Remarks for the 17th Secretary's Award for Corporate Excellence

Charles H. Rivkin
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs
Washington, DC
March 1, 2016


ASSISTANT SECRETARY CHARLES RIVKIN: Well, thank you, Cathy. Good morning everybody. Ladies and gentlemen, it is an honor to be here today as we recognize the outstanding accomplishments of this year's winners of the Secretary of State's Award for Corporate Excellence.

And I couldn't agree more with what Secretary Kerry, and Tony Blinken, and Cathy have all said. When it comes to representing American values abroad, our diplomats are some of the best in the world. But it's our businesses operating overseas who are on the front lines, setting an example and leading the way on corporate practices.

Today's winners, both large and small, are showing a tremendous ability to innovate. And it's not simply for their own gain. They're innovating for the benefit of the communities, where they do business, everything from empowering their workers, to protecting local forest, to creating educational opportunities for the next generation.

And with that, it is my honor to start this ceremony by announcing the winner of the Secretary of State's Award for Corporate Excellence for a small and medium enterprise. And the award goes to East Bali Cashews in Indonesia. This, ladies and gentlemen, is a young company whose story is still in its early chapters.

About five years ago, Aaron Fishman and his wife Lindsay left their home in Vermont to volunteer with an NGO in Bali. And they arrived just in time for cashew season. And the locals explained to Aaron and his wife that the land in their village was too dry to grow rice, but it was perfect for cashews. And most families grew them for a living.

But there was a serious development challenge. In this rural community, where incomes average $2 per day, villagers were harvesting a lot of cashews but exporting 85% of them to be processed abroad, only to import these same nuts with a very steep markup. In this challenge, Aaron saw opportunity, realizing that the community could better sustain itself simply by processing and packaging the cashews locally.

Aaron approached four local investors, and in 2012, he founded East Bali Cashews with $127,000. Within one year, the company's factory had produced 150 tons of cashews and employed 130 local Indonesians. And to grow faster, Aaron linked up with another U.S. company, KKR. But rather than donating capital, KKR employees donated their time. Their teamwork helped East Bali Cashews raise the funds to buy more machinery to double its number of peelers and triple the size of its warehouses.

Now, when I visited Indonesia this past year, I had the chance to meet the company's impressive general manager and had the pleasure of sampling some of these famous, and I will say delicious cashews. But we're honoring East Bali Cashews today not only because of its impressive growth, even more important, is the way the company is working with its employees and the community to support economic development and to improve lives. East Bali Cashews now employs more than 350 villagers, mostly women who previously had little opportunity for formal employment.

The company's increased local farmers' incomes by 20%. It's improved the quality of local agricultural production and expanded health care and education opportunities to children in the surrounding villages. Recently, the company opened the region's first preschool, where 60 of the employees' children are now getting an early start on their education.

So ladies and gentlemen, to accept this well-deserved award, I'd like to introduce the company's Founder and CEO, who traveled a long way to get here today, Aaron Fishman. Please join me in honoring East Bali Cashews.


MR. AARON FISHMAN: Thank you, everyone. Thank you so much. It's an honor to be here today. We have our Indonesian team here as well, Made, and Nyoman, and Jonas. And we have one of our fantastic investors here, Dan, from Red River Foods, which is very close by in Richmond, Virginia, and Juliette, our former intern who now works for Red River Foods, and my parents. It's great really to be here and to get this award.

I think really this award represents-- and, by the way, take a look at the photos there. That's our factory. It's in really the middle of nowhere. That was much smaller four years ago.

And we now have actually 300 employees, 85% of whom are women, many of who have no formal education. And we also have the school there on site, which has 60 kids. And we are fast growing company. We've doubled every 12 months or so, and we're continuing to double. There's the school picture right there.

And so really I think-- I want to also thank the State Department for giving us this award and for the interactions that we've had. So the school was opened by Ambassador Robert Blake, the Ambassador to Indonesia. And Ambassador Rivkin has also met our team there.

We have also traveled to Eastern Indonesia with the Consulate in Surabaya. And that has been fantastic going to the islands in the eastern part of the Indonesian and having an American representative there to help us and to give us some legitimacy in Indonesia, which is a very large country. So it's been fantastic working with the State Department and having the support of the State Department in our daily activities and as we go forward.

Really, I think the model behind East Bali Cashews is not so much corporate social responsibility, but really the purpose, the existence of our company is to improve the lives of Eastern Indonesia cashew farmers. Our success also comes from that. So our strategic advantage comes from the fact that we partner so closely with our drying centers, with our farmers' education programs, and going forward with our seed and supply business.

That really, I think, is a great model for other businesses to follow, especially in Indonesia, which is for the most part undeveloped at this point, especially the eastern parts of country. And so as we know, as we bring more people into the formal economy and we improve the livelihoods via employment, and it is a sustainable solution that doesn't require donations, that doesn't require charity or anything. It just requires you to buy cashews that taste good, and that's it. And all this stuff happens automatically.

We grow. We add more employment. More kids get schools. Farmers get better lives. All this stuff happens just via you making an informed purchase decision for cashews.

So I think, along with all the other nominees here, especially in the small, medium enterprise category, we have similar thinking in that area. And really my ending pitch here is to really just look at what your purchasing. Make an informed purchase decision. Realize that if you support companies like ours you're doing amazing things for the development of, in our case, Indonesia, but you also have other countries here as well.

So that's my end message, my pitch, is look, go to, get our cashews. I think I need to send a friends and family code to Mr. Kerry, so he'll-- anyway, thank you very much. And it's a great honor. And it's fantastic to have the team here.


ASSISTANT SECRETARY RIVKIN: So thank you, Aaron. Next I want to turn to one of our new ACE categories this year, as Secretary Kerry said, human and labor rights. So it's my privilege to announce that the winner of the Secretary of State's Award for Corporate Excellence in human rights and in labor rights is Cargill Vietnam. And I'm pleased that Ambassador [INAUDIBLE] is with us here today to watch this honor and this ceremony.

For the past 150 years, American businesses invest for the long-term. And Cargill has been a household name in the United States. And now the agricultural firm does business in nearly 70 countries around the world.

And today, we honor Cargill for its work in Vietnam, where it's partnering with local employees to improve livelihoods, to create educational opportunities, and develop a significant export in a sustainable way. Working with the government in Vietnam, Cargill has helped develop the country's cocoa industry to meet the growing demand for certified sustainable chocolate. The company's now responsible-- this company-- for 70% of Vietnam's cocoa exports. So guys the next time you buy chocolate that's sustainably sourced, it may come from Vietnam.

And over the past decade, the company has trained more than 12,000 cocoa farmers in good agricultural practices to help them increase yields, to help them increase incomes. And further than that, since 1997, Cargill has trained more than one and a half million farmers in best practices in animal health and nutrition through its workshops with the goal of improving productivity and, ultimately, raising farmers' earnings. Additionally, in an effort to increase transparency and empower their farmers, Cargill developed a system of websites, of text messaging, and TV broadcasts to help farmers publish pricing information. And this efficiency has helped farmers earn even more.

So beyond those core business functions, Cargill has also pioneered school construction programs, building more than 70 new schools in rural communities across Vietnam and benefiting the tens of thousands of children. And they're not resting on their laurels. The company aims to build a couple dozen more schools by the year 2020. So for all these reasons, I am delighted to present the Department of State's Award for Corporate Excellence in human rights and labor rights to Cargill's Chairman and CEO, David MacLennan. Please join me in honoring Cargill Vietnam.


MR. DAVID MACLENNAN: Charlie, thank you very much that warm introduction and thanks everybody for taking time out of your morning to help us celebrate. It's an honor, but it's also humbling to be alongside the fellow recipients. And we share the honor together. But it's a proud moment for me to be on the same stage with the other recipients but also to be having Cargill getting recognized in this very special way.

I want to also thank Deputy Secretary Blinken, Under Secretary Novelli, and Assistant Secretary Rivkin, and the State Department for honoring us. We really appreciate it. We have 1,600 employees in Vietnam and 150,000 employees worldwide. And so on their behalf and behalf of the family shareholders, the owners, the Cargill and MacMillan families, I'm very proud to accept this award.

I also want to take a quick moment to recognize the leadership of Deputy Chief of Mission Sutton, who helps lead the U.S. Embassy in Vietnam. And her team and the Agriculture Consular Office there have been valued partners in advancing are shared interests. And as Charlie mentioned, we have opened 76 schools. I had the honor of being present when we opened our 75th in November in the north of Vietnam, and Ambassador Osius was there to open the school along with us. So my thanks to him as well for supporting Cargill in our efforts there.

We're very proud of our workforce there, of the team that focuses on business, as the Secretary said, doing well and doing good, and contributing to Vietnam's economic and social development. As a person who grew up in the 1970s, I can tell you I did not think that I would see this day. I did not think I would travel to Vietnam as somebody who watched the tragedy of what happened during that decade. So it's particularly meaningful for me as someone who experienced and watched that history unfold.

Our mission at Cargill is to be the global leader in nourishing people. In helping farmers, our customers, employees, and communities thrive. It's not just about doing well, it's about doing good. And we're committed to working with communities. We don't just come to do business, we come to invest in the community and to make it a better place.

We appreciate our place in the world. We are a guest in 70 countries around the world. We don't ever take that for granted. And as a guest, you treat the country and its resources, it's communities respectfully. And that's something that is a strong value of the Cargill and MacMillan families and of our company's culture today.

So I mentioned last year in November, I traveled-- we celebrated our 20th anniversary in Vietnam, and we also celebrated our 150th anniversary globally. So we're a 151-year-old company. And no, I was not there when it started, even though I was asked that by some of my millennial colleagues more recently.

I met employees like Mei-yi So-yeon Tuk, who is here today, and Mr. [INAUDIBLE], and they represent our Cargill team. You're the ones that are doing this. I simply am the figurehead that represents the company. So thank you all for doing this on behalf of our company and representing us in Vietnam. I also had a chance to meet government officials and our customers while I was there, and it was a chance to celebrate 20 years in the country.

We're committed to continue to serve our customers in Vietnam. We've trained, as Charlie mentioned, 12,000 cocoa farmers in sustainable agricultural practices and more than one million farmers on animal husbandry. Our schools that we built, 76 in total, have helped educate more than 13,000 children. And our goal is to have built 100 schools by the year 2020.

The real winners today are our partners, which is the farmers. And we work every day to help improve their livelihoods, to help make their world a better place, and to help pave the way to producing and distributing more sustainable and a food-secure future. So we're very proud to invest in such a great economy and a great country as Vietnam. It helps us achieve our mission.

And our success could not have been possible without the partnership and the support of the U.S. government, the Vietnamese government, our employees, customers, dealers, and local communities. And so with that, I would like to very sincerely thank the State Department and the U.S. Embassy in Vietnam for all the support that you have given us in this tremendous honor. Thank you very much.


ASSISTANT SECRETARY RIVKIN: So thank you, David. And another new category for this year's award is environmental sustainability. So I'm pleased to announce this year's winner for the Secretary of State's Award for Corporate Excellence in environmental sustainability is Weyerhaeuser in Uruguay. And Ambassador Gianelli is here today also to witness this honor.

Weyerhaeuser, ladies and gentleman, was one of the first companies ever to harvest and replant trees in an environmentally sustainable way here in the United States. But today's award is for its good works in Uruguay. Weyerhaeuser has been a pioneer in afforestation. I don't know if that's a new word for you, but it certainly was for me.

In northern Uruguay, the company has been planting new forests where none previously existed, where there were once large swaths of degraded pasture lands. If you go there today, you'll see forests of pine and forests of eucalyptus that absorb 56,000 tons of carbon dioxide every year thanks to Weyerhaeuser. What's more Weyerhaeuser's manufacturing facility in Uruguay is carbon neutral with all heat and power generated from renewable fuels.

All that has, by the way, caught the attention of Uruguay's government, which has named Weyerhaeuser's operation what they call a project of national interest. The government of Uruguay has even incorporated some of Weyerhaeuser's high standards into its own national standards and cited one of Weyerhaeuser's facilities as a pilot for the government's own sustainability, energy PROBIO program. And like our other ACE award winners today, Weyerhaeuser is not just seeking to mitigate and reduce impacts today.

The company is also providing training for the next generation of its leaders. Most notably, it introduced an educational program called Project Learning Tree in Uruguay, which is teaching students across 20 rural schools, the importance of sound environmental stewardship. So ladies and gentlemen, I'm thrilled to present the award, Secretary of State's Award for Corporate Excellence in environmental sustainability to Kristen Sawin, Weyerhaeuser's Vice President of Corporate Affairs and Public Policy. Please join me in honoring Weyerhaeuser.


MS. KRISTEN SAWIN: Thank you so much, Under Secretary Novelli, Assistant Secretary Rivkin, and everyone here that's celebrating the businesses who are not seeking just to do well in the marketplace but to do good in the world around them. This has been a really inspiring set of awards and honorees for me. Listening to the amazing work of folks powering homes in Rwanda, training 12,000 farmers in sustainable production techniques, building chains of schools in Peru, and reforesting Honduras-- reforesting is an issue that's near and dear to our hearts, as you might imagine-- it's really humbling to have our work in Uruguay included today.

The way we do our work in Uruguay, whether it's sustainable forestry, renewable energy, or keeping our workers safe, is the way we do our work around the world. Our CEO likes to say that priorities change but values never do. Because what we get to do at Weyerhaeuser affects the everyday life of everyday people across the globe.

We get to be part of building homes where people raise their families. We get to be part of architectural innovations as more urban cities are turning to sustainable, climate-friendly, tall, wood buildings. We get to be part of providing renewable energy to power homes and businesses. And we get to provide good jobs in a safe environment for our workers and lead the industry in safety performance so that every day our team goes home safe to their families.

And finally, we get to be stewards of the environment. Managing an incredible natural resource, Weyerhaeuser owns more than 13 billion acres of timberlands, 100% of which are certified to sustainable forestry standards. We are over a century into delivering on the values of sustainability, having pioneered reforestation for private landowners in the United States and invested in afforestation, like the project in Uruguay, which improves soil conditions, biodiversity, and job opportunities for rural communities.

We feel very lucky to do what we do at Weyerhaeuser. And receiving this award today is very meaningful for us. It fortifies and renews our commitment to keep doing our work successfully, safely, and sustainably. Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RIVKIN: Congratulations. So thank you, Kristen. Let's give another round of applause for the three winners of this year's Secretary of State's Award for Corporate Excellence.


And I'd like to also extend an applause to this year's finalists, every one of whom is doing extraordinary work around the world. Ladies and gentleman.

While no Chris Rock, it is nonetheless my honor to have presented today these awards. And I thank you to everybody here in the room today, as well as everyone around the world who's watching this event streamed live. And I'm sorry that I can't invite everyone next door to join us. But I do hope that all of you sitting in the Benjamin Franklin room will join us for a reception honoring this year's winners just next door.

And I want to also really again thank the people of the Economic Bureau here at the State Department, Melike Yetken and Alan Krill and Omar Parbhoo, who was the voice of god today. And I just want to say, ladies and gentlemen, it's an enormous honor to have been here. And this concludes our ACE awards ceremony for 2016. Thank you.