U.S. Mission Geneva
Wednesday, December 2, 2015
Good morning, everybody. And welcome to U.S. Mission Geneva. First, let me thank those of you from the MICIC Secretariat, located within the International Organization for Migration, for your work in putting this event together. Know that your efforts — and those of your colleagues — are so greatly needed and so deeply appreciated.
Thank you all for taking part in this important consultation. When the public and private sectors come together in the interest of humanity, our protection power is immense.
Now, there are things we cannot control — like natural disasters. Typhoon Haiyan, the tsunami in Japan, and most recently the earthquake in Nepal are painful reminders of how small we stand in front of Mother Nature. No country is spared. In the United States, Hurricane Sandy as well as devastating tornadoes in Oklahoma are still fresh in our minds. Natural disasters have become a fact of life for millions around the world, and unfortunately the forecast is only getting worse.
We cannot control those disasters, but we can better prepare for and respond to these phenomena. The same is true for conflicts — for all crises, man-made or not. We can and must be better prepared to protect all people affected by future crises. And that includes, of course, international migrants — who are expected to surpass 250 million this year, and who are often more vulnerable than host populations when a crisis strikes.
That is why I am encouraged to see such a diverse group of private sector representatives with us here today.
Some of you represent very large enterprises employing thousands of people in various parts of the world that already have sophisticated staff welfare and protection procedures in place. Companies like Shell and Procter & Gamble, with extensive experience in ensuring the safety and protection of their non-national work force, including consideration of evacuation and securing migrant assets.
Others represent recruitment companies that help fulfill the personnel needs of corporations in all regions across the globe. And there are some companies here today with an unparalleled ability to offer essential services to disaster-affected populations, including migrants.
I understand Skype was among several IT and telecommunications companies that waived fees to landlines and mobile phones in Nepal during the earthquake. And I mentioned Typhoon Haiyan just a moment ago — Hospitainer provided mobile hospitals to the worst-hit area of the Philippines to bring much-needed medical relief to the victims of the strongest storm to make landfall in recorded history.
So yes, in the room I see many who are already engaged on this issue, through the provision of valuable resources and expertise. But what I see, above all, is the potential and the need for partnerships — public-private partnerships.
The complexity of the challenges facing us is too great for governments alone to overcome. In today’s globalized economy, with its increasingly transnational workforce, private sector actors from all industries and of all sizes are key stakeholders in protecting and assisting migrants caught in countries experiencing conflicts or natural disasters.
The tools you have developed to protect your employees working in overseas operations are remarkable, and we as governments and multilateral organizations have a great deal to learn from your experiences. And technology plays an important role in this.
We’ve all seen how people — first responders in particular — used features like Facebook’s Safety Check in the aftermath of the recent earthquakes in Afghanistan, Chile, and Nepal. Online and mobile application-based platforms now provide location-tracking capabilities to facilitate evacuations.
And that’s a promising area. A company like Flowminder, for example, can utilize data from mobile phone companies to keep track of large human migrations during crises such as the Ebola epidemic. Such companies track where people might be moving and give this data to international organizations and aid agencies to help them act more quickly and efficiently.
Technology provides valuable tools. But of course, none of this should overshadow the many efforts embraced by the private sector to invest in the health, safety, and well-being of migrant employees.
These efforts highlight the private sector’s capacity to innovate, which translates into timely products and services that support better preparedness, response, and recovery. They also illustrate the growing tendency among private sector actors to adopt a more robust and integrated approach to fulfilling their duty of care toward migrant workers, in line with more ambitious corporate social responsibility policies.
And we really do need to be ambitious, especially at a time when we’re witnessing disheartening narratives related to migrants and migration. I want to make one thing perfectly clear: migrants play a very valuable role in our society, making important economic and cultural contributions. A recent study found that immigrants or their children have founded more than 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies. Foreign-born workers already represent close to 20 percent of the current U.S. labor force. And over the next 20 years, immigrants and their children will account for 85 percent of the net growth in the U.S. labor force.
I have high hopes for this consultation.
We’ll hear from Ambassador Rebong in just a moment, who will reflect on how emergency preparation, response, and recovery with regard to overseas Filipino workers is a core pillar in the Philippines’ foreign policy priorities. And our speakers today will highlight the critical role you, the private sector, can play in addressing the vulnerabilities and protection needs of migrants.
I hope that over the next couple of days, you’ll learn from us as much as I expect we will learn from you. Partnerships between governments and the private sector are essential to identifying practical, cost effective, and sustainable ways to better assist and protect migrants and facilitate better outcomes
— for them, for their home and host communities, and for their employers.
Together, we can work to ensure that no migrant is left to fend for him or herself when faced with a crisis.
Thank you for your active participation, and I very much look forward to hearing the outcomes of these discussions.