The role of the private sector, civil society and other stakeholders in supporting democracy and the efforts to confront the challenges it faces was at the center of a debate today during the inauguration of a seminar at the headquarters of the Organization of American States (OAS) that included a panel with OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza; the Ambassadors of Chile and Italy to the United States, Arturo Fermandois y Giulio Terzi; and the Deputy Chief of Mission of the Embassy of Lithuania, Rolandas Kacinskas.
The event, titled, “Corporate Democracy Seminar: The Role of the Private Sector and Other Actors in Supporting Democracy,” was held in the framework of the commemorative activities of the tenth anniversary of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, and was co-chaired by the missions of Italy and Chile, and co-organized with the Working Group on Poverty, Development and Democracy of the Community of Democracies. The inauguration also included a pre-recorded video message from the United States Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.
Secretary General Insulza recalled that “with the ultimate goal of promoting peace, stability and prosperity in the societies of this hemisphere, it is necessary to have public policies that protect freedom of association, strengthen civil society organizations, and strengthen participation by the private sector in public affairs, because that contributes to the creation of an environment for dialogue and progress needed by democracy.”
In particular, he asserted that today “we are at a good moment to promote economic and social progress and address the great problems and challenges facing the region, such as inequality, poverty, and the issue of discrimination, the problem of crime, organized crime, which we have to face jointly, and governance.” At the same time, he recalled that the region of Latin America and the Caribbean in the last decade grew more than in the previous two decades combined, and that the way in which it overcame the recent economic crisis “has filled most of our countries with optimism, since they see that today we are not the last ones to come out of it or the most damaged by it, but on the contrary, we can have a much more confident view of the future.”
The head of the OAS insisted that the responsibility of promoting social and economic progress “is not only a task for governments, but for society as a whole,” including the private sector. “Corporate social responsibility is not a philanthropic task, it is not an activity left aside for nonprofit endeavors, but it must be considered as an investment or reinvestment strategy to thus facilitate and contribute to improve an environment of social and economic and investment growth, and of defense for democracy, its principles and values.”
On this last point, he said that the Organization he heads works “to implement and promote corporate social responsibility within our region, a subject with a definition on which today we have greater clarity and consensus.” Nevertheless, he warned that “it is still necessary to further sensitize all stakeholders involved about the benefits of this concept.”
For his part, Ambassador Terzi offered his country’s example to reaffirm the importance of the private sector’s participation in the construction of democracies and economic growth. “The economic boom that characterized the postwar decades in Italy represents just this trend,” he said, referring to the time after the Second World War. “The consolidation of a pluralistic society ruled by democratic institutions has been pivotal to Italy’s industrialization and the growth of its economy. That model has underscored the importance of the partnership between the public and private sectors. And at that time the State’s intervention in both infrastructure and private sector projects enabled in-depth economic progress.”
Ambassador Fermandois cited the case of Chile to recall that “thanks to the implementation of systems, for example, of concessions, we have been able to repair and modernize in a brief time a great part of the housing, roadside, hospitality, education, port and airport infrastructure of Chile after the earthquake of February 27, 2010.” Furthermore, he noted that the government of his country has had “very intense public-private experiences,” such as in matters of pensions and in matters of healthcare businesses. “Without the contributions of private businesses we would have taken decades perhaps in facing very serious problems such as healthcare,” he said, adding that “joint public-private efforts have contributed therefore to maximize development and reduce our poverty.”
Secretary of State Clinton, in a video message, recalled the three elements she considers essential to democracies: accountable government, a vibrant private sector, and a strong civil society. “Together they work like the three legs of a stool. Today in Latin America we are seeing them work together better than ever. In vibrant democracies throughout the region, businesses and civil society groups are spurring growth and expanding opportunities. And many governments are playing their part as well by committing to policies that encourage innovation and spark a new culture of corporate social responsibility,” she said.
At the same time, she urged participants in the seminar to find “more ways of connecting businesses with civil society and government.”
Finally, the Deputy Chief of Mission of the Embassy of Lithuania, Rolandas Kacinskas, said his country’s example shows that “democracy and freedom cannot be taken for granted, but require hard work on a daily basis,” and that the experiences of Eastern Europe and other regions of the world indicate that the democratic process “is not irreversible,” since established democracies may be overthrown by authoritarian regimes.
The representative from Lithuania, a country that chairs the Community of Democracies, recalled that “the lesson from my country is that democracy needs assistance, it needs help,” and that it “must be supported by relevant instruments, and this has been one of the original tasks of the Community of Democracies. As Chair, Lithuania has been trying to engage all layers of society, government, members of parliament, youth leaders, non-governmental organizations, women and businesses. Businesses can and must play an important role. Therefore, we invite the business community to take an active part in this meeting.”
The introductory panel was moderated by Irene Klinger, Director of the OAS Department of International Affairs.
For more information, please visit the OAS Website at www.oas.org.