Private Sector
Business Day, 04 October 2002, 'Many firms' response to AIDS disappointing'
Financial Services Reporter


MORE than 75% of 500 SA companies surveyed by finance group Sanlam have no idea of the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in their organisations, and more than 60% of these firms have no strategy to manage the disease.

This will alarm analysts, given the recent pressure on companies to report on HIV/AIDS prevalence within their organisations as part of their corporate governance responsibilities.
Sanlam polled the 500 firms as part of its retirement funds survey, which was released yesterday.

It concluded that besides the ignorance of prevalence, 46% of companies had no AIDS policy whatsoever and 85% did not offer voluntary AIDS testing.

At the same time, Sanlam warned that AIDS could result in retirement fund premiums being increased fourfold.

Sanlam Wealth Management head Kobus Hanekom said the effect of AIDS could be limited if employers were to implement an AIDS policy.

Group actuary Rob Rusconi said that the survey highlighted a disappointing response from the private sector to the AIDS epidemic.

"Proactivity is needed here; heads must be taken out of the sand," Rusconi told business leaders assembled in Midrand yesterday.

He praised companies that made announcements over the last few weeks, detailing how they plan to deal with the epidemic.

In the past few weeks Kumba Resources, Old Mutual and Anglo American all announced measures to deal with the disease among their staff.

In many instances, this includes introducing HIV-testing procedures and providing access to AIDS treatments.

Rusconi admitted that the larger companies had made the biggest strides in implementing AIDS policies, while the smaller organisations had lagged behind.

Retirement funds were also expected to feel the effects of HIV/AIDS.

While 86% of pension fund trustees said they had seen little effect from the epidemic on these funds so far, 40% of them expected a significant effect over the next few years.

The measures that companies are taking to deal with AIDS are seen as a core element of good governance.

The Johannesburg Securities Exchange SA is expected to release guidelines on AIDS reporting next year. This will mean that companies will have to reflect what measures they are taking to deal with the disease alongside their financial statements.

SA would be the first country to insist on AIDS reporting of this kind anywhere in the world.
The JSE's director of new business and general counsel, Nicky Newton-King, said companies would also be judged according to how they respond to the AIDS epidemic in the new socially responsible investment index being launched by the JSE.

It is expected to be launched early next year, rating companies on nonfinancial grounds, including empowerment initiatives and AIDS programmes.