Moving Towards a Conscious Society

 

AMCHAM T&T’s ANNUAL APPRECIATION PARTY

FRIDAY 4TH DECEMBER, 2015

OPENING REMARKS – NIRAD TEWARIE, CEO AMCHAM T&T

Moving Towards a Conscious Society

Today’s announcement by the Central Bank Governor that T&T is officially in a recession no doubt puts a bit of damper on our celebration tonight. It does however, in our opinion, underscore the need for collective, thoughtful action to ensure that our economy and our society navigate the next couple of years in a manner that allows us to be even stronger in the medium to long term.

As you know, at AMCHAM T&T, the heart of our mission is to add value to members, allowing existing businesses to flourish while generating new business and market access for services and goods.

For the last year and a half, we have been focused on internal restructuring to create a Secretariat where individuals’ jobs align with their skill sets so that we can better serve you, our members.

The importance of this is evident in the fact that for the first time in a long time, we have sent out a 2016 calendar of events and partnership opportunities (before the start of the New Year). We continue to work on providing information, advocacy and research. And our work is bearing fruit: Invest Miami, Oxford Business Group, Loop, Global News Network, to name just a few, have all come to us to partner in some form, validating our statement that we are The Pathway to the Americas.

While we have strengthened and made OUR organization more competitive, institutional competitiveness will have a limited impact if the business environment itself is not competitive. And, this brings me to the heart of my speech: a broad view of productivity. AMCHAM T&T’s desire to improve workplace productivity is evident in our initiatives such as the National Youth Productivity Forum (NYPF) and others. But to create a more productive society we have to move toward a more competitive business community.

To create a more productive society, we must realise that it is in our interest as individual businesses and the business community as a whole, to be collaborative. We must embrace the concept of enlightened self-interest. This says that if we, as individuals within a group, seek the interest of the group as a whole, then we are ultimately seeking our own interest. (If you agree, it is not enough to say that a rising tide will magically float all boats – that if some businesses do well – as some will do in a recession – all will do well and all people will do well.)

If we are to succeed as businesses then we need a stable, competitive country. Therefore we must create what I describe as a conscious society.

          A conscious society, is one in which, like we teach in the NYPF, we listen and try to understand the perspective of others. More importantly, we take those other perspectives into account when we make our own decisions. A conscious society is one in which we look out for one another. One in which we always try to give a hand up. A conscious society is one in which we stand firm on principles, even when it is uncomfortable or unpopular to do so.

Indeed, the concept of a conscious society is encompassed by our organisation’s vision “to be the preferred private sector business organisation for the stimulation of free and fair trade and investment within the Americas…”

          To achieve a conscious society and thereby a competitive business community, we must have a society which is governed by laws and those laws must be adhered to and enforced. As we all know, the rule of law is an important, probably the most important component of a competitive society and it will be key to the attraction of the investment – local and foreign – required to return to growth.

     If we are to achieve a conscious society, we need institutions that work. I crave your indulgence to speak briefly about two often overlooked topics which are affected by the inadequacy of the rule of law.

Both are basic. Both are about the right to live without fear. Both speak to institutions that need to work better.

Why is it that in the majority of countries with available data, less than 40% of women who experience violence seek help of any sort[1]? Why do the majority who do, turn to family and friends instead of formal mechanisms, such as the police and health service? We cannot have a conscious society if institutions designed to protect victims (and businesses) continuously fail them.

Strengthening our institutions is at the core of a conscious society and boosting our productivity. According to the UN, on average 35% of women and girls (some national statistics put this as high as high as 70%) experience physical and/or sexual violence in their lives, some of these incidents of sexual aggression even occurring at the workplace. Imagine the impact this is having on the victim’s productivity at school or at work.

At AMCHAM T&T, we were alarmed by the statistics and wanted to be part of a national conversation that asks: “What can we as employers, do for victims?” As we seek to develop productive businesses in a conscious society, a first step was making this an Orange event. To that end, the UNFPA has offered to assist companies who want to offer training and education sessions. We encourage you to access this assistance and host these sessions in your office and to ensure that you have clear, well-articulated and understood policies in you workplaces so that all employees feel empowered to act against gender based violence.

Not only do we need institutions that work in a conscious society, but we also need institutions and policy committed to protecting the rights of all people.

So I ask, do you believe that all people should have the right to live without fear and discrimination? If so, then that must mean that all people have the right to work without fear and discrimination. Yet, many LGBT individuals experience discrimination, aggression and sometimes even violence in their workplace.

The belief that every individual should be able to practice their religion freely is so important that it is found twice nearing the end of our national anthem and in the preamble of our constitution. So, if in our conscious society we believe in principles – in this case that every individual should have the right to freedom of religion – how can we simultaneously believe that the exercise of that religion should afford one person the right to infringe on the rights of another? To do so would be to inconsistently apply our principles.

Therefore we at AMCHAM T&T believe that it is unequivocally wrong that the Equal Opportunities Act of 2000 expressly excludes protection against discrimination in employment and education to protection from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. How can we, as a society, claim to be mindful of the needs of our most vulnerable members when we have no formal protection for them? Victims of domestic violence deserve institutions and policies that work, and so too do victims of workplace discrimination, whatever its form or basis, and they should be able to seek official redress. The AMCHAM T&T Board of Directors has unanimously agreed to support the amendment of the Equal Opportunities Act to extend the Act’s protection against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. This has been recommended by the Equal Opportunities Commission itself. For having the courage of their convictions, the Board should be applauded.

We therefore urge the government to do what is right because it is right even if it may be unpopular in some quarters. AMCHAM T&T is currently doing a survey on the topic and, thus far, 85% of companies which responded support the amendment of the act to protect against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in the workplace.

This is an important national step in not only maximising workplace productivity, but also toward extending the rights that we want for all citizens. If we create a more just society. A more tolerant society. A more conscious society, the rising tide which we hope to create will indeed float most boats.This dream of a conscious society is not just an optimist’s dream. This dream of a conscious society is not just my dream. It can be a reality.

 But this conscious society must go beyond awareness of our own individual dreams. It must extend to the recognition that everyone, to borrow the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, has a dream. And, significantly, Dr. King’s dream was not a selfish dream. It was a dream for an ideal, a culture, a society and a world. It was a dream that included those who were critically disadvantaged; reminding us that a conscious society actively tries to give its most vulnerable members the tools to realise their dreams. And the rights that we are prepared to fight for, for ourselves, our spouses and our children are the rights that we should be prepared to fight for, for ALL members of society.

In this festive period, when we celebrate the birth of the Christ child who gave his very being to humanity, let us think about what we could give to society. In turn, I assure you that society will give back to us.

In the next year, AMCHAM T&T and all of our staff will re-double our efforts to serve you. We will provide well-researched policy based advocacy; access to key decision makers; networking opportunities as well as more and more access to information through strategic partnerships such as the one we announced tonight with Loop. You will be hearing more about your complimentary AMCHAM Rewards Membership in the next couple of weeks. If you pay your membership dues before the end of February, you could get access to savings of more the US$2000, which by the way is more than the cost of your dues.

Thank you for your time. Merry Christmas. Happy Holidays and may the Almighty bless you, your families and your organisations all.

[1] Taken from UN Women, http://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/ending-violence-against-women/facts-and-figures