Presentation of 2012 Award for Corporate Excellence to Small-Medium-Size Company Winner Sorwathe

Hillary Rodham Clinton
   Secretary of State
Robert D. Hormats
   Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment 
Benjamin Franklin Room
Washington, DC
November 28, 2012

SECRETARY CLINTON: The vast majority of American businesses – have a very positive story about how they deliver lifesaving medicines to the most remote areas, or stand up for human rights – not only for their employees but for the larger community, invest in and create jobs that help more people have a good income to perhaps send their children not only to primary school but beyond. It’s good for the communities where they work and it’s good for the United States, because it helps to build stronger partners who can deliver more for their own people and even help solve some of the regional and global challenges we face.

There’s another reason why businesses are so important to America’s foreign policy. Because after all, for all that we can do in the State Department to have our diplomats and development experts out there telling America’s story, most people’s impressions of our country will be shaped by our businesses. And in particular, we know that it’s how millions and millions of people find out about our values, what we really stand for, what kind of people we are. So in short, it’s critically important for the interests of our foreign policy for our American companies to operate responsibly and well.

And that brings us to our awards. And as usual, we have two winners, a small firm and a large one, which really demonstrates the range of American involvement in the global marketplace.

This year’s winner in the small and medium size category is Tea Importers, Inc., of Connecticut. And this is a wonderful classic American story. Joseph Wertheim came to this country to escape Nazi Germany, settled in Connecticut, and set up shop importing tea in 1953. By the 1960s, he was marketing tea from Rwanda, and eventually the Rwandan Government asked him to help build a factory for processing tea in a remote region of that country.

Today, that joint venture, Sorwathe, is the top single producer of tea in Rwanda. It’s an environmental leader, the first tea factory to grow organic product and introduce green technologies like waste recycling. It’s a pioneer on workers’ rights, campaigning against child labor and becoming the first private company in Rwanda to sign a collective bargaining agreement with its workers. It’s also reaching into the local community. After the horrible experience of genocide in 1994, Sorwathe produced and distributed efficient, low-cost stoves throughout the country, even teaching people how to build the stoves themselves so they could earn a little extra income.

Now, that is a great story, and it still is a family business, which is a wonderful tribute to the creators of that family, Mr. and Mrs. Wertheim. And in recognition of their accomplishments, I am pleased to present the 2012 Award for Corporate Excellent to Tea Importers, Inc., and to invite Joseph Wertheim’s son, Andrew, to accept the award and make a few remarks. Now, as Andrew comes to the podium, I’d like to invite the entire Wertheim family and the Rwandan representatives to come and stand right here to so we can really recognize all of you. And I’d like to congratulate those in Rwanda who are watching. Please welcome Andrew Wertheim. (Applause.)

MR. WERTHEIM: Madam Secretary, Ambassadors Koran and Kimonyo, Under Secretary Hormats, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, I am extremely proud to accept this award on behalf of Sorwathe Limited, its U.S. parent company Tea Importers, Inc., my family, and especially on behalf of the 5,242 employees of Sorwathe and the 4,573 small farmers that we support through tea production in Rwanda. (Applause.) We thank you deeply for this great and unexpected honor. We’d also like to thank Ambassador Koran and Joe Palombo, the economic commercial officer of the U.S. Embassy in Rwanda, for having nominated Sorwathe. Also, thank you to the entire ACE Selection Committee for having chosen Sorwathe to receive this award.

UNDER SECRETARY HORMATS: Now I want to turn to Ambassador Don Koran in Kigali who is there with Rohith Peiris, Sorwathe's Director General. And I want to welcome you and congratulate you and turn the floor over to you.

AMBASSADOR KORAN: Thank you very much Under Secretary Hormats. Under Secretary, Ambassadors, the Wertheim family, Cally Alles, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen; I am delighted that Embassy Kigali has participated in this year's Award for Corporate Excellence presentation, and more specifically that we are recognizing Sorwathe as the small and medium size enterprise recipient for this prestigious award. With that, I will turn the microphone over to Rohith Peiris, Director General of Sorwathe.

ROHITH PEIRIS: Thank you. Madam Secretary, Ambassadors, Under Secretary Hormats, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. In 1975, in a sleepy village called Kinihira, in Rwanda, the Government and Tea Importers of the USA embarked on a project to build a tea factory. Thirty-seven years later, this tea factory produces some of the best teas in Africa in a sustainable manner, but also improves the quality of life of the employees and the community around it.

UNDER SECRETARY HORMATS: The kind of work that you are doing there is really spectacularly important in terms of improving the lives of people in your community and in the country. So, I want to congratulate the company team, the country team and all of you participating today.