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September 1, 2017

Editor’s letter: Better giggle than cry

By Vincent Huck

A few hours after we published a story about EY CEO Mark Weinberger being criticised for not quitting USA president Donald Trump’s advisory forum, Trump disbanded the forum.

The Trump administration had created the American Manufacturing Council and the Strategy & Policy Forum as two advisory groups of high-profile executives in an effort to forge alliances with big businesses.

Although some reports suggested that the disbandment of both groups had been initiated by the CEOs themselves, this bears no importance. What will be remembered is that a number of CEOs – inclulding Weinberger – stayed on when they could have turned their back on the USA president and followed the exodus led by Merk CEO Kenneth Frazier.

Should they have quitted? In truth it would have been more surprising if they had.

Coincidentally this month, we are publishing the first round of this year’s Latin America rankings. And thinking of Latin America recent history goes a long way in highlighting USA businesses’ record when it comes to human rights.

Nearly all, if not all, Latin American countries have at some point in the past decades been asphyxiated economically to lay the ground for their governments to be toppled.

Some will argue that so went the cold war and it was the ugly face of a war against communism and for the liberal values to prevail. In truth, it was nothing else then economics and putting in place puppet governments that would allow the USA businesses to make the greatest profits at the expenses of the countries and their citizens.

So why would big businesses now turn their back on Trump? A president who is one of their own – a businessman turned politician for ego and money, and whose presidency promises to be a golden goose for businesses. No reasons at all. Interestingly enough, a lot of the human rights linked to workers’ rights arose within businesses at the time of the industrial revolution. Of course, there was some self interest, as a healthy and well looked after workforce would produce more. Only later when the welfare state came about and governments started to make it their responsibility, did businesses move away from working towards the welfare of their stakeholders – their workers and communities in which they operated.

It would go a long way in today’s world if business came back to these roots – but that will be the day.

In the meantime, I suspect a whole lot of people will giggle next time we hear Weinberger talks about trust or tells us that EY stands for diversity, or that one should “back words with actions”, or that EY wants “to build a better working world through [its] own actions and by engaging with like-minded organizations and individuals”.

Those empty words are nothing short of disrespect to EY’s employees, clients and the general public and have now made the network’s and its CEO’s reputation a laughing stock.

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