Remarks at the 14th Annual Award for Corporate Excellence

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Benjamin Franklin Room
Washington, DC
November 28, 2012

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you, and welcome to the State Department. And here in the Diplomatic Rooms, in a room named for Ben Franklin, we have many events throughout the course of the year, but I like to think that Mr. Franklin would find this one especially important because of his commitment to innovation and all that can spring from good businesses doing good work.

I want to thank Under Secretary Hormats. Bob is a great champion for American businesses and has been my partner in the economic statecraft agenda to shore up America’s leadership around the world. I also want to thank Assistant Secretary Jose Fernandez, who is a terrific leader for our Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs, and all who serve with them. Because as Bob said, we’ve made a concerted effort to put what we call economic statecraft at the center of American foreign policy, and I’ve been privileged to lead that effort and to explain it and work on it throughout the world.

I also have noticed some members of Congress here. I see Senator Blumenthal coming in. Dick, we’re glad to see you. Thank you very much for joining us. And also Congresswoman Lois Capps, who I have seen. Are there other members of Congress that I’m not catching? So I want to thank you for your support for the State Department and certainly your support for these two companies.

Not only are we here in Washington, but I want to say good afternoon to everyone who’s joining us by video from Rwanda, and good evening to everyone joining us from Vietnam. (Laughter.) We’re grateful to have you here to honor two exceptional companies that are giving back to the communities where they do business.

Before we present the awards, I want to say just a few words about the importance of this award and the work that it is honoring. Now, in today’s global economy, corporations of all sizes have more influence than ever on global affairs, especially on growth in developing and emerging economies. And I’ll be very candid; that influence can be positive or it can be negative. And we spend a lot of time and effort here at the State Department monitoring and addressing that small minority of companies that, unfortunately, exploit workers, degrade the environment, do not support American values, and, unfortunately, come to our attention.

But that is a very small minority, because so many – in fact, 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.

The story of Sorwathe, as Madam Secretary told you, began with my father, Joseph Wertheim, who unfortunately is unable to be with us today because of ill health. But it was through his vision and his drive that Sorwathe became the company that it is today. My father’s philosophy is one of community service and generosity. He believes that for a company to be truly successful, it not only needs to prosper financially but also needs to be a leader in social responsibility.

From the beginning in 1975, Sorwathe and Tea Importers believed in the importance of good corporate citizenship and improving the lives of the employees in the community in which it operates. We are truly a small business with just six employees, and our vice president Jan Shackett has been with us for more than 40 years, and she is in the audience today and I’d like to recognize her now for her long and valuable service. (Applause.)

When Sorwathe started, we brought in potable water and voluntarily repaired and maintained the roads because the local government was unable to do so. We built the schools and established a medical clinic with the aid of USAID, and in partnership with Rotary International started an adult literacy program that, for the first time, taught more than 15,000 adults how to read and write in their native language. Sorwathe is also the largest private donor to the Kigali Public Library, which opened this year, and Sorwathe’s commitment to education continues with scholarships for high school students and the funding of three new preschools.

When there was a shortage of firewood, as Madam Secretary mentioned, in 1994 following the genocide, Sorwathe, again with Rotary, produced the rocket stoves. The impact of that program was dramatic. We cut the firewood usage in the area by 70 percent. In addition, by using those stoves, the smoke that was exhausted in the old system was reduced and it gave to the health of the community by cutting down on the pollution in their homes. Sorwathe also did not want to compete for firewood with the local population, so we acquired and now maintain our own forest and are self-sufficient in fuel, and this also creates additional jobs in the community.

Sorwathe has been on the forefront of banning child labor and, as Madam Secretary mentioned, the first to sign a collective bargaining agreement with its employees. We use sustainable agricultural practices, have an organic section, we’re a participant in the Ethical Tea Partnership, and we’re certified by Rainforest Alliance. We are also fair trade certified, which means a percentage of the profits and the premiums that the farmers get are reinvested in the local community for schools, drinking water, medical insurance, among other things.

We attribute our success over these past 37 years to our corporate culture of community support, as well as close cooperation with the tea farmers. They are formed in a cooperative that is a shareholder of Sorwathe and a member of our board. They are our partners. Our success depends on their success. We work closely also with the local district and national officials to promote Rwandan tea and ensure a fair return for all stakeholders, and we wish to thank them all for their wonderful support over all these years.

We’re also very fortunate to have had the invaluable assistance of the U.S. Embassy in Kigali and the State Department here in Washington for which we are very grateful.

Last, we are fortunate to have local managers who share our commitment to corporate social responsibility. One of these managers is with us today from Sri Lanka, Mr. Cally Alles. Mr. Alice worked for us for 20 years. He identified and shepherded many of the projects for which Sorwathe is being recognized here today, and I wish to recognize him now for his outstanding commitment to the Rwandan people. (Applause.)

Tea Importers and Sorwathe are committed to maintaining the standards we have set in corporate social responsibility and stewardship and hope our efforts will serve as a model for others. Madam Secretary, thank you again for this wonderful honor and the recognition it confers on Sorwathe and its employees.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much. (Applause.) That is a wonderful story and we thank everyone who has worked to make it a reality, and particularly thank all the partners in Rwanda.

Now I’m delighted to announce the winner of the Award for Corporate Excellence in the large business category. Now, this is a real household name: Intel, and in particular, Intel’s office in Vietnam, which is a national leader in promoting education, sustainable development, and empowering women.

On education, Intel is helping to train the next generation of highly skilled workers by partnering with USAID and Arizona State University to help eight Vietnamese universities improve their science and engineering programs. Intel has also helped dozens of Vietnamese students come to the United States to study engineering. And this year, of all the students who got these scholarships, 80 percent were women. And I was able to meet some of them when I was in Vietnam some months ago.

On the environmental front, Intel has stepped up its efforts to be a good steward of Vietnam’s resources. All of Intel’s plants in the country are recycling and treating their wastewater. Intel also built the largest solar power plant in the country, which cut production of carbon dioxide by more than 221,000 kilograms a year.

Now Intel is a household name and we all use its products – I also drink tea – (laughter) – so we are delighted that we would have the CEO of this great American company here to accept the award. And I am delighted that Paul Otellini is here. He’s recently announced his retirement, but it’s wonderful to have you here accepting this award on a company that you’ve given so much to over so many years. Paul, please come up and accept the award and maybe make a few comments. (Applause.)

I can’t invite the entire Intel – (laughter) – Corporation to come up, but let’s have the people come up for the picture who were here specifically for this award. (Applause.)

MR. OTELLINI: Well, good afternoon – or good morning. Thank you so much, Secretary Clinton. It’s – I’m honored to be here aside you, and I’m glad I got to do this before I rode off into the sunset.

I’m also very happy that Bob – Under Secretary Bob Hormats is here. He’s been a great friend of Intel’s, friend of mine. He comes to the Intel Science Talent Search here in Washington every year, and we sit together and are just amazed by the brilliance of the kids that we get to recognize.

I also want to recognize Assistant Secretary for Economic and Business Affairs Jose Fernandez, and the U.S. senior official to APEC, Atul Keshap, who just told me his next posting is going to be in Vietnam. So welcome to the family.

I also see Ambassador to Vietnam David Shear here. And he’s been a great ally to every company doing business there and a great representative of our country. So thank you, Ambassador.

It’s a great honor to accept the ACE award on behalf of Intel, particularly the dedicated men and women of Intel Vietnam who have done so much to make our efforts in that country so successful. This award is particularly gratifying to Intel because it demonstrates that good business can go hand-in-hand with good corporate citizenship.

As a U.S.-based global company, Intel has long recognized the potential benefits of investing in Vietnam. We were one of the one of the earliest large companies to make a long-term investment there. In addition to our sales and marketing force, we have over 1,000 employees at Intel’s $1 billion chip assembly and test facility, the largest of its kind in our factory network.

As our presence in Vietnam has grown, so has our commitment to the communities where we live and operate. I’m proud to share that 98 percent of our employees in Vietnam volunteer in educational settings or community activities leading our company in volunteerism. Intel has long believed that a key component of any thriving high-tech industry and ecosystem is a strong, vibrant public higher education system. For several years now, Intel has been a proud partner with the USAID mission in Vietnam, Portland State, and Arizona State universities to spearhead efforts to improve educational opportunities in Vietnam. Working with eight leading Vietnamese universities, we’ve helped modernize and improve engineering programs in the country by strengthening teacher training and upgrading their curriculum. Our goal has always been to bring the country’s higher education system in line with the needs of a growing high-tech company.

We also created the Intel Vietnam Study Abroad Program, an initiative that’s already sent 73 students to study overseas. Fifty-two of these students have completed their studies and now work at Intel’s facility in Vietnam. Another 21 students will finish in 2014, and upon graduation they will start their careers at Intel Vietnam. This is part of our vision.

We are also committed to helping Vietnam develop economically in an environmentally sustainable way. Today Intel Vietnam operates the country’s largest up-and-running solar power system, renewable power that offsets – as you mentioned, Madam Secretary – 221,000 kilograms of C02 emissions per year.

We don’t see these efforts as merely goodwill. We firmly believe that helping Vietnam make the transition from a primarily agricultural country to a modern, knowledge-based economy is in our best interest both as a company and as a nation. We envision Vietnam not only as a manufacturing center, but also, as it grows and prospers, as a significant potential market for products made by thousands of U.S.-based engineers and companies.

As we’ve seen before in other countries, stronger economic ties can often pave the way for closer diplomatic and political relations. We’d be incredibly proud if Intel’s expansion into Vietnam and our outreach to the Vietnamese people could play a small role in leading to a deeper, more productive understanding between our two nations.

Again, on behalf of Intel, we appreciate this award and look forward to working with the U.S. Government and our mutual interests in Vietnam. Thank you. (Applause.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much, Paul. And again, congratulations to Intel and to the team in Vietnam. We’re happy that you could be with us virtually like this.

I want to close by thanking all of our nominees. And indeed, I really want to thank all U.S. companies that are doing well by doing good all over the world. Every American should be proud of what you are doing.

And now I will turn it back over to Under Secretary Bob Hormats, who will lead the interactive portion of today’s ceremony. Thank you all very much. (Applause.)

# # #

PRN: 2012/1860