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SABIC: Promoting Values and Transparency for Growth

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s national development strategy, “Vision 2030,” is an ambitious proposal that aims to build upon the country’s geographic location, resources, and unique strengths and capabilities. It challenges all Saudis to create an environment that unlocks business opportunities at home and abroad, strengthens the economy, and creates jobs.

As a company based in Saudi Arabia with a global footprint, SABIC recognizes that for these ambitions to be realized, the Kingdom’s businesses need to fully integrate the Vision’s themes of transparency and integrity into the corporate culture.  In support of the 2030 goals, on 9 October 2019 SABIC hosted over 400 participants at a major conference in Riyadh under the theme “Promoting Integrity and Transparency for Growth.”  The event offered the Saudi and global business community a unique opportunity to connect in the interest of elevating corporate integrity and compliance practices.

SABIC’s goal in hosting the conference was to use its compliance experience to benefit its supply chain as well as the markets where it operates.  The SABIC experience has been that embracing a culture of integrity makes employees more proud to work for us, customers more confident in buying our products, banks more assured in lending, and investors more secure in trusting us in their portfolios.  As part of the SABIC contribution to Vision, the message that SABIC wanted to bring to the Saudi community via the conference is that there is an increasing understanding among stakeholders that a culture of transparency and integrity encourages growth and investment.

During his opening remarks, SABIC CEO and Vice Chairman, Yousef Al Benyan, said the time was right for focused discussions on ethics and integrity.  “Saudi Arabia is moving to a bright future,” he said, “It is growing, changing and preparing for more local entrepreneurship, more investment, and has a young population eager to make this all happen. Saudi Vision 2030 challenges businesses to rise to the occasion by observing their social and ethical responsibilities and contributing to the creation of a sustainable economy.

“By strengthening integrity and compliance capacity across the Saudi supply chain, companies and investors can grow in new ways and with confidence. The opening of the Saudi stock market to foreign investors is increasing attention on the compliance practices of our companies. Those who meet international standards and expectations will be in the driving seat to secure new investment.”

Capacity Building for Regional and Global Supply Chains

The SABIC experience in building out a world-class, global compliance program from the Middle East may be somewhat unique, but program leaders believe that its structure and principles can and should apply to other companies in the SABIC supply chain.  This opportunity to help build capacity was one of the reasons for hosting this event and bringing together leaders from international and local corporations, financial institutions, governments, academia and NGOs.

Panelists discussed topics such as the building blocks of a culture of integrity and ethics, and quantifying the value of a culture of integrity in responding to stakeholder inquiries.  Participants agreed that companies embracing cultures of integrity have a greater chance of success, as this generates investor and stakeholder confidence, employee loyalty, and ultimately long-term value.

One of the panelists was Nancy Higgins, Vice President & Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer for the Bechtel Group.  She explained the benefit to Bechtel’s supply chain as follows:

“Bechtel has partnered with customers in Saudi Arabia for more than 75 years. We believe our success in the Kingdom and around the world is directly attributable to our culture of high ethical conduct and our commitment to performing all business transactions fairly and with integrity. We share many of our Ethics and Compliance Program elements online to promote transparency and to help other companies build a culture of integrity and compliance. Working together, through collective action, we can raise the standard for ethical business behavior around the world, and we all will benefit.”

A Strong Value Proposition

Companies and societies that really embrace a culture of integrity are the ones that will succeed in the long-term.  They generate more investor confidence and ultimately, greater enduring value.  This value is precisely what SABIC is seeking to produce—to not only make products that the world needs, but to do so in a manner that gives stakeholders reason to feel confident.

For SABIC, a large part of building an integrity culture involves listening to customers, suppliers, banking partners and other external stakeholders; benchmarking with peer companies; and active involvement with organizations like TRACE International, the World Economic Forum, and the OECD. Throughout all of these engagements, we listened to what matters to people and we learned that having a culture of integrity does make a difference.

Keynote speaker TRACE President Alexandra Wrage expressed strong support for SABIC’s initiative and appreciation for the chance to make the case for the role the private sector plays in enhancing transparency. “Too often companies and government are portrayed as having competing interests,” she said, “when in fact, both groups benefit from more transparency, greater predictability and heightened confidence in the market.”

The Right Discussion at the Right Time

The timing of the conference was tied to several key developments in Saudi Arabia.  The event followed the opening of the Saudi Stock Exchange (Tadawul) to foreign investors and its recent listing on the MSCI Emerging Markets Index, an internationally respected market benchmark that provides supplementary assurance to potential investors.

Next year, Saudi Arabia will hold the presidency of the G20 and SABIC’s CEO will serve as president of its business grouping, the B20. During the G20 Summit in Riyadh in November 2020 the eyes of the world’s business community will be on Saudi Arabia and its companies.  Saudi companies can use this platform to promote not only the G20 goals, but also the Saudi Vision 2030 objectives.

In order to fully achieve these objectives and attract greater foreign investment, the all of the Kingdom’s companies will need to play a part.  The range of conference attendees demonstrated that companies in Saudi Arabia are keen to build out their own compliance programs to create value for their own stakeholders. Each company can play a role in developing its compliance capability to make its own supply chain more ethical and secure.

For SABIC, the benefits of the conference were numerous.  We highlighted the value of our own program, shared our experience, and contributed to capacity development in our commercial partners.  SABIC took the opportunity to use its leading role in compliance in the region to emphasize that Saudi companies will need to demonstrate to the world that Saudi Arabia is a safe and reliable place to invest. To maximize the potential for Saudi Arabia’s future, the conference helped the Kingdom’s business community to connect ethics and integrity to Vision 2030 and its principles.

About the Author:

Danielle Cannata is a Senior Counsel within SABIC Legal Affairs, based in Houston, Texas. Since joining SABIC in 2008, Danielle has advised the business on trade compliance and strategy. She manages the international trade compliance team within SABIC Legal Affairs. She also supports the Corporate Sustainability Department on compliance, ethics and social sustainability issues and works extensively on the company’s 3rd party due diligence program.  Her portfolio also includes anti-bribery compliance. In this capacity, she serves as SABIC’s representative to the B20 Task Force on Improving Transparency and Anti-Corruption and the World Economic Forum’s Partnering Against Corruption Initiative.  She is a member of the member of the Trust in Business Network, the advisory board of the OECD’s Trust in Business initiative.  During the Saudi presidency of the G20 in 2020, Danielle is co-chairing the B20 Integrity and Compliance Task Force.

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