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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