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Supporting Ethical Business Practices for SMEs in Health-related Sectors, COVID-19 Response and Recovery

By Evan Holley Canberra, Australia | 13 October 2020

The dual health and economic crisis resulting from COVID-19 has brought into sharp focus the importance of ethical business conduct. Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the medical device and biopharmaceutical sectors have been significantly impacted, during a time when they are being called upon for major action. To support these enterprises and stakeholders in the wider health system, the Business Ethics for APEC SMEs Initiative will launch this week with a bold, new vision for the next five years. Vision 2025 serves as a roadmap for the region’s health-related sectors to uphold integrity by leveraging best practices, partnering with governments to encourage ethical business conduct, and engaging in multi-stakeholder collaboration. All of these actions are essential for COVID-19 recovery.

First, achieving Vision 2025 begins by fully leveraging established best practices as recognized by APEC Ministers. As APEC Executive Director Dr Rebecca Sta Maria, stated in her recent article, addressing concerns arising from the pandemic comes down to adhering to established guidance. The APEC Kuala Lumpur Principles and the APEC Mexico City Principles address fundamental ethical pillars such as upholding integrity, independence, appropriateness, transparency and advancement—all of which are important to reinforce ways to build back better post-COVID-19.

The author, Mr Evan Holley, is Chair of the APEC Small and Medium Enterprises Working Group. Issued by: The APEC Small and Medium Enterprises Working Group

Second, APEC governments serve a critical role in elevating integrity. While it is necessary for governments to ensure consistent enforcement—actions taken against those violating laws designed to prevent unethical conduct—governments should take proactive steps to encourage ethical business conduct and prevent corruption from the outset. Such actions by government are particularly important for supporting SMEs. The APEC SME Working Group is proud of our collaboration with the APEC Anti-Corruption and Transparency Working Group (ACTWG), where we have worked together to launch a Resource Guide focused on Government Strategies to Encourage Ethical Business Conduct, which features examples of strategies that governments are already taking around the world to encourage ethical business conduct. For example, New Zealand Health Partnerships—a subsidiary owned and operated by twenty district health boards—requires all suppliers of clinical products to either be a member of the Medical Technology Association of New Zealand, which has an obligatory code of ethical practice, or to adhere to the code without membership.

Third, we cannot reinforce business ethics and integrity without multi-stakeholder collaboration. The best example of this work has been achieved through the establishment of consensus frameworks agreements for ethical collaboration in nine APEC economies. In Australia, we are privileged to have formed the Australian Ethical Health Alliance (AEHA), enjoying support and engagement with nearly every health system stakeholder in Australia—bringing more than seventy partners to the same table to promote shared ethical principles. Now is the time for all APEC economies to pursue implementation of multi-stakeholder ethical collaborations, such as consensus frameworks, as platforms to support SMEs and to foster improved health outcomes, patient trust, and innovation.

The SMEWG is committed to working with all 21 APEC member economies to support small business development and cross-border trade as we confront the COVID-19 pandemic. The Business Ethics for APEC SMEs Initiative is hosting its first virtual Forum beginning 13 October 2020, which will convene hundreds of stakeholders for the launch of Vision 2025 and for important discussions about strengthening business integrity amidst COVID-19. We invite you to register and learn more as we blaze a new path for the initiative and beyond.

Evan Holley is the Chair of the APEC Small and Medium Enterprises Working Group.

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