Flying Dutch man’s mission to unite firms over climate change

Paul Polman is known as a leading voice on sustainable capitalism. (AFP)
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Updated 23 January 2020

Flying Dutch man’s mission to unite firms over climate change

  • Polman has set his sights on using his sway among business chiefs, governments, finance and civil society to get them to work together on climate change and making economies fairer for everyone

DAVOS: While global leaders take to the stage at Davos in the Swiss Alps, one of the world’s most prominent businessmen is busy behind the scenes — trying to bring together the heads of major companies to tackle climate change and inequality.

Paul Polman became known as a leading voice on sustainable capitalism while running consumer goods giant Unilever for 10 years, and is a regular at the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting for the global elite in the upmarket ski resort.

Since retiring from Unilever a year ago, Polman has set his sights on using his sway among business chiefs, governments, finance and civil society to get them to work together on climate change and making economies fairer for everyone.

“If you can bring about 25 percent of the industry together across the value chain, you can create tipping points, and that accelerates things,” Dutch businessman Polman, 63, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview at a Davos hotel.

His new sustainability consultancy, Imagine, set up last year, scored a major victory by organizing a fashion industry pact to announce at the G7 summit in France in August.

The pact involves 62 major fashion companies striving to use sustainable cotton, cut out single-use plastics, and align their businesses with the Paris climate pact to address global warming.

Now Polman wants to convene similar agreements in the food and land sector, tourism and travel, technology and finance, saying these companies had the biggest impact on the UN’s global goals to address inequality and climate change.

He was optimistic an agreement was achievable fairly quickly in the food industry, where he is already well connected as chairman of the Food and Land Use Coalition.

“They all want to be part of it ... six months from now we’ll have a substantial group in the food sector,” he said.

Polman said leaving Unilever had actually given him greater influence to change things for the better.

“As a CEO you had shackles around your legs,” said Polman, who has taken a leading role on a powerful list of bodies including chair of the International Chamber of Commerce.

With global challenges growing, governments could not be relied on, he said, adding that chief executives were starting to step up with bolder initiatives.

He cited Microsoft’s pledge to go carbon-negative by 2050 by removing carbon it has emitted over the past 45 years, and asset manager BlackRock saying it will stop investing in companies with a “high sustainability-related risk.”

“Things are happening at a faster pace than perhaps people think, but the multilateral process is difficult,” he said.

He pointed to disappointment over the recent COP25 climate talks, deforestation rising in Brazil under President Jair Bolsonaro, the US administration quitting the Paris pact, and the Australian government’s reaction over bushfires and climate change.

But there was greater awareness at Davos this year about the need to act, including a commitment to plant one trillion trees to curb climate-heating emissions, he said. “The initiatives are becoming bigger and bolder. Is this enough? No, because you cannot change the world without governments’ buy-in,” he added.


Indian Muslims in riot-hit Delhi slam govt for inaction

Updated 27 February 2020

Indian Muslims in riot-hit Delhi slam govt for inaction

  • Indian PM Modi appeals for calm as death toll from violence rises to 27

NEW DELHI: Sadaqat has been trying to collect the body of his shooting-victim brother from a New Delhi hospital since Tuesday.

The 26-year-old, who arrived to work in the Indian capital a few weeks ago, said on Wednesday he was afraid to seek help from police who have been struggling to contain violence over a new citizenship law which has resulted in scores of deaths, mostly among Muslims.

“The hospital is refusing to hand over my brother’s dead body even after 24 hours,” he told Arab News. “No one is there to help me. I am scared to reach out to police also. I am so scared that I don’t want to go to my house for fear of violence. Yesterday, I took refuge at my relative’s house in another part of Delhi.”

Sadaqat claimed his younger brother, Mubarak, was returning to his rented house in the Maujpur area of northeast Delhi, when a Hindu mob shot him dead.

On Wednesday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed for calm. According to media reports, violent clashes in the city have claimed 27 lives since Sunday evening, although the unofficial death toll has been put at more than three dozen. The neighborhoods of Maujpur, Mustafabad, Jaffrabad and Shiv Vihar are said to be in the grip of fear.

“I am planning to leave for Jaipur and stay there until the situation becomes normal. I have never seen this kind of violence in my life,” said 30-year-old garment seller Sharukh.

“My neighbor’s son was injured in the violence, but he is scared to go to the police and report it. He also doesn’t want to go to hospital. We have lost our trust,” he added.

Trouble started when a Hindu mob attacked Muslims protesting in Jaffrabad against the citizenship law that provides fast-track naturalization for some foreign-born religious minorities but not Muslims. As clashes spread, several mosques were damaged, and numerous shops and houses belonging to Muslims were burned down.

India has been rocked by violence since the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) was passed in December last year. The legislation is seen by many as anti-Muslim and has raised concerns that when the Indian government goes ahead with its National Register of Citizens (NRC), many from the Muslim minority population will be rendered stateless.

Delhi-based social activist, Nadeem Khan, told Arab News: “There is a sense of helplessness among Muslims now. They don’t have the resources to fight the government. They were already at the receiving end of the CAA and NRC, and this violence further marginalizes the community in their own land.”

In a Twitter post on Wednesday, Modi said: “Peace and harmony are central to our ethos. I appeal to my sisters and brothers of Delhi to maintain peace and brotherhood at all times.

“It is important that there is calm, and normalcy is restored at the earliest. Police and other agencies are working on the ground to ensure peace and normalcy.”

The premier’s statement came after the opposition Congress Party questioned the government’s silence on the violence in Delhi and demanded the resignation of Modi’s right-hand man, Minister of Home Affairs Amit Shah.

During a press conference in New Delhi on Wednesday, Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, said: “The central government, including the home minister, is responsible. The Congress party demands that he resigns immediately.”

Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar responded to Gandhi’s statement by calling it “unfortunate and condemnable,” and blaming her for “politicizing the violence.”

He said: “At such times all parties should ensure that peace is maintained, blaming the government instead is dirty politics.”

Meanwhile, the High Court of Delhi on Wednesday called for legal action against those who incited violence and requested “the filing of cases of those who made hate speeches.”

Political analyst Prof. Apoorvanand, of the University of Delhi, told Arab News: “The BJP’s (Bharatiya Janata Party) hate campaign and the vilification of the Muslim protesters in the last few months has resulted in the violence.

“No one is willing to take Modi’s words for calm at face value. The violence was state-sponsored. The violence sent a message to Muslims that they are helpless, and the state cannot help you,” he added.