Remarks at the 16th Annual Awards for Corporate Excellence

Charles H. Rivkin
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs
Benjamin Franklin Room
Washington, DC
December 9, 2014

Senators, ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, I am Charles Rivkin, Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs. On behalf of Secretary Kerry who sends his regrets and was pulled away on an urgent issue, I join Under Secretary Cathy Novelli in welcoming you to the State Department for the 16th annual Secretary of State’s Award for Corporate Excellence, or “ACE.”

I am pleased to see so many representatives from the American business community, members of civil society, the diplomatic corps, and throughout the U.S. Government with us here this morning.

We are also delighted that, for the first time ever, this ceremony is being live-streamed globally. Several embassies around the world, and some U.S. companies, are hosting viewing parties, so they can see the great example that today’s ACE winners are setting.

The three companies we are honoring today are the latest in a longstanding tradition of U.S. companies, large and small, that we have been recognizing since then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright inaugurated the awards in 1999.

That year, she presented two ACE awards.

One went to the Xerox Corporation of Stamford, Connecticut for creating a “Community Involvement Program” that provided education, medical care and job training in a poor suburb of Rio de Janeiro.

The other went to F.C. Schaffer & Associates, a small-to-medium sized business based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for its work in providing technical assistance and valuable advice when two of Ethiopia’s three Government-owned sugar refineries lost power due to floods.

Every year, the names of the companies change, but our purpose remains the same: to honor American companies that have shown that “for the best American companies, there is no conflict between doing well and doing good.”

Those words, “doing well and doing good,” are not only central to the spirit of these awards but also to Secretary Kerry’s vision for our foreign policy. As he says frequently, “Economic policy is foreign policy.”

We can no longer afford to have dividing lines between our economic, our security, and our national interests. They are one and the same. Corporate responsibility represents the values and the practicalities of that vision.

Now, I want you all to know that the State Department is hard at work promoting our businesses overseas. Last year, the United States exported a record $2.3 trillion in goods and services, which supported more than 11 million American jobs. And with 95 percent of the world’s consumers living outside America, it’s clear: Our diplomats are vital to advancing our economic interests.

I currently lead a Bureau that works with our 270 embassies, consulates and missions to support U.S. companies abroad, whether through advocacy with other governments or making companies aware of opportunities that exist in foreign markets.

We are proud to be the home of the Award for Corporate Excellence, which honors American companies’ commitment to operating responsibility and sends a message to the world about the American brand – with the American brand comes American values.

That brand says: The American way of doing business is based on our shared values of democracy, rule of law, respect for human rights, and respect for the environment.

U.S. companies are innovative. They are committed to fair treatment of their workers. They invest for the long-term. They support communities where they do business, hire local employees, answer to their shareholders, and demand transparency.

Traveling around the world as Assistant Secretary, I’ve seen firsthand that American companies doing business abroad are committed to sharing prosperity, and supporting responsible business practices. Those are some of the governing principles of Secretary Kerry’s vision for our foreign policy.

As a former Ambassador I can attest to the fact that U.S. businesses are some of our greatest Ambassadors. They are recognized around the world for investing sustainably and helping to build capacity. People see our brand as a source of security and mutual prosperity – and a road to a better future.

Since we’re gathered here in the room that bears his name, I think it only appropriate to borrow a quote from our first diplomat, Benjamin Franklin, that serves as a great watch phrase for our country.

It says: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation but only five minutes to ruin it.”

The companies we honor today continue to ensure that our reputation remains in solid standing with the world.

So please join me in recognizing these extraordinary companies that are setting the highest standards for responsible business conduct and showing the world that American corporate social responsibility is truly unique.

Now I would like to introduce our Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment, Cathy Novelli.

As the former Vice President of Worldwide Government Affairs at Apple, Cathy is another example of Secretary Kerry’s clear-eyed agenda for our economic agenda: to bring in some of America’s top innovators in the business community, who will help us shape and sharpen our foreign policy. We are fortunate to have her on board.

Ladies and gentlemen… Cathy Novelli.