The Wallenbergs at the ICC

Peter Wal­len­berg, the scion of the great Swedish fam­ily of bankers and indus­tri­al­ists, died on 19 Jan­u­ary aged 88.

Among his many achieve­ments was to lead the Inter­na­tional Cham­ber of Com­merce (ICC) dur­ing the most dif­fi­cult period for busi­ness in the late 20th Cen­tury. Here is a sum­mary of the story. There’s a lit­tle more in this (draft) chap­ter of my forth­com­ing his­tory of the ICC with a sum­mary of the con­tri­bu­tions that four gen­er­a­tions of the Wal­len­berg fam­ily have made to the lead­er­ship of ICC.

In the late 1980s, after a decade of growth almost as strong as those never-equalled heights of the early 1960s the world was head­ing for a sharp “cor­rec­tion”. As ever, it had been pri­vate enter­prise that deliv­ered the wealth. East­ern Europe and the for­mer Soviet Union, observ­ing the pros­per­ity on the other side of the “wall”, were soon to make the choice of cap­i­tal­ism universal.

Still, dur­ing this decade of enterprise-led growth, “pro­gres­sive” opin­ion, envi­ron­men­tal­ists and even the United Nations had repeat­edly attacked the social, eco­nomic and envi­ron­men­tal impacts of multi­na­tional cor­po­ra­tions. The debates in the media and inter­na­tional forums on these issues were dri­ven more by fer­vor than facts.

One of the sig­nal achieve­ments of ICC at that time, under the lead­er­ship of Peter Wal­len­berg, was to devise an effec­tive way to respond to these attacks with­out sour­ing the debate fur­ther or deep­en­ing the dis­trust of inter­na­tional busi­ness. The answer was to develop pub­lic inter­na­tional busi­ness stan­dards to which multi­na­tion­als could sub­scribe. These stan­dards would be an alter­na­tive to ad-hoc, bur­den­some national reg­u­la­tion of busi­ness. ICC pro­posed the stan­dards as a sort of con­tract with the soci­eties within which multi­na­tional busi­nesses oper­ated. The doc­u­ments implied oblig­a­tions on multi­na­tional busi­nesses — for exam­ple in envi­ron­men­tal stew­ard­ship —but also iden­ti­fied the things gov­ern­ments had to do to make a val­ue­able part­ner­ship work.

The “Busi­ness Char­ter for Sus­tain­able Devel­op­ment”, first pub­lished by ICC dur­ing Peter Wallenberg’s Pres­i­dency, remains a key ref­er­ence point for inter­na­tional busi­ness envi­ron­ment and energy policies.

Peter Wal­len­berg led a revival in his family’s indus­trial for­tunes, too. His nephew Mar­cus accepted the Chairman’s role in 2005 for an (unusual) 3-year term; once more to revive the orga­ni­za­tion and re-focus it on the needs of busi­ness in the 21st century.

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