« Family businesses are a force for long-term good »
The powerful alignment of family business and the sustainability agenda is revealed at a first-of-its-kind meeting at the United Nations during the World Investment Forum.
The legacy concerns of family businesses and the long-term vision needed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are powerfully aligned, speakers said at an innovative meeting at the World Investment Forum on 25 October.
Firms owned or run by families account for two-thirds of businesses worldwide, 60% of the entire human labour force and 70% of global GDP – making them an essential force in the sustainability agenda – according to Caroline Seow, head of sustainability at Family Business Network International (FBN-I), co-organizer of the UNCTAD event.
FBN-I had pledged to promote a business model that would benefit as many people as possible and the environment for generations to come, Ms. Seow said. To give life to this pledge, FBN-I developed its Polaris platform to helps family-owned businesses understand and implement sustainability concepts and practices in their day-to-day activities.
“We must shatter the myth that business and society exist in tension with one another,” she said, pouring scorn on Milton Friedman’s analysis that business only operates to enrich itself.
“Purpose-driven businesses reject the Milton Friedman model. Prosperity for all transcends the material gain of the few.”
UNCTAD’s head of investment and enterprise James Zhan said that FBN-I was participating in a United Nations meeting for the first time. UNCTAD offered the right platform on which many players from different realms like this could meet, he said.
FBN-I chief executive officer Alexis Du Roy de Blicquy and Jesus Casado, Secretary-General of European Family Businesses, moderated the meeting.
« We are family »
Mr. Casado said that family companies had a long-term vision, the goal of preserving assets, a commitment to local communities, were prudent by nature and natural incubators of innovation – “around the dinner table” – and the advocates of capitalism with a conscience.
Pacari Chocolate founders and co-chief executive officers Santiago Peralta and Carla Barboto, business and life partners from Ecuador, explained that they worked with 400 cocoa-pickers to produce award-winning premium organic chocolate.
“The idea was to make not only the best chocolate but to be ambassadors of Latin American flavours,” Mr. Peralta said. “From ‘tree-to-bar’ we practice a holistic approach.”
Mr. Peralta said that the philosophy behind a family business was the same as that behind the Sustainable Development Goals.
“If I don’t treat the farmers well now, how is my son going to make chocolate years from now?” he said.
Ms. Barboto added that she did not regard these farmers as mere suppliers but as part of the whole value chain and they were rewarded accordingly.
Valentine Fievet, member of the supervisory board of Unibel SA – makers of Babybel known for its “laughing cow” brand – said that Bel was a family group (now being run by her brother) that was one of the largest producers of cheese in the world.