Bob Geldof on poverty, corporate social responsibility and world trade

Twelve months after Live 8, I interviewed Sir Bob Geldof on the issue of global poverty, corporate social responsibility, the Bill Gates-Warren Buffett mega- foundation and the problems confronting the Doha round of world trade negotiations.

If you prefer, you can read my report of the exclusive interview in The Age or listen to it here.

GELDOF: I don't want to talk about this corporate social responsibility stuff. It's not something I am hugely interested in, I have to say. Business might have a role but it's a minor role. But go on.

SOX FIRST: So does that mean you're not interested in Bill Gates helping fund your work?

GELDOF:But I think that's a phenomenon of individuals rather than corporations inasmuch that at a certain point, this stuff that you've got, money, is literally meaningless, given that currency itself is virtual. I give you a piece of paper and you give me a Coca Cola or something. It's very sophisticated. Instead of me giving you something to the value of that Coca Cola I have given you a notional virtual entity and you have exchanged that with me. At a certain point, this virtual thing that you have earned or created is literally that, it is utterly virtual. What it buys you is meaningless. You can buy all the art in the world but so what? You have to earn that sort of money to get to that point, and yes, the average person would say f—ing hell, give me the $43 billion and I'll spend it. But the reality is you can't.

SOX FIRST: But if it's about individuals and not corporations, don't the individuals get their money from the corporations?

GELDOF: I think there is a realisation of that at a certain point where you earn so much money that that is literally what it becomes, almost meaningless and in Gates' case, that is a fact. I think that he has found by going into this other area, it's far more interesting for him. You can't really use $45 billion. It's inconceivable that you can use that. Certainly you can buy fleets of jets and all the art work on the planet but so what? I think that he has found found by going into this other area, its far more interesting for him. Rather than being what we would classically define as a business entrepreneur, he's become what we call a social entrepreneur. Of course, the essence of entrepreneureurialism is probably in innovation and that in turn is probably one of the essences of life and progress. In business you can't stand still, you can't go back so the only logic is moving forward. The essence of life must be innovation and that's the thing thing that triggers these high worth individuals at a certain point, they are simply repeating that which they initiated in the first place.

SOX FIRST: What about the accountability of these mega-foundations?

GELDOF: I wouldn't have a problem with that simply because of the laws governing accountability and transparency in the UK and I'd imagine they would be fairly strenuous in America. It's so high profile that for them to be opaque or obfuscatory would be totally detrimental to the working of the foundation. They would get hammered. Look, there has to be accountability and transparency in the host government, largely towards their own people, primarily also towards donors. And there certainly has to be transparency and accountability from us to them. DATA just published its first report on what happened to the G8 promises. It's basically good news, okay news and shit news but trying to get the information from the G8, the G7 in effect, is almost impossible. Try to get those figures on aid, and try to break them down as to how they arrived at those figures, and it's a nightmare. Japan point blank refused to give them to us. And yet these are elected by us, they are using taxpayers' money and their figures are 18 months out of date. If you were in business and the board of directors had to tick off a plan put forward by the managing director for the next year and you said what are these figures based on. 'Well, 18 months ago.' I'm sorry you'd fire the f—er.

SOX FIRST: What is your view of Doha?

GELDOF: Doha is is a disgrace. It's a complete disgrace. It started as developmental round at the beginning of this new millenium with noble objectives, to lift the underdeveloped countries out of poverty. But then we got suddenly 9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq, the wholly unexpected emergence of India, Brazil and China so the world has utterly changed in four years. As a result the trade talks have changed. the parameters no longer dictate and this is the last time we will be able to help right the plan for global trade.From now on, it will be largely dictated to us so we should be in there negotiating a deal. If there is failure, it will catastrophic for our world, for Australia, for Europe, for America, for the Chinese and Indians. It really will be a net negative. We lose about $600 billion out of the world economy every year and we will degenerate into bilateralism, protectionism. We will have ludicrous taxes and subsidies to try and promote failing industries in our own countries which will in any case fail. We will be paying tax money to keep these failing industries going to keep out competitors who can give us the goods for cheaper. All that will happen and it will be ridiculous but the ones who will really hurt will be the poorest of the poor because they will be unable to trade their way out of poverty exactly as we did when we were building our society.

14 Jul 2006