Leading businesses spurn Global Fund

Graham McKerrow, HIV i-Base

Senior executives from some of the biggest corporations in the world told a satellite meeting at Barcelona that they would not contribute a penny to the Global Fund for AIDS, TB and Malaria.

At a satellite meeting held by the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS, representatives from seven major companies including Hewlett-Packard, DaimlerChrysler and AOL Time Warner answered questions chosen in advance by the Coalition. The first question asked why business hadn’t contributed more to the Global Fund.

Karl-Heinz Schlaiss, chief advisor on external affairs for DaimlerChrysler, said it was not the responsibility of businesses: “It is a matter for governments.”

Peter Roach, social marketing controller of SSL International, a condom producer, said they donated condoms rather than money.

Stuart Burden, director for the Americas, worldwide community affairs at Levi Strauss & Co, said that over several years his company had given more than $25 million to AIDS projects and they preferred to continue with projects they knew rather than give money to a new fund.

However, Richard Socarides, vice president of AOL Time Warner Foundation, agreed: “Business should do more.” But he didn’t know how to persuade corporations to donate to the Global Fund.

John Hassell, director for federal, state and government affairs at Hewlett-Packard and Gaby Magomola, chairman of the South African Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS, said they didn’t know why more had not been contributed by business.

Hassell warned: “If we are held responsible for financing the Global Fund, we will crawl back into the sand.”

A member of the audience asked if companies were afraid to associate their brands with AIDS. The company executives said their companies were not afraid but Burden said he had been involved in other AIDS fundraising and one company donated $100,000 on condition their name was not revealed. “Yes, there is stigma,” he said.

However, he said his company was pleased to be associated with the cause, explaining: “People would rather buy their jeans from a company with social responsibility. It’s good for business.”

Ben Plumley, executive director of the Global Business Coalition, told the meeting that his organisation was “building up our credibility” so that it can influence companies to do more, such as give money or provide antiretroviral treatment to employees.

Another member of the audience and employee of DaimlerChrysler in South Africa said: “Looking after staff is part of the job of maximising profits.”

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