Award for Corporate Excellence: Doing Business Right is 'Part of the American Brand'

Nine out of ten ebony trees cut down in Cameroon were being left to rot. Ebony, a dense hardwood, has been a staple of musical instrument production for decades. The wood is a standard component in many guitars, but the demand for dark shades of ebony led to waste and environmental degradation because the lighter color at the center of many trees -- found only after they were chopped down -- had little market value. In 2011, California-based Taylor Guitars revolutionized the ebony trade in Cameroon by changing its definition of usable ebony for guitars, paying tree cutters a premium for previously unwanted wood and resulting in more efficient production, increased worker wages, and reducing waste.

Leading the State Department’s Economic Bureau, I hear stories like this from around the world. U.S. firms are investing in communities to not only provide jobs and economic growth, but to add value in other ways such as providing fair wages, respecting local eco-systems, working with host governments to operate transparently and accountably, and providing disaster assistance.

This is remarkable work. As Secretary Kerry has said, doing business right is "part of the American brand." It is what our companies stand for and part of the value proposition in doing business with them.

When it comes to representing U.S. values around the world, I consider our U.S. diplomats some of the best in the business. In some cases, though, U.S. companies, not our diplomats, are the first contact that people will have with the United States. That is why we are proud of the way U.S. firms represent American values, and it is why we created the Secretary of State’s Award for Corporate Excellence (ACE) over 16 years ago. We want to recognize and thank U.S. firms that go above and beyond in the places where they do business -- like previous ACE winner Taylor Guitars.

We encourage all U.S. businesses, large and small, consider taking this type of approach toward partnering to address our global challenges. To highlight these types of partnership this year’s ACE will, for the first time, be given out in three distinct categories: environmental sustainability, human rights and labor rights, and to a small or medium-sized enterprise.

We are pleased to have the opportunity to recognize 10 U.S. firms as 2015 ACE finalists; companies who are demonstrating leadership in human rights, labor rights, environmental sustainability, and more throughout their global operations. The small and medium-sized enterprises are particularly exciting because of the way they punch above their weight to have an outsized positive impact in the communities where they do business.

I encourage you to read more about the finalists at the link above, but here’s just a small sampling of the great work being done:

  • supporting the reforestation of 500,000 trees in Honduras;
  • employing 2,500 indigenous peoples in Ecuador and including them in company decision-making;
  • raising $10 million for schools serving 33,000 students in Peru;
  • hiring previously unemployed women in Bali and supporting the health and education needs of their children;
  • working with public and private security forces in Ghana to promote respect for international human rights principles;
  • in Hong Kong, promoting an open and inclusive environment for LGBTI persons;
  • utilizing technology to share pricing information with local farmers in Vietnam to promote transparency;
  • building a 100% clean energy facility in Uruguay that serves 40,000 residents;
  • investing $1.2 million in water and energy conservation projects in the Philippines; and
  • providing 8.5 megawatts of solar, grid-connected energy in Rwanda, serving 15,000 homes.

The key to these and so many other U.S. firms is they know that it is more than agreeing to abide by a set of principles. It’s about rolling up your sleeves and taking action to integrate responsible investment into corporate decision-making. I am proud of the work these firms are doing, and I am proud that we can honor that work at this year’s ACE ceremony on March 1 at 10:15 a.m.  I hope you’ll tune in.

About the Author: Charles H. Rivkin serves as the Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs.

For more information:

  • Learn more about the Secretary of State’s Award for Corporate Excellence (ACE).
  • Follow @EconEngage and #SecStateACE for more information about the finalists and upcoming ceremony.
  • Find out this year’s winners by watching our livestream coverage at of the ACE ceremony hosted at the State Department’s Harry S. Truman building on March 1, 2016 at 10:15 a.m EST.
The 2014 Secretary of State's Awards for Corporate Excellence (ACE) on Display [State Department Photo]
February 5, 2016


Latest Stories

January 19, 2017

What We Got Right

With a new administration taking office this week, it is natural to assess the inheritance it will receive from the… more