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Monday, December 7, 2009

Guest Post – GE

Coming Together on the "Rule of Law"

Back in February I wrote a post “Legal Doesn’t Equal Sustainable” highlighting the distinction between sustainability and legal requirements. This was from the perspective of my experience working in a developed economy. In this guest post, Frank Mantero from GE positions the importance of the rule of law to developing economies and to GE’s operations in developing countries.

Frank Mantero is the Director, Corporate Citizenship Programs, for GE Corporation. Frank coordinates the company's global citizenship efforts, develops and manages the company's Citizenship Report, monitors the company's engagement with the DJSI and leads communications for GE-sponsored disaster relief efforts.

Working for GE, I work for a multinational company with extensive and continuously growing operations in developing countries. One of the biggest challenges that we face today is the need for strong local institutions that help foster the rule of law, protect the rights of individuals and create predictable, transparent and equitable legal and regulatory environments;.

Here, the need for localized engagement has become more visible as we reflect on and manage the fallout of the recent global financial crisis-- the result of a complete “systems failure”. Slowly we are waking up to the impact of our actions and inaction, discovering the need to ‘reset’ our approach to business in every region and every industry. We have been challenged to re-think the way work together and re-set our responsibilities to each other and the communities around us.

As we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves down, and stand back to observe a new and unfamiliar world, I look around me to see others in the same situation-- weather beaten and tired. Despite the exhaustion, the survivors remain because they share the same the goals and values that defied a global economic meltdown- integrity, experience and a focus on transparency and accountability. For us to succeed in the future, we must continue to anchor ourselves using these goals and values, while at the same time innovating for change.

As Einstein once mused, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” This philosophy is the foundation for the new, innovative approaches and collaborative actions that are changing the way we think about and shape our future. As a collective society, we face tremendous challenges such as climate change, energy security, water scarcity, migration, and health pandemics. To help tackle these modern day challenges, companies must build out their capacities around these issues, integrating innovation into the heart of their business. This innovation lies not only in the products and services companies provide, but also in their approach to engaging with the communities and governments where they operate.

While the growing strategic importance of what some call sustainable development and others call corporate responsibility, citizenship, or even responsible business does add some complexity to businesses operating in the global marketplace, it more importantly highlights the need for collaboration and agreement on the rules of the game. So, the ‘Rule of Law’ can no longer just be about securing a top down enforcement of the law, but also about building and/or strengthening the capacity of institutions and society to develop governance mechanisms that support sustainability values.

For me, this means securing the highest credible standards in one’s own practices considering local customs, cultural and political differences, that in turn, advance that of all businesses and governments towards sustainability. The importance of a consensus on truth and integrity is why in my work at GE I place great emphasis on “Rule of Law”. It plays a central role within our citizenship strategy, as it drives shared accountability and provides security in the midst of a downturn.

Without doubt, an effective Rule of Law ultimately strengthens nations (competitiveness) economically, politically and socially, creating environments that enable businesses like mine to engage and contribute to common development. It is time we come together, beyond issues of compliance, to uncover the roots and experience the promises of Rule of Law.

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