/ 18 March 2008

‘Business should bring about social change’

The business sector in South Africa must play an active role in poverty eradication, Business SA said on Tuesday.

Business SA CEO Jerry Vilakazi said business should commit to working with other social partners to bring about social change.

”We cannot be passive observers but rather active participants in development and poverty eradication,” he said. ”Business has a crucial role to play in providing routes from poverty to prosperity.”

He was addressing the two-day Business, Development and Poverty conference organised by the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) in Sandton.

SAHRC spokesperson Vincent Moaga said the conference flowed from the recent price-fixing scandals of basic food commodities — bread and milk.

”As part of our mandate of monitoring human rights, we felt a review of how the business community was conducting itself in relation to human rights was needed,” Moaga said.

In November, Tiger Brands was ordered to pay a R98,7-million fine by the Competition Commission after admitting to colluding in bread price-fixing. Tiger’s CEO, Nick Dennis, apologised and later resigned.

Vilakazi said it is important that business support competition policy as that will eventually lead to sustainable societies.

”Companies involved in colluding should be severely punished because that would be in direct contravention with the most fundamental rights of people to basic foods. Society thrives where business thrives and vice versa, and both thrive where human rights are valued and protected,” he said.

Speaking at the conference earlier, Minister of Social Development Zola Skweyiya said there is a shared responsibility with business in the realisation of basic human rights.

”At the centre of the responsibility is the important issue of secure quality jobs. This requires a business sector that is aware and responsive to the contemporary challenges facing our country,” the minister said.

He said the challenge to the business sector is to devise ways in which the production process opts for labour-intensive methods.

Vilakazi also said it is important for business to pay attention to Southern Africa if the region is to prosper. — Sapa