The Business for Peace Foundation this week announced the selection of Dilmah Founder Merrill J. Fernando as one of the 2015 Oslo Business for Peace Honourees by the Award Committee of Nobel Laureates in Peace and Economics.
The foundation annually names honourees for the Oslo Business for Peace Award in recognition of business persons who, through their own actions and commitments, truly are business-worthy, promoting socially responsible and ethical business practices in an outstanding way, and standing out as examples to the world.
“I think the idea behind the Oslo Business for Peace Award and the potential impact it may have, is important and inspiring. It is important to encourage businesspersons to be conscious of the role they can play as individuals to foster stability and peace,” said Nobel Laureate Kofi A. Annan, commenting on the Business for Peace Award.
The Award Committee is formed by persons invited by former Swedish Prime Minister Hans Göran Persson, former Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik and Director of the Peace Research Institute Oslo Kristian Berg Harpviken.
Currently the committee includes Michael Spence, Professor Emeritus of Management in the Graduate School of Business in Stanford University and recipient of the prize in Economic Sciences in memory of Alfred Nobel 2001, Shirin Ebadi, Human Rights Advocate, Founder of the Nobel Women’s Initiative to Promote Peace and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003, Muhammad Yunus, Grameen Bank Founder and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize 2006, the late Wangari Maathai, Founder of the Green Belt Movement and Nobel Peace Prize winner 2004. Previous honourees include Sir Richard Branson (2014), Jeffrey R. Immelt (2009), Ibrahim Abouleish, Reginald A. Mengi amongst others.
Honourees are selected from amongst nominees of the United Nations Development Programme, UN Global Compact and the International Chamber of Commerce. The nomination criteria requires that nominees are examples to society and their peers, advocates of ethical and responsible business and trusted by communities their businesses affect.
The Oslo Business for Peace Award has the objective of highlighting ethical and responsible business practices and the commitment of business leaders as individuals to creating long-term success benefitting businesses, societies and themselves in an ethical and responsible manner that creates economic value as well as value for society.
In addition to Merrill J. Fernando, the first ever Sri Lankan Honouree, Juan Andres Cano (Colombia), Zahi Khouri (Palestine), Poman Lo (Hong Kong) and Paul Polman (United Kingdom) were honoured. Per L. Saxegaard, Business for Peace Foundation Executive Chairman said: “Each of the 2015 honourees are remarkable examples of individuals who are applying their business energy ethically and responsibly in the interest of also creating a positive impact for society. The foundation is pleased to recognise their efforts.”
Merrill J. Fernando and fellow honourees will be felicitated in Oslo on 5 and 6 May at a Business for Peace Round Table which will be addressed by Erna Solberg, Norwegian Prime Minister, Prince Maximillian of Liechtenstein amongst others.
In humbly accepting this award he first thanked God for His grace and favour, and paid tribute to the many individuals who have played a defining role in his life, in particular the staff of Dilmah and affiliated companies for helping him in translating his vision into reality. He thanked also the many well wishers around the world who helped in the evolution of Dilmah from an impossible dream to a global brand.
He stated that the honour was shared with each of them and it was in particular a tribute to quality Ceylon tea, which lies at the core of Dilmah and also of its Founder’s unique philosophy, of making business a matter of human service.
Born in May 1930 in the tiny hamlet of Pallansena in Sri Lanka, to a family of modest means, Merrill J. Fernando migrated to Colombo, the commercial capital of Sri Lanka, and was fortunate in being selected as one of the first Sri Lankans to learn tea tasting in London.
The centre of the global tea trade was in Mincing Lane, in East London. Ceylon Tea was acknowledged as the finest, yet its teas were mostly transferred to London for auction, a practice that persisted to an extent until the 1980s. The young tea taster saw the inequity in the industry, with tea - a finished product - being sold as raw material and therefore disproportionately benefiting traders in developed countries.
Whilst in his early twenties, the young but ambitious Merrill sought change. The odds were stacked against him as even his industry peers opposed any effort at changing the status quo for fear of losing their bulk tea export business.
Eventually in the 1980s, Merrill harnessed the resources to buy his first teabag making machine, eventually another and in 1988 he launched his Dilmah branded tea. It was the first time that tea grown, handpicked, packed at source and branded under a local, Sri Lankan brand was offered to tea drinkers overseas. Merrill overcame enormous difficulties including the lack of quality packaging in Sri Lanka. His packaging was imported from Japan and Europe, in an arduous logistical exercise.
Blessed with the appreciation of his first customers in Australia, Merrill overcame the best efforts of his competitors to push the fledgling brand off supermarket shelves. That was the beginning of a success story that Merrill attributes to the grace and favour of God on him and his family. Dilmah Tea is offered in over 100 countries around the world and maintains its founding commitment to quality and integrity.
The brand was established on the unique philosophy of making business a matter of human service, a pledge that is fulfilled through Merrill J. Fernando’s MJF Charitable Foundation and Dilmah Conservation.
A minimum 10% of pre-tax profits from the sale of Dilmah Tea is diverted towards direct humanitarian and environmental interventions. Emphasising the dignity of beneficiaries and sustainability of humanitarian and environmental projects, the impact of both entities has been felt by thousands across Sri Lanka.
More details of the MJF Charitable Foundation are available here www.mjffoundation.org. Dilmah Conservation projects are shown in overview here www.dilmahconservation.org.