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Building sustainable businesses

British High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, John Rankin was the Chief Guest at the tenth Sri Lanka Sustainability Reporting Awards.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

ACCA Sri Lanka Sustainability Reporting Awards 2014
ACCA Sri Lanka Sustainability Reporting Awards 2014

The ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) Sri Lanka Sustainability Reporting Awards was held on 25th February, 2014 at Cinnamon Grand Colombo.

Following is the full script of the speech made by the British High Commissioner John Rankin.

“President, Chairman, members of the ACCA Committee, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

Thank you for the kind words of introduction. It is a privilege for me to be here with you this evening at the ACCA Sri Lanka Sustainability Reporting Awards.

Let me start by paying tribute to the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants. For over 20 years the ACCA has been the leading voice in promoting environmental, social and governance reporting for businesses as an integral part of their work, going beyond traditional financial accounting. I know that the principle of sustainable reporting is now firmly embedded in your work, and that as a consequence, the principles and practices of sustainable development are now embraced by many the companies in this country, both large and small. As British High Commissioner I’m particularly delighted that your efforts have been recognised by being awarded the Queen’s Award for Sustainable Development – a real charter mark of the success and quality of what you do.

And the work you started over 20 years ago remains as important as ever- indeed, it is perhaps more important now than it ever was.

The initial focus of sustainable reporting was in the environmental field, and that remains a key element. As two island states, the United Kingdom and Sri Lanka have a shared interest in tackling the risk of rising sea levels as a consequence of rising temperatures. We also have a shared interest in tackling risks to food security. That risk is very real: the International Rice Institute forecasts a 20% reduction in rice yield in Asia per degree Celsius of temperature rise. Let me repeat that figure: a 20% reduction in rice yield across Asia, per degree Celsius of temperature rise. A recent study in Science magazine suggests a possible 30% reduction in maize production in southern Africa by 2030 unless urgent action is taken to tackle climate change.

Governments have key responsibilities in this area: to invest in renewable energy and, reduce carbon emissions. These are responsibilities that the British Government as an industrially developed nation takes seriously.

But governments, even acting together, can’t meet all the challenges by themselves. We need everyone – individuals, other public sector organisations and private businesses- to be involved. By promoting environmentally friendly practices, companies here in Sri Lanka can play a major role in preserving the beauty and environmental security of this country. And they can also help to preserve and promote Sri Lanka’s still vital agricultural sector at the same time as developing new areas of business within a growing economy. British companies stand ready to work with your companies on renewable technologies.

But sustainable development is of course now about more than just the physical environment. It has grown to encompass wider economic and social concepts, now encapsulated in the ten principles of the United Nations Global Compact. These include:

  • Labour issues:- abolishing child labour; eliminating discrimination in employment practices;
  • Anti corruption – ensuring that businesses work against corruption, including extortion and bribery;
  • Human rights, ensuring that businesses support and respect universal rights and are not complicit in abuses.
  • And support for the precautionary approach to environmental challenges and the development of environmentally friendly technologies

Companies across the world have realised that embracing these principles is not only good for the wider community, but also good for their own businesses. Companies that integrate sustainable development policies into their operations will, by definition, enhance their own long term stability. And companies which promote good labour conditions and good governance are more likely to be able to attract FDI and sell their products to reputable overseas buyers.

The apparel sector here is an excellent example. I have seen for myself the good labour conditions and practices in many of your garment factories, which I believe compare rather favourably to the wider region.

I know from speaking to British buyers that those conditions are an important reason why the high quality clothing produced in this country remains in high demand in the United Kingdom. As awareness and concern over international labour conditions continues to grow, Sri Lanka’s comparative advantages in this area will continue to provide commercial advantages. Sustainable development policies in the garments sector, are in short, good for the bottom line. And the engagement of companies here in sustainable development is part of the growing international trend. The UN’s Global Corporate Sustainability Report 2013 reveals that businesses around the world are increasingly taking action in this area, ingraining principles on human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption into their management and operations. This trend involves both large and small companies, and companies from both the most developed and the least developed countries. In this context, companies can be positive examples to other organisations, including governments. Similar values and principles apply, irrespective of size or geography. Sustainability involves investing in the workforce and investing in one’s citizens, maximising participation, consultative decision- making and the potential for future growth.

This is important because the global challenges we face require global solutions. We all need to engage-none of us can remain islands unto ourselves. So the world wide adoption of sustainable development policies, and sustainability reporting, should give us all hope for the future. And I hope it will give all of you in the ACCA Sri Lanka encouragement in your work in continuing to promote the Sustainability Reporting Award.

I offer my warm congratulations to all the companies that are being recognised this evening for their excellence in sustainability reporting. Your work is important for your companies. It is also important for Sri Lanka and the wider world. I wish you all well in your future efforts.”

Published 3 March 2014