Commonwealth Business Council

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The Commonwealth Business Council (CBC) was formed in 1997 at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Scotland. Its stated aim is "to utilise the global network of the Commonwealth more effectively for the promotion of global trade and investment for shared prosperity".[1] CHOGM meetings remain the highlight of the organisation's calendar, where it holds trade fairs and business deals are sealed. However, its networking between governments and corporations are a year-round affair.

The CBC was founded by Cyril Ramaphosa[2] and Lord Cairns.[3] Cairns was chairman of British American Tobacco at the time.[4] Cairns and Ramaphosa retain advisory roles with the CBC.


Objectives

The CBC describes itself as "a bridge for cooperation between business and government, between developed and emerging markets and between large and small businesses".[1]

With the 53 Commonwealth countries accounting for 30 per cent of the world's population and about 25 per cent of the world's international trade and investment, the CBC aims to get them acting as an economic bloc to increase the benefits flowing to them.

Although social development is mentioned along with encouraging good corporate governance, the main objective is promote Commonwealth markets and companies to outside corporations and create a stronger trading bloc.

Voice of the Private Sector

The CBC positions itself as the voice of the private sector and makes this voice heard in the roundtable meetings, conferences, and networking events it organises, bringing together government officials from the Commonwealth with high-level corporate representatives.

To support members' interests it commissions research into seven areas including climate change and urban development.[5] The position it takes on an issue such as climate change, for example, can be gauged from the fact that a forum on the topic held at the recent CHOGM was chaired by businessman and climate sceptic Hugh Morgan.[6]

Members can also join working groups looking at sectors they are interested in and which are supported by industry experts.[7]

Finally, the CBC is a partner in various ongoing programmes looking at key issues such as trade with China, agriculture and corruption.[8]

Unlike some other trade organisations, the CBC rarely appends its name to lobbying letters in the press or missives to government ministers about policies it may or may not agree with.[9] Its power lies in the ability to gather those it might wish to influence at its business lunches and seminars that take place across the Commonwealth.

Organisation

An elected board drawn from its corporate members headed by a director-general runs the CBC. It also has 20 special advisers, again representing corporate interests in the Commonwealth, with a smattering of government officials.

The organisation does not list any corporate members (which number around 105) but it does advertise some of its strategic partners.[10] Membership fees are based on company turnover and the representative must be of at least board level seniority.

People

As of spring 2012, the CBC's new Director-General is Sir Alan Collins,[11] replacing Dr Mohan Kaul who had held this post since the CBC began and is now the Chairman of the Commonwealth Investment Corporation and co-chair of the CBC's board of directors. Dr Kaul, who maintained a regular blog in his role as director general, previously had a long career as an adviser to governments and corporations in India and South Africa as well as working with the Commonwealth Secretariat.[12] Sir Allan Fields is chairman of Cable & Wireless Barbados.[13]

The other co-chairman of the CBC is Dr Pascal Dozie[14] who is a former President of the Nigerian Stock Exchange.[15] The managing director is Steve Godfrey, who has a long career as a civil servant.[16]

Other board members for 2010-2011 represent a range of commercial interests and include:[17]

  • James Mulwana. He joined the board of directors at BAT Uganda in 1995[18] and became non-executive Chairman in 1996 where he remains.[19]
  • John Denton. Partner and Chief Executive Officer at the Australian legal firm Corrs Chambers Westgarth, which has represented BAT in that country.[20]

There are 27 special advisers, past chairs and working group chairs at the CBC[13] and they represent senior positions in a range of sectors across the Commonwealth.

Tobacco Links

According to documents in the tobacco archive, British American Tobacco was the main tobacco company that enjoyed mutually beneficial links with the CBC.

In April 1999, BAT was looking to strengthen its Corporate Social Responsibility programmes and asked for ideas from department heads. The response was that sponsoring students from abroad to study in UK universities attracted the most support. The CBC was identified as one of the organisations that could arrange this.

In December 1999, Shabanji Opukah, at the time BAT's International Development Affairs Manager, wrote to Dr Mohan Kaul at the CBC asking to meet to discuss how to improve dialogue with NGOs. “We are committed to being a responsible company in an industry seen as controversial," Opukah wrote.[21]

A BAT document listing payments to various organisations for 1999[22] showed that BAT paid the CBC a subscription of £7,500.

CBC approached BAT early in 2000 to sponsor some meetings, including £35,000 towards a Commonwealth Business Forum coinciding with a meeting of finance minsters and a proposed CBC Initiative Against Corruption.[23]

In March 2000, BAT (CBC member number UK101) was asked to renew its subscription. The note was scribbled "please process"[24] by Shabanji Opukah who was the key BAT correspondent for the CBC[25] in line with the tobacco firm's emphasis on developing its CSR efforts.

The relationship provided material to demonstrate BAT's engagement with stakeholders. In 2000, senior BAT official Andreas Vecchiet gave a presentation on how the company works with NGOs. One example he used in the presentation was the launch of a small business development programme with the CBC.[26]

BAT was also invited to take part in a brainstorming session to set the agenda for a CBC working group on creating a good business environment.

More recently, BAT was one of the sponsors of a two-day business forum in Rwanda in 2008 part organised by the CBC.[27] BAT supplied two executives to give talks at the event. Jeremy Pike, BAT's area director - Sub Saharan Africa, took part in a discussion entitled 'Improving the Investment Climate: Creating an Enabling Environment', while Keith Gretton, corporate affairs director, took part in a session on counterfeiting and illicit trade.

Notes

  1. 1.0 1.1 CBC, About, CBC website, Accessed October 2011
  2. For details on Ramaphosa's business dealings see his biography on the Mondi company website where he is joint chairman, Board of Directors, Accessed October 2011
  3. A useful summary of Cairns' business career can be found at the Mo Ibraham Foundation website where he sits on the board, Board, Accessed October 2011
  4. John Eisenhammer, Lord Cairns awarded top job at BAT, Independent,7 June 1995
  5. CBC, Research, CBC website, Accessed December 2011
  6. Desmogblog.com, Commonwealth Business Council picks in-house denier to chair climate forum, Desmogblog, 5 November 2011. See also [1]
  7. CBC, Working Groups, CBC website, Accessed December 2011
  8. CBC, Programmes, CBC website, Accessed December 2011
  9. CBC, News, CBC website, Accessed December 2011
  10. CBC, Strategic Partner, CBC website, Accessed December 2011
  11. Sir Alan Collins KCVO CMG, CBC website, accessed 13 May 2012
  12. LinkedIn, Dr Mohan Kaul profile, website, Accessed December 2011. A useful profile on his career with the CBC is on the Commonwealth Secretariat website, Accessed October 2011
  13. 13.0 13.1 CBC brochure,Promoting trade and investment for shared prosperity, 2011
  14. CBC, Lord Mayor's Visit, CBC website, 12 September 2011
  15. Pascal Dozie Heads Commonwealth Business Council Plans Big For Nigeria, Vanguard, 20 December 2009
  16. Business Action Against Corruption, Steering Committee, Accessed December 2011
  17. Commonwealth Business Forum 2011, Programme, Accessed December 2011
  18. BAT, Note to the BATCO Executive Committee, 2 December 1994
  19. Global Business Leaders Forum 2010, Brochure
  20. ALB Legal News, Law firms revise approach to tobacco postGFC,ALB Legal News, 17 June 2011
  21. BAT,Letter from Shabanji Opukah, 16 December 1999
  22. BAT Science and Regulation Forecast
  23. BAT, Letter from Mohan Kaul, 17 February 2000
  24. BAT, Membership subscription, 31 March 2000
  25. BAT, IPA Current Memberships Under Management, May 2000
  26. BAT, NGO engagement, 16 October 2000
  27. The brochure advertising the event has been deleted from the CBC website.