Many of the country’s top business leaders have been challenged to stand up and make a difference when it comes to children in society.
Speaking at yesterday’s Trans-Tasman Business Circle Boardroom Series, TelstraClear chief executive Allan Freeth told the audience of business leaders that they should act to create awareness and lead change, particularly when it comes to children and families.
“The question of why business leaders should be prepared to provide community and social leadership boils down to the fact that it is the right thing to do.” Dr Freeth said he understood why sport is important to many New Zealanders, and that business leadership and fighting were often synonymous here. “However, long-term sustainable solutions are never created by having winners and losers. We need to talk about the many truths of living in New Zealand.
“New Zealand is one of the worst performing countries in the OECD, in terms of outcomes for children. About 22 percent of children live in relative poverty, experiencing material hardship. In everyday terms that means going without a doctor, good food, shoes, raincoats, and decent housing. That figure increases to 51 percent if one only considers Pacifika children. Thirty-nine percent of the Maori population and 59 percent of Maori families are dependent on benefit incomes.
“My question to business leaders is: where are you on this issue? In our country, around 160,000 children are considered vulnerable at any one time. There are around 21,000 confirmed cases of abuse and neglect every year. More than 47,000 children live in homes with family violence. Around one in four girls, and one in ten boys, in New Zealand have experienced sexual abuse. Business leaders need to ask themselves where they have been.
“What about the more than 7,000 children who leave school every year without qualifications?
“New Zealand has the highest rate of youth suicide in the OECD – twice the rate of the USA and Australia, and five times the rate of the UK. New Zealand’s youngest known suicide victim was six years old.
“Do we see protests in the streets by our teachers, principals, civic leaders, social leaders, or parents? Or by us? No, we don’t. Children just continue to get hurt and die.
“It’s time for business leaders to reclaim the leadership mantle. It’s time to have a voice in the way our society is going. There are still plenty more issues that require leadership.”
Dr Freeth’s challenge to take a stand and make a difference was met with strong support.
Westpac CEO Peter Clare says as a person new to this country he found the topics raised confronting and applauded Allan Freeth for such an inspiring speech. “I will certainly be looking to have further discussions around the challenge issued to business leaders.”
Save the Children chair Vivien Sutherland Bridgwater said, “As chair of Save the Children New Zealand I am thrilled to see a leading New Zealand businessman challenge his peers over the vital issue of child outcomes and welfare in this country. Dr Freeth, in asking business leaders to step beyond the shadows of their support for community sponsorship, and show their passion and leadership for social transformation in New Zealand, is right in saying that we cannot be a nation of winners and losers. We have to address child poverty, abuse and youth suicide today.”
Dr Freeth says, “The challenge for business is not should we, but how far can we go legitimately, to support programmes and activities, by using other people’s money – namely our shareholders? Many of these shareholders, who provide the capital for business, will say it is the Government’s job to address these issues. They, as individuals, have already paid taxes, as have their companies. But, as well as wealth, businesses create dependencies, and we create costs that are often borne by societies.
“Not only does business have an obligation to be a good citizen, to do good; business has an obligation to provide leadership, and to speak out. Business has an obligation to support democracy, human rights, and ensure the vulnerable are protected. If we don’t, then I believe that privilege is going to be taken away from us, as it rightly should.
“We are on the eve of an era that will see a new social and business model evolving. A model, underpinned by social media and the internet that places the power to speak out and act against governments and corporations in the hands of youth. Business, and many like institutions, will no longer be able to ignore the developing social movements of coming generations. For the first time, we are facing collective consciences that appear to form spontaneously. They are now becoming a true power on a global scale.
“The implications are significant, however. If being human is not enough to take up the mantle of leadership, then to survive and prosper in this new world, business leaders will have to step-up, to be involved in the affairs of communities, nations, and people.”
Second and third Pictures from Police Association, and Presbyterian Support