USCIB-SHRM-IOE Town Hall During UNGA Discusses Critical Priorities of UN’s Our Common Agenda

New York, NY, September 21, 2022—As the second week of the 77th Session of the United Nations General Assembly got underway, the United States Council for International Business (USCIB) joined with partners, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and the International Organization of Employers (IOE), to hold a Global Business Town Hall on September 21. The Town Hall tackled some of pressing priorities outlined in the UN Secretary General’s report Our Common Agenda, which seeks to foster a human-centric recovery for the global workforce in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Panels centered around four critical areas from Our Common Agenda, including resetting the multilateral system, rethinking education to close the skills gap, reforming global response to future health crises, and reinforcing human rights through the role of governance and the rule of law.

“Business is a full partner and, together, we have the capacity to respond to these pressing global challenges,” asserted USCIB President and CEO Peter M. Robinson during his closing remarks.

Other high-level speakers and panelists included International Labor Organization (ILO) Director-General Elect Gilbert Houngbo, UN DESA Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development Navid Hanif, IOE Secretary-General Roberto Suarez Santos, President UN Human Rights Council Federico Villegas, and SHRM Chief of Staff, Head of Government Affairs and Corporate Secretary Emily M. Dickens, who served as keynote.

Emily Dickens (SHRM)

“The report mentions that we truly are at an inflection point in history,” Dickens told the audience of over 300 attendees, which consisted of representatives from business and UN officials. “I submit to you today that this inflection point touches no other place like it does the workplace—the location where people spend the majority of their time, the mechanism that allows people to take care of themselves and their families, the incubator for innovation that impacts how well we live.”

This town hall was a second in a series, following one organized by USCIB, SHRM and IOE during the UN High-Level Political Forum in July.

About USCIB: USCIB promotes open markets, competitiveness and innovation, sustainable development, and corporate responsibility, supported by international engagement and regulatory coherence. Its members include U.S.-based global companies and professional services firms from every sector of our economy, with operations in every region of the world. USCIB is the U.S. affiliate of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), the International Organization of Employers (IOE) and Business at OECD. More at www.uscib.org.

USCIB Urges Biden Administration to Oppose Extending TRIPS Waiver to COVID Diagnostics, Therapeutics

USCIB is urging the Biden Administration to oppose current efforts at the World Trade Organization (WTO) to extend a waiver of rules under the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement to COVID-19 diagnostics and therapeutics. USCIB remains disappointed with the TRIPS waiver for COVID-19 vaccines announced at the 12th Ministerial Conference of the WTO in June; it is staunchly opposed to extending the waiver to COVID-19 therapeutics and diagnostics.

Rules under the TRIPS Agreement are being challenged today by nations seeking to leverage the pandemic to gain unfettered access to competitively sensitive, proprietary biopharmaceutical manufacturing technology. In a letter to senior Administration officials dated September 12, USCIB contends that the TRIPS agreement provides ample flexibility to address disparities in access to medicines and treatments; the real problem is insufficient healthcare infrastructure and distribution systems necessary to distribute and adminster vaccines and medicines to remote populations around the globe, as well as residual vaccine hesitancy.  “Extension of the TRIPS waivers is a solution in search of a problem, undermining innovation, global health security, international rule of law, and faith in the global trading system,” argued USCIB Senior Vice President for Innovation, Regulation and Trade Brian Lowry.

USCIB further asserts that “it took decades studying coronaviruses and developing messenger RNA (“mRNA”) technologies to lay the foundation for the highly effective COVID-19 vaccines and other medicines of today. These revolutionary innovations, developed at unprecedented speed and scale, were fueled by global rules that protect IP which provide companies with confidence to undertake high-risk ventures over extended timelines.”  No nation has more to lose from weakened intellectual property rules than the United States, which leads the world in biopharmaceutical and technological research, Lowry stressed.

The letter was addressed to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs at the National Security Council Jacob Sullivan, Director of the National Economic Council Brian Deese, Coordinator of the COVID-19 Response and Counselor to the President Ashish Jha and Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Kathi Vidal.

Wanner Makes Intervention at UN Meeting on Security and Use of ICTs

On occasion of the second meeting of the United Nations Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) on the Security of and Use of ICTs on December 16, USCIB Vice President for ICT Policy Barbara Wanner delivered an intervention on behalf of stakeholders during a virtual stakeholder consultative discussion with the Chair of the Group, Ambassador Burhan Gafoor.

Wanner’s intervention highlighted many of the points that USCIB had already made in a letter that USCIB submitted to the Ambassador on December 9 prior to Wanner’s intervention, which was co-signed by 147 stakeholders from non-governmental organizations, states and regional organizations as well as individuals. The letter expressed an overarching commitment to a successful OEWG process and a belief that it is likely to have a far-reaching impact on many stakeholders, including impacts on communities and individuals. The letter also emphasized the importance of an open, transparent and inclusive dialogue that would provide the basis for stakeholders to play a role in implementing the decisions and which would take into consideration their ability to participate and contribute to the outcome.

“We urge you to stay true to your commitment to continue to leverage the expertise of non-governmental stakeholders in a ‘systematic, sustained, and substantive manner’ in order to effectively build upon the work of the first OEWG,” said Wanner.

Wanner also stressed the need for transparency, both in terms of the development of texts, and the accreditation process for non-governmental stakeholder participation. She also emphasized the need to continue using a hybrid format for meetings to facilitate the participation of delegates and stakeholders who cannot travel to New York.

“This approach will remain critical as we continue to battle the global pandemic. It also will enable full transparency of the proceedings as mentioned previously,” she added.

USCIB Supports OECD’s Launch of Report on ‘E-Commerce Challenges in Illicit Trade in Fakes’

USCIB Anti Illicit Trade Committee (AITC) Chair David Luna, who also chairs the Business at OECD (BIAC) Anti-Illicit Trade Expert Group (AITEG), made remarks at the December 13 launch of the OECD report “E-commerce challenges in illicit trade in fakes.” The launch of the report took place at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s National IPR Coordination Center in Virginia. This important report is also the first outcome of a Special Project on illicit trade between the AITEG and the dynamic public-private partnership (PPP) established under the OECD Task Force on Countering Illicit Trade (TF-CIT).

“On behalf of Business at OECD, we are especially proud to have actively participated in the work leading up to this final report through sharing information and market data insights, best practices, and other industry perspectives to shed greater light on the booming trade of counterfeits across global supply chains and online marketplaces,” said Luna.

“We believe it is crucial to take into account the input from private sector since it ultimately contributes to gain a more detailed perspective of the adverse impacts emerging from illicit trade in e-commerce,” he added.

“USCIB is the U.S. affiliate of Business at OECD (BIAC), the industry voice of the OECD. USCIB members Pfizer, Amazon, eBay, Walmart, Nike, Walt Disney, ABinBev, PMI and The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Innovation Policy Canter (GIPC) have been active in the BIAC AITEG and the good work of the TF-CIT tied to COVID, e-Commerce, and more,” said Megan M. Giblin, USICB director of customs and trade facilitation, and trade policy manager for USCIB AIT work.

Luna added that many other BIAC federations and partners worked on these important thematic streams in recent years, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Luna, the report is timely given the breadth and scale of nefarious actors and criminal networks exploitation of the openness of the internet and anonymity of transactions on e-commerce to evade detection and circumvent law enforcement to distribute and trade in counterfeit and pirated goods, and other illicit goods and contraband, across the digital world. The pandemic has further accelerated illicit trade but especially across online platforms including fraudulent COVID-19 related products.

“As we learned through our series of TF-CIT webinars over the past year, COVID-19 also created unprecedented opportunities for criminals to increase their already significant illicit activities, such as counterfeit pharmaceutical products and personal protective equipment (PPE), frauds, and coronavirus-phishing scams. Illicit trade has further hampered economic development by preventing the equitable distribution of resources that provide for sustainable futures,” said Luna. “Moving forward, the AITEG remains committed to continuing our partnership with the TF-CIT on Phase 2 of the E-Commerce project including more in-depth analyses of the institutional and governance gaps exploited by criminals, and encouragement of more national assessments and country studies.”

Giblin noted that USCIB and its members look forward to continued work with the BIAC AITEG in support of the OECD TF-CIT work streams.

USCIB Advocates Strong Investment Policies at OECD Investment Committee Sessions

USCIB and its international affiliate partners through Business at OECD (BIAC) remain on the front lines, defending solid, pro-investment policies at multilateral fora this fall.  

USCIB President and CEO Peter Robinson participated in the UN Committee on Trade and Development’s (UNCTAD) seventh World Investment Forum (WIF) as part of the Global Leader’s Investment Summit on October 19. “Now more than ever, it is important for international organizations like the UN and its member governments to provide the necessary welcoming environment for foreign direct investment in quality industry and infrastructure projects that help with pandemic relief and sustainable economic growth,” said Robinson. Otherwise, the pandemic exacerbated investment gap will persist with the developing world most at risk.”   

Robinson also called for a strong and sustained role for industry, as a key stakeholder, in the discussion on investment at UNCTAD, the UN Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL), the OECD or elsewhere. His remarks were echoed by other industry representatives and welcomed by some developing countries like Egypt. Opposing views were led by development economist Jeffrey Sachs and countries like Pakistan that would like to see radical reform of the investor state dispute settlement mechanism and reduction or elimination of protections for foreign investors.   

USCIB Senior Advisor Shaun Donnelly was a lead private sector speaker at a parallel “experts meeting on International Investment Agreements in the same virtual UNCTAD World Investment Forum week. Donnelly forcefully defended investor protections, including a strong Investor-State Dispute settlement System (“ISDS”) as necessary protection against host government discriminatory or unfair treatment of foreign investors.  

There was discussion at WIF of establishing a multi-stakeholder “World Investment for Development Alliance” to facilitate greater collaboration between intergovernmental organizations, business entities, academic initiatives and civil society groups and to develop enabling frameworks to address international investment and sustainable development outcomes. USCIB will follow this proposal closely to ensure our active participation.

Donnelly and BIAC Investment Committee Chair Winand Quaedvlieg (Netherlands) led BIAC’s participation in the OECD Investment Committee’s semi-annual fall meetings. In a free-wheeling brainstorming session on investment treaties on October 28, Donnelly made a major intervention that a government’s right to regulate is not a right to discriminate or abuse investors, to be arbitrary or to be non-transparent.  He pointed out that “policy space” promoted by some governments and NGO participants should not translate into a “carte blanche” for governments to treat investors badly.  But unfortunately, according to Donnelly, some governments continue to do just that, underscoring the need for strong investor protections.   

Donnelly also joined Chairman Quaedvlieg on October 27 at a formal “stakeholder consultation” with the OECD Investment Committee leadership.  That session, where BIAC joins with labor union representatives from the Trade Union Advisory Council (TUAC) as well as civil society group OECD Watch, was an opportunity for each of the stakeholders to lay down priorities and basic positions on future work in the OECD Investment Committee.   

Donnelly and USCIB Director for Investment, Trade and China Alice Slayton Clark, remained engaged this fall in informal consultations with U.S. government leaders to press the importance of investor state dispute settlement and positive Biden Administration messaging on the investment climate. The messages built on the above, encouraging conducive taxation frameworks, facilitation of administrative procedures, complementary public investments in modern infrastructure and the right mind- and skill sets, and sound investment protection and general predictability. 

Finally of note, USCIB continues to work with BIAC to share business views with respect to development of the OECD Foreign Direct Investment Qualities toolkit, designed to help policymakers create an enabling environment for attracting Foreign Direct Investment that safeguards key sustainability goals: productivity and innovation; employment, job quality and skills; gender equality; and, low-carbon transition. The toolkit is earmarked as a key deliverable for next fall’s OECD Ministerial Council Meeting. 

According to Clark, “All of these interventions provided a great opportunity for USCIB to remind government officials at the national and international level of the importance of foreign direct investment to economic development, recovery and sustainability, particularly in the face of a pandemic induced downturn.  As such, we must continue to maintain strong investor protections in international investment agreements.”   

Herzog Joins Sweden Foreign Minister Linde in Discussing Women’s Economic Empowerment

Gabriella Rigg Herzog

USCIB Vice President for Corporate Responsibility and Labor Affairs Gabriella Rigg Herzog joined a panel discussion organized jointly by the government of Sweden and the International Labor Organization (ILO) titled, “Women’s Empowerment and Worker Rights in a Post-Pandemic World” on November 12.

Moderated by The American Prospect Editor-at-Large Harold Meyerson, the event included other speakers such as Swedish Ambassador to the U.S. Karin Olofsdotter, Swedish Minister for Foreign Affairs Ann Linde, AFL-CIO International Department Director Catherine Feingold and U.S. Department of Labor Deputy Undersecretary for the Bureau for International Labor Affairs Thea Lee.

In her remarks, Herzog joined with other panelists in raising concerns over the disproportionate impact the pandemic has had on women, and the risk of backsliding on the gains made to date for women’s economic empowerment in the workplace. The conversation also turned to the issue of global supply chains and their possible role in advancing good practices regarding women’s rights and worker rights. In responding, Herzog noted many positive company efforts, and underscored the irreplaceable need at national levels for good governance, rule of law and effective enforcement of laws that meet international standards.

On the latter point, Herzog shared examples of discriminatory legislation in far too many jurisdictions holding women back. “Removing legal restrictions that hinder women from participating in the formal labor market and having formal self-employment opportunities such as proper access to finance for female entrepreneurs is key to addressing inequalities,” Herzog emphasized, noting the importance of joint efforts by governments, employers and workers to tackle shared challenges and priorities.

In terms of concrete policy recommendations, Herzog noted those put forward on October 7, 2021 in the “B20 – Special Initiative on Women Empowerment” policy paper, such as eliminating legal and cultural barriers to paid work and actively upskilling female workers.

Additionally, Herzog highlighted the key role employer organizations play as democratic institutions supporting small and medium sized businesses – especially at national levels –with training, tools and peer-exchanges on how to promote and advocate for gender equality and diversity at the workplace.

Herzog Moderates Session at Second UN Forum on Business and Human Rights

USCIB Vice President for Corporate Responsibility and Labor Affairs Gabriella Rigg Herzog joined Sophia Areias of the Global Business Initiative on Human Rights, in moderating a session on November 11 during the second  UN Forum on Business and Human Rights in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. According to Herzog, the session focused on the increasing number of mandatory human rights due diligence laws from around the world, and what they mean for businesses in the region, as well as offered practical insights for local businesses on how to prepare for the changing legal landscape.

Herzog spoke in her capacity as chair of the International Organization of Employers (IOE) Policy Working Group on Human Rights and Responsible Business Conduct. During the session, she emphasized that in this past year alone, Switzerland, Germany and Norway adopted mandatory due diligence legislation and that the EU Commission is poised to publish its proposal for an EU directive on mandatory due diligence this December.

“While many of the companies listening in from the region may not be directly covered by the new legislation because you are not based in the EU,” Herzog said, “nevertheless, it may affect you because the companies that are within scope of the legislation source from this region and will require stronger efforts from their suppliers with regards to responsible business practices.”

The session featured two panels – one with company presentations from Norsk Hydro and JTI discussing their firms’ responsible sourcing policies and practices, and a second including presentations from two employer federations from North Macedonia and Georgia, that spoke about their work and how they inform and support their member companies on emerging regulatory developments and best practices.

USCIB Staff Meet With New Zealand Ambassador; Discuss Trade and Investment Agenda

Left to right: Hannah Lee-Darboe, Ambassador Rosemary Banks, Peter Robinson

USCIB President and CEO Peter Robinson welcomed New Zealand Ambassador Rosemary Banks and her New York-based colleague the New Zealand Consul General and Trade Commissioner Hannah Lee-Darboe to USCIB’s New York office on November 15.

Robinson was joined by USCIB Senior Vice President Brian Lowry and Senior Director Alice Slayton Clark, both of whom tuned into the meeting remotely from USCIB’s Midwest and Washington, DC, offices, respectively.

“We greatly welcomed the opportunity to meet with Ambassador Banks and her colleague, who were interested in discussing perspectives on economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and future U.S. trade policy directions,” said Robinson. “We stressed our interest in and commitment to revitalizing the trade and investment agenda, specifically at the Asia-Pacific regional level, and more broadly at the multilateral level with a stronger World Trade Organization. My colleagues and I also provided insights into the divergent U.S. public views on trade depending on geographic location, political views and direct personal relevance of international trade.”

USCIB staff also expressed general appreciation for New Zealand’s role as host of APEC in 2021 and its global leadership in the trade space.

As COP26 Concludes, USCIB Calls for a New Inclusive and More Ambitious Approach

While COP26 came dangerously close to a “Copenhagen” breakdown over a lack of trust in the process due to last minute changes in the final text, the meeting concluded on November 13 at nearly midnight as approximately 200 countries agreed to the “Glasgow Climate Pact,” reports USCIB Senior Vice President Norine Kennedy.

According to Kennedy, throughout the final week of the intense two-week session, views had remained divided on substantive issues, most of which linked in some way to unmet finance needs, and also concerned gaps in pledged greenhouse gas reductions compared to scientific assessments of actions necessary to limit dangerous warming.

Following recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) reports of current national action pledges, the pressure was on to keep “1.5°C alive” and to finalize the outstanding elements – notably “Article 6” on carbon markets – of the Rulebook (the practical guidance for implementing The Paris Agreement).

“This meeting took place under numerous challenging circumstances,” added Kennedy. It was the first, major UN in-person meeting during the pandemic, held under stringent public health measures which included daily testing for all participants. COP26 was also taking place during a period of economic headwinds and uncertainty coupled with, higher energy prices. Outspoken climate campaigners inside the meeting areas and protesters outside, along with a higher-than-expected participation of more than thirty-thousand participants kept the pressure on. On the other hand, a record number of business participants on hand, including during the World Leaders Climate Summit, which comprised the first three days of the COP, signaled clear business support for ambitious climate action.

USCIB staff and members organized two U.S. business events in the final week:

  • A virtual USCIB side-event on “Infrastructure, Innovation and Investment for a Sustainable and Resilient Recovery,” featuring speakers from Duke University, General Motors and Generate Capital and
  • A Major Economies Business Forum (BizMEF) side-event on where business can make a running start to advance economy-wide action on climate change, in preparation for COP27. Speakers from Business at OECD (BIAC), the International Organization of Employers (IOE), the Mohamed VI Foundation for Environmental Protection and WorldSteel shared perspectives on converging employment, trade and energy transition policies, working with the private sector.

“In spite of unparalleled support by U.S. companies for an ambitious outcome, working with the Administration, we were disappointed by scant mention of business in the Glasgow conclusions,” stated Kennedy. “The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) served as the focal point for business at COP26, debuting new ICC papers on carbon pricing and on sustainable trade finance.”

Looking ahead to the next major UN climate meeting in Egypt in 2022, several thorny issues remain, including lingering dissatisfaction with lack of adequate finance and questions about whether high-emitting countries (such as U.S., China, India) will be able to offer enhanced pledges of emissions reductions. USCIB members will be preparing recommendations to inform the UN “Global Stocktake,” which will form a basis for future action, and continue to advocate for economy-wide approaches inside and outside the UNFCCC that advance energy access and security and substantively engage U.S. business knowhow and innovation.

USCIB’s COP26 Concluding Statement can be found here.

Robinson Joins Business, Health and Employer Experts at IOE Event on COVID-19: What Employers Need to Know on Vaccinations and Prevention

Left to right: Roberto Suarez Santos, Guy Ryder, Susan Hopgood, Peter Robinson

As employers remain on the frontline of the pandemic response, caught between calls to mandate vaccination in the workplace and demands to respect the decisions on vaccination of the individual, the International Organization of Employers (IOE) hosted a timely dialogue, “COVID-19: What Employers Need to Know on Vaccinations and Prevention.”

The October 5 event brought together foremost experts from the health, employer and business fields, including World Health Organization (WHO) Chief Scientist Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, ILO Director General Guy Ryder, IOE President Roberto Suarez Santos and USCIB President and CEO Peter Robinson, among others, to discuss this delicate balance, as well as the increasingly complicated situation in developing countries around access to vaccines, in addition to vaccine hesitancy. Panelists focused on a central question: how can employer organizations help companies navigate all these complex and politically charged issues?

Swaminathan outlined the stark realities of COVID-19 and the continued challenges of distribution and access to vaccines worldwide, while DG Ryder acknowledged some of the key dilemmas facing society and employers: in addition to the inequality in distribution and access, the question of mandates and of privacy, for example, is an employer empowered to know the vaccine status of employees? As an employer representative, Robinson discussed the responsibility employers have in vaccine literacy and COVID response and recovery, particularly following the results of the Edelman Trust Barometer, which revealed that employers—not “Big Business” but employers in general—were felt by employees to be one of the most trusted messengers of information on Covid response.

“While there have been fears of a mass exodus of people quitting and not returning to work, preliminary results show that people are following suit—trusting their employer and government—and getting vaccinated and returning to work to protect health and liberty,” said Robinson. “Recent surveys show that the public supports employers who work to protect society by requiring vaccination as a condition of entry to work. This is in sync with global efforts supporting governments to provide equitable vaccination access so that no one gets left behind.”

Robinson also referenced The USCIB Foundation’s initiative “Business Partners to CONVINCE”, or “BP2C”, designed to encourage and support employers worldwide in making the case for vaccination.

“I would like to take the opportunity to express special thanks for the support of IOE, whose role is and will be especially critical given its extensive range of employer organization members particularly as vaccines become more available in developing countries,” added Robinson. “Looking ahead, as the debate on credentials, passports, verification schemes and other ideas advance, we continue to support efforts to strategically engage business and government bodies to effectively communicate to build vaccine confidence and help galvanize support for re-normalizing a COVID-protected world. We are hopeful for a robust recovery in 2022.  Yet, if we do not work together to advance vaccine access, literacy, and uptake globally, we could face barriers for building back better. We could hit the wall and fall short of vaccination goals. Yet, I remain convinced we can find a way with business, employers and the private sector helping to forge the way forward with our efforts such as this event and in collaboration with our social partners.”