,
“Doing well by doing good”. According to The Economist, this will be the business mantra for 2008. This is encouraging and inspiring. It is also strongly linked to the topic of this seminar: Financial investments and ethical challenges.
I will wisely leave the details regarding financial investments to the experts.
However, I’m happy to recognize that many financial investors take on responsibilities going beyond pure financial returns. Investor responsibility is a concept with content, notably spreading more and more widely, involving the Pension Fund – Global and many other investors - including those of you present today.
The ethical guidelines for the Pension Fund – Global were adopted unanimously by the Norwegian parliament. This underlines the broad commitment here in Norway to these principles. I believe this commitment is strongly linked to a global commitment.
As Goodwill Ambassador to the UNDP I have the privilege of working in particular on promoting the UN Millennium Development Goals. If we intend to meet these goals by 2015, all stakeholders must be involved, at all levels. I believe sustainable development is dependent on three main elements, the so-called “Three-legged stool” – with government, civil society and the business sector each representing a leg.
Over the recent years, we have reached some important milestones regarding involvement of the business community in a meaningful way as contributors to sustainable development. I refer for instance to the UN Global Compact that directly aims at committing businesses to align their operations and strategies with ten universally accepted principles in the areas of human rights, labour, the environment and anti-corruption. The UN Global Compact is a part of the basis for the active ownership strategies for the Pension Fund – Global. Many of the guests here today have either signed up to the UN Global Compact or in other ways support this initiative.
There are many important topics up for debate during this seminar, for instance children’s rights and climate change, and how investors can contribute ethically sound in these areas.
Many sectors of the business community may still regard ethical considerations as a cost, or at least as not relevant for the company’s financial return. For those investors with a long-term perspective, there is self interest in encouraging companies to prioritize sustainability in all areas, also socially and environmentally. Education and health care for the poor facilitates growth in human capital. Fighting climate change is taking care of the capital that the natural environment represents. I believe that increase in human capital and protection of the environment represent – in the long term – a precondition for a stable world economy and well functioning markets. Furthermore, development—empowering the poor to escape poverty—creates new markets and opportunities for investment.
There are many challenges and questions yet unanswered in this area, which calls for debate and collaboration. This conference can help move the process forward – if we all truly believe that we can actually do well by doing good.