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Turning focus on business ethics

Danial Norjidi

The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) is ramping up efforts to strengthen the competitiveness of the region’s small businesses in the health sector through the expansion of public-private business ethics pacts, according to a statement by the APEC Small and Medium Enterprises Working Group (SMEWG) following the recent 2022 APEC Business Ethics for SMEs Forum.

The Business Ethics for APEC SMEs initiative is overseen by the United States (US) government in close partnership with the 21 economies of APEC, and is the world’s largest public-private partnership to strengthen ethical conduct and drive a level playing field in the biopharmaceutical sector.

It also serves as the region’s largest collective action initiative to reinforce ethics and business integrity across health systems. The collective work of over 2,000 stakeholders since 2010 enables the results-driven initiative to: identify and set best practices; facilitate adherence to these practices through capacity building for SMEs; and monitor/evaluate progress within each APEC economy.

In terms of the initiative’s focus, “Upholding high-standard ethical business practices and sustaining patient trust is of utmost importance to health systems in all APEC economies, especially for SMEs in health-related sectors.

The initiative emphasises the role of ethical business practices to strengthen economies, businesses, health systems, and innovation, demonstrating in practice the diverse and numerous advantages of embracing integrity for all stakeholders in health-related sectors, shifting the conversation beyond the ‘costs of corruption’.

“This strengthens the business environment for SMEs to flourish, levelling the playing field as companies go abroad, promoting better business performance, access to financing, lowering business reputation risk, and increasing attractiveness to international markets.

This focus has led to significant outcomes for the APEC region over the past decade, affecting tens of thousands of companies, hundreds of thousands of healthcare professionals, and millions of patients.”

The APEC SMEWG in their press statement explained that the Business Ethics for APEC SMEs initiative aims to further help small businesses address risks, such as corruption across the health ecosystem, while encouraging them to share best practices, partner with governments to promote ethical business conduct, as well as engage in multistakeholder collaboration.

APEC SMEWG Chairperson Norlela binti Suhailee said, “Micro, small and medium enterprises in the medical device and biopharmaceutical industries played a crucial role during the height of the pandemic, ensuring availability of products and services despite the disruptions and challenges.”

“Our small businesses need a transparent and predictable operating environment to deliver lifesaving products, to develop innovative solutions for the future, to operate sustainably and continue their engagement in cross-border trade,” she added.

The statement also notes that the 2022 APEC Business Ethics for SMEs Forum on September 12-13 in Bangkok saw industry associations representing thousands of small businesses in the medical technology and biopharmaceutical sectors, join government, patient organisations, and healthcare providers to contribute to a guide to help stakeholders from member economies coalesce around the implementation of ethics pacts.

It was shared that there are currently 11 agreements for ethical collaboration, which bring together more than 300 organisations representing tens of thousands of small businesses as well as healthcare professionals and patients.

Participants at the forum provided their inputs to the guide, contributing to the development of a suite of resources and best practices to bolster ethical collaboration, including effective governance, operations, communications and sustainability, said the statement. It adds that the new resource guide will be published next year in collaboration with the Basel Institute on Governance.

Marisa Lago, Undersecretary of International Trade at the US Department of Commerce, which oversees the initiative, said, “It is incumbent on all of us to ensure that the region’s health economy is vibrant, innovative, competitive and free of corruption – to foster sustainable growth and to best serve the billions of patients across our markets.

“Consensus frameworks have the power to unite diverse stakeholders with disparate interests to expand the possibilities of ethical business practices in a given economy.”

Consensus frameworks are critical to advancing ethical business conduct to support small businesses within health systems, and represent each economy’s commitment to strengthening multistakeholder collaboration, the statement said. This includes adherence to rules within respective health systems and alignment of ethical principles across diverse stakeholders.

International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations Director General Thomas Cueni said, “Consensus frameworks are voluntary agreements that set the table for building trust across health systems – bringing together diverse stakeholders to simultaneously elevate standards of integrity.”

“With a mission to improve standards of governance, the forum’s outcomes well position APEC economies for continued growth and success in ethical collaboration in the health sector and in support of high-quality patient care,” he added.


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