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 Ramaphosa2 and Lord Simon Cairns.3 Cairns was chairman of British American Tobacco (BAT) at the time.4 Cairns and Ramaphosa retained advisory roles with the CBC until its liquidation.5

The CBC was liquidated in June 2014. Lord Jonathan Marland established the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council (CEIC) in July 2014 to replace the CBC.6


The CBC described 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% of the world’s population and about 25% of the world’s international trade and investment, the CBC stated aim was to get Commonwealth states acting as an economic bloc to increase the benefits flowing to them.

Although social development was mentioned in the CBC’s self-description along with encouraging good corporate governance, the main objective was to promote Commonwealth markets and companies to outside corporations and create a stronger trading bloc.1

The CBC was run by an elected board drawn from its corporate members headed by a director-general. It also had 20 special advisers, again representing corporate interests in the Commonwealth, with a few government officials.

Voice of the Private Sector

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

To support its members’ interests, it commissioned research into seven areas, including climate change and urban development.7 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 CHOGM was chaired by businessman and climate sceptic Hugh Morgan.8

Members could also join working groups looking at sectors they were interested in and which were supported by industry experts.9

Finally, the CBC was a partner in various ongoing programmes looking at key issues such as trade with China, agriculture and corruption.10

Unlike some other trade organisations, the CBC rarely appended its name to lobbying letters in the press or letter of communication to government ministers about policies it may or may not have agreed with.11 Its power laid in the ability to gather those it wanted to influence at its business lunches and seminars that took place across the Commonwealth.


CBC board members, until its liquidation in 2014, included:

  • Dr Mohan Kaul, Director General of CBC from inception to 2013, and chair of the Board of Directors. He was Executive Chairman of the Commonwealth Investment Corporation from 2012 to 2016.12
  • Sir Allan Collins, Director General appointed in 2012.13 He was a senior British diplomat for over eight years, first as Ambassador to the Philippines, then High Commissioner to Singapore, and Consul General in New York until 2011. (He was also Director General of Trade and Investment USA, for UK Trade and Investment until 2011.)14
  • Sir Allan Fields, at the time chair of Cable & Wireless Barbados
  • Pascal Dozie, former President of the Nigerian Stock Exchange
  • James Mulwana, Non-Executive Chairman of the board of BAT Uganda (until his death in 2013)15
  • John Denton, Partner and Chief Executive Officer at the Australian legal firm Corrs Chambers Westgarth, which represented BAT in that country.16

Relationship to the Tobacco Industry

According to documents in the tobacco archive, British American Tobacco (BAT) 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 (CSR) programmes and asked for ideas from department heads. The idea of 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.17

A BAT document listing payments to various organisations for 1999 showed that the company paid the CBC a subscription of GB£7,500 that year.18

CBC approached BAT early in 2000 to sponsor some meetings, requesting GB£35,000 towards a Commonwealth Business Forum coinciding with a meeting of finance ministers and a proposed CBC Initiative Against Corruption.19

In March 2000, BAT (CBC member number UK101) was asked to renew its subscription. The note was scribbled “please process”20 by Shabanji Opukah who was the key BAT correspondent for the CBC21 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 worked with NGOs. One example he used in the presentation was the launch of a small business development programme with the CBC.22

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.

BAT was one of the sponsors of a two-day business forum in Rwanda in 2008 part organised by the CBC.23 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.

Relevant Links

  • Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council website:

TobaccoTactics Resources

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  1. abcCommonwealth Business Council, Origins of CBC, CBC website, undated, archived November 2013, accessed October 2020
  2. For details on Ramaphosa’s business dealings, see his biography on the Mondi company website where he was joint chairman: Board of Directors, undated, archived October 2011
  3. A useful summary of Cairns’ business career can be found at the Mo Ibraham Foundation website where he sat on the board: Board, undated, archived October 2011
  4. J. Eisenhammer, Lord Cairns awarded top job at BAT, Independent, 7 June 1995, accessed January 2020
  5. Commonwealth Business Council, Board of Directors, undated, archived April 2014, accessed October 2020
  6. Simon Latham, Supporting the Commonwealth, City of London Town Clerk and Chief Executive Office report, 19 Feburary 2015, accessed October 2020
  7. Commonwealth Business Council, Research, CBC website, archived March 2014, accessed October 2020
  8. G. Readfearn, Commonwealth Business Council picks in-house denier to chair climate forum, DESMOG blog post, 5 November 2011, archived November 2011, accessed October 2020
  9. Commonwealth Business Council, Membership, CBC website, archived March 2014, accessed October 2020
  10. Commonwealth Business Council, Programmes, CBC website, archived March 2014, accessed October 2020
  11. Commonwealth Business Council, Media, CBC website, archived March 2014, accessed October 2020
  12. M. Kaul, LinkedIn profile, accessed October 2020
  13. F. Briggs, Commonwealth Business Council appoints new director general, Retail Times, 1 February 2012, accessed October 2020
  14. A. Collins, LinkedIn profile, accessed October 2020
  15. British American Tobacco Uganda, 2012 Annual Report
  16. Slater and Gordon, Big tobacco – a dying wish, 18 September 2018, accessed October 2020
  17. S. Opukah, British American Tobacco Company Ltd, Letter from Shabanji Opukah to Mohan Kaul regarding NGO business strategy, 16 December 1999, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, ID: stbj0197
  18. Unknown, Science & Regulation Forecast, 16 September 1999, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, ID: mrch0206
  19. M. Kaul, Commonwealth Business Council, Letter from Mohan Kaul to Opukah regarding sponsoring the Commonwealth Business Forum, 17 February 2000, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, ID: rtbj0197
  20. G. Mackinnon, Commonwealth Business Council, Membership Subscription 2000-2001, Letter to Shabanji Opukah, British American Tobacco plc, 31 March 2000, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, ID: ptbj0197
  21. Unknown, IPA Current Memberships Under Management: May 2000, May 2000, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, ID: lgfn0206
  22. British American Tobacco Company Ltd, A. Vecchiet, NGO Engagement, 16 October 2000, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, ID: xqhy0202
  23. The brochure advertising the event has been deleted from the CBC website.