THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C. (Virtual)
MODERATOR: All right. Hello and welcome to the Washington Foreign Press Center’s virtual briefing with Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment Jose Fernandez. The Under Secretary will be speaking about the 2021 Secretary of State’s Award for Corporate Excellence, awarded this morning.
My name is Bill Martin, and I am the moderator for today’s briefing. And now for the ground rules. This briefing is on the record. We will post the transcript and video of this briefing later today on our website, which is fpc.state.gov. Please make sure that your Zoom profile has your full name and the media outlet you represent. First, we will hear from Under Secretary Fernandez. I have already shared a biographical note showing his very distinguished career, and I will now ask him after his remarks – to give remarks and then we will open up for questions.
With that, over to you, Under Secretary Fernandez.
UNDER SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: Thank you. Thank you and good afternoon, everyone. I hope someday soon we will have a chance to meet in person as opposed to doing this virtually.
Earlier today I was delighted to join Secretary Blinken as he honored six U.S. companies, three large corporations and three small to medium-sized enterprises, as the winner – as the winners of the 2021 Secretary of State Award for Corporate Excellence. It’s what we call the ACE Awards, and those are six companies that all of which have been doing exemplary work. And on a personal basis – I remember this from when I was at the State Department 10 years ago – it’s actually one of the most enjoyable aspects of the job just to see companies that make us all proud, and it’s something that I – every year I look forward to hosting.
This diverse array of companies exemplifies American values and international best practices in their operations overseas. Their work directly advances U.S. Government policy priorities in key global challenges, challenges that we’re all familiar with: climate innovation, health security, and economic inclusion. The winners also demonstrate profitability and sustainability, and they demonstrate that profitability and sustainability are part of the same equation, which is another way of saying that companies can do well by doing good.
Hopefully you all had a chance to watch the ceremony, but just in case, here’s a very brief snapshot of the remarkable work that these companies are doing together with partners overseas.
Secretary Blinken honored two winning companies for their work in economic inclusion. One of them is Purnaa, a fair trade garment manufacturing company that operates in Nepal. It empowers and employs marginalized individuals in Nepal. It provides them with a fresh start. These are survivors of exploitation, including human trafficking and bonded labor, and many of them suffered from extreme discrimination.
Another company that we honored today was Mastercard India. To improve the lives of women, Mastercard India supports women entrepreneurs, small business owners, and farmers, and the company founded [supported and revamped] India’s first-ever rural women’s chamber of commerce and has organized 100,000 – 100,000 – rural women artisans into collectives.
The Secretary also recognized two additional companies. One was Whirlpool Slovakia as an alternate winner in this category for recruiting and retaining disadvantaged Roma workers. The programs that are run by Whirlpool Slovakia have materially improved the lives of its employees and the larger Roma community in the region.
Health security is also a pressing concern in this time of pandemic, as we all know, and today we also honored two U.S. companies that are making great strides in this field. One of them was Zipline, fascinating company. It’s a San Francisco-based medical products delivery company that designs, manufactures, and operates drones – drones that distribute essential medicines, including COVID-19 vaccines, to remote and under-resourced areas in Ghana. And we saw pictures and we saw film of these drones taking COVID-19 vaccines and dropping them on remote regions of Ghana. They’re doing great work.
3M Singapore has also advanced the fight against COVID-19 by ramping up production of N-95 respirators that have helped protect frontline health care workers, first responders, and the broader public not just in the U.S. but in many parts of the world.
And then last but certainly not least, the 2021 ACE Awards honor companies for their commitment to climate innovation, including working towards breakthrough solutions for mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to the effects of climate change. And in this category, we had two companies. One is Australis Aquaculture. Australis Aquaculture has pioneered climate-smart ocean farming [of Barramundi fish] in Vietnam’s marine tropics and is developing technology to cultivate a seaweed species with the potential to eliminate methane emissions from cattle when part of their diet.
The second company is one that made – may be familiar to you: Patagonia. Patagonia is a sustainable company that has put environmental issues at the core of its business model, and in Argentina the company has advanced initiatives to promote nature-based climate solutions, including through strengthening legal environmental frameworks.
The Secretary in this category also recognized a second company, Aerosol in Slovenia, as an alternate winner for its research in measuring and combating black carbon.
These are all fascinating companies that, as I said, we are – we’re very, very proud of their work. At the State Department and across the U.S. Government, we encourage and support all American business to operate with the highest standards. We are committed to creating the conditions for promoting fair play, the rule of law, and high standards for global commerce in line with democratic values.
In support of that, I also would like to just let you know that we’re doing something that I think will make a huge difference, a real difference in promoting the rule of law and high standards, and that’s working to update the National Action Plan for Responsible Business Conduct. This is a – this is an action plan to further advance the positive relationship between the private sector and civil society. As you know, the OECD guidelines for multinational enterprises provide another mechanism for supporting a level playing field, and I’m proud that last month we appointed a new U.S. national point of contact for responsible business conduct for that OECD effort. That’s an important position. It’s a position that we first appointed when I was here in 2009 to promote business conduct that is both commercially viable and it’s consistent with high labor, environment, human rights, and other factors.
So, look, these actions – working to update the National Action Plan, naming a new U.S. national point of contact under that action plan, as well as the remarkable work of the ACE winners themselves – demonstrate the commitment of both government and the private sector to responsible, sustainable business practices as a core value. It’s something that we deeply believe in, and that is that at their best – at their best, American companies can be ambassadors for our values as well as provide good jobs for our citizens and good products for the rest of the world.
Thank you and I’m happy to take your questions.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much, Under Secretary Fernandez. So let me just give a short explanation about how the questioning – question period will proceed. For those journalists on the call, if you have a question, please go to the participant field and virtually raise your hand. We will call on you and you can unmute yourself and ask your question. You can also submit questions in the chat box. If you have not already done so, please take the time now to rename your Zoom profile with your full name and the name of your media outlet.
And I see I have one question from Alex Raufoglu of Turan News. Alex, you’re up.
QUESTION: Yes, thank you so very much for doing this. And you mentioned when it comes to sharing American values and setting high standards for global human rights, the U.S. companies are some of our best ambassadors. Would you explain a little bit further on how does the department or do the embassies go about selecting those companies to win the ACE Award and what criteria exactly must they meet? Thank you so much again.
UNDER SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: So the nominations – first of all, thank you for that question. Thank you for the question, Alex. The nominations for the ACE Award are first put forward by our ambassadors, by our chiefs of mission of U.S. embassies and consulates around the world for the work of a U.S. company in a particular country. Finalists and winners for that award are chosen then by a selection committee that are – that’s comprised of senior U.S. Government officials. And all of these are companies that are, first of all, successful companies, and they’re also companies that have tried to go beyond their portfolio. They have looked beyond their balance sheets, their profit and loss statements, to do something for the community.
I mean, one of the – the companies – company such as Zipline, it’s a company that does several things, but one of the things that they decided to do was to provide medicines. And I – they went – they are not making a profit on that, but it’s part of their mission, and it shows what we’ve all – what we’ve said all along, and we’ve got to realize that it’s not only do we say it, but it’s true, and that is that doing good, having a community spirit, can also be good for the bottom line, can also be good for business. And so it’s that combination of a civic purpose together with a successful company for its stakeholders that we’re looking for.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Under Secretary Fernandez. The next question will be from Paula Lugones of Clarin, and she is from Argentina. Paula, you’re up.
QUESTION: Yeah, thank you so much. Can you hear me?
UNDER SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: Hear you perfectly, Paula.
QUESTION: Okay, great. Thank you so much. Could you tell me what kind of work is Patagonia doing specifically in Argentina? Could you give me an example, please? Thank you.
UNDER SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: Sure. Well, Patagonia has been, as you probably know, has been very active throughout the Southern Cone. They are very active in Chile. They are very active in Argentina. They have done a number of, and I wish I knew the specific examples, and I’ll be happy to provide them, but they have done a lot of work, a lot of work on sustainable development, a lot of work on the environment. They do – they’ve been in Argentina for I think – I could be wrong – for 15 years or more.
And so I will provide you more specifics, but it’s a company that takes its name seriously, and it’s a – it works in Patagonia as well as other parts of Argentina, and again, not just Argentina but other parts of South America as well.
They have a number of initiatives to strengthen the legal environment for environmental projects and also what they call nature-based climate solutions. I will send you – I’ll send you a couple of examples. (Inaudible.)
MODERATOR: Thank you. Now I have another question now from Kanwal Basit of AZB Pakistan. Kanwal, you’re up.
QUESTION: Hello, can you hear me?
UNDER SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: Perfectly.
QUESTION: Okay, thanks for doing this call. I have three questions. Did any nominations come in from U.S. Embassy Islamabad? And if it did so, in what category and what companies?
Secondly, I was going through the website where the companies are listed, so I was – I have a question: What does alternate winner means? And two companies have secured that award, Whirlpool Slovakia and Aerosol. So can you update on us?
And last question: How many companies have been awarded this year? Thank you.
UNDER SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: So altogether six winners and two alternates. Alternates are companies that in many ways could have been the winner and they came close or, in some cases, frankly, there was a difference of opinion between the judges, and they did not want to overlook a company. So it’s really – think of it as in many ways coming close but perhaps not having the same level of support.
But on Pakistan, I will have to get back to you. I know, certainly, that our post at Pakistan was involved. Whether they – I only get to see the final product because I don’t want – I have my own bias, and I don’t know if they in fact nominated, but they certainly have an opportunity, and many of our posts are very active in this because they see it as a way of encouraging responsible business conduct. But I’ll get back to you on Pakistan.
QUESTION: Thank you, but sir, I didn’t get this alternate winner. I’m sorry, but I just want to understand —
UNDER SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: Think of it – think of an alternate winner as a close, very close – and in some cases there was many people who would like to have them win. So think of it as a split decision, how’s that?
QUESTION: Well, I still don’t buy that, because if it is very close, either it’s a winner or it’s a loser. That’s what I – my – I can just – as a reporter, I just need to know who’s the winner and who – like, that’s all.
UNDER SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: So you’ve got six – you’ve got six winners, the first six that I mentioned.
UNDER SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: Not the alternate.
QUESTION: Okay. So alternate winner is like just a – it’s a decision. The company came up to a certain standard, but they were not furnished as a winner.
UNDER SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: They came very, very close.
QUESTION: Okay, close. Okay.
UNDER SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: They came very – think of it as – if you like horse racing, think of it as winning by a nose.
QUESTION: Okay. Okay, thank you so much.
MODERATOR: I don’t see any other questions right now, but – and if not, I will just see if the Under Secretary – if you have any other comments you’d like to make.
UNDER SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: All I would say is, again, this is a reminder to all of us of why we do what we do. These are companies doing fascinating work and doing it oftentimes in very difficult circumstances, and we are very proud of them. And it’s one way that we believe we can continue to encourage our companies to follow responsible business practices and really to advance the reputation of the U.S. and U.S. values. So it’s a joyful occasion, and I look forward to talking to you again next year.
MODERATOR: Well, thank you. This concludes our briefing. I want to give a special thanks again to you, Under Secretary Fernandez, for sharing your time with us today, and to those who participated. Thank you and have a good day.
UNDER SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: Thank you.