Business leaders at this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos are taking topics such as climate change, sustainability in supply chains, innovation in agriculture and food security, to the top of the agenda.
Against the backdrop of in the war in Ukraine, which threatens to impact global supply chains, and a rising awareness of climate risk, subjects that previously existed on the fringes of corporate priorities have moved into the mainstream.
“These topics are mission critical across the C-suite and they’re not soft anymore,” says Jill Kouri, Chief Marketing Officer, at HCLTech in a panel discussion live in Davos in partnership with the Financial Times.
“We’ve seen an acceleration of trends and an accentuation of the mixed reality of ESG,” says Ezgi Barcenas, chief sustainability officer at Anheuser-Busch InBev, a Belgian multinational drink and brewing company.
“When the risk [climate] is perceived to be real or imminent, whether you’re in a developed or developing country, that’s when people realize we need to step up and take action,” she adds.
AB InBev is heavily invested in food and agriculture systems across its supply chain and therefore exposed to the threats and instability posed by conflict or other shocks such as Covid-19.
“Food systems have been a big topic this time around at Davos which is really exciting coming out of COP 26 and, broadly speaking, I think food systems and agriculture systems will continue to be the center of the agenda.”
Supply chains under the spotlight
All companies, whether they’re engaged in products or services, must take ownership of their entire supply chain.
Increasingly, businesses - and their customers - want to know that they’re partners and suppliers are investing in and supporting the communities in which they operate.
“We’re doing quite a bit on the S in ESG and have a huge focus on carbon reduction in our data centers but the work I’m most proud of is through our HCL Foundation,” says Kouri. “We are having a massive impact on underdeveloped communities around India.”
Many companies are using technology to ensure their supply chains are not only secure but sustainable.
AB In-Bev uses blockchain across Latin America and parts of Africa to increase traceability and transparency in their supply chain but also to provide farmers with a digital, financial identity.
They’re also driving behaviour change initiatives among older generations of farmers to encourage more sustainable practices, such as using less water and fertilizer, as well as recruiting and training younger generations.
Driving diversity in age and gender
Similarly, HCLTech is championing age diversity to fulfill its large, global workforce and support innovation.
“21 to 25-year-olds are our sweet spot and we have a couple of great programs that involve apprenticeships,” says Kouri. “Under thirties are fast becoming our most dominant age group.”
Gender parity is another topic that remains pertinent among Davos attendees.
Kouri notes the gender divide at Davos: “I wish the mix were better; the gender mix of attendees is 70/30 which is not at all where it needs to be.”
It’s a subject high on the corporate agenda at HCLTech: “Female is where we’re starting from a D&I perspective and I am confident we are going to see our numbers increase in coming years,” she adds.
For the World Economic Forum, diversity represents an opportunity to stay relevant.
In March this year, it launched the Global Parity Alliance — a cross-industry group of companies taking action to accelerate diversity, equity and inclusion.
Barcenas adds: “Diversity is changing and that’s driving different conversations and we’re at a turning point I think of what WEF is how WEF can continue to stay relevant.”