Henry Z. Horbaczewski, Esq. Addresses the Rule of Law and Corporate Social Responsibility at the 2011 HIA Benefit

"Ladies and Gentlemen, and my dear friends, who have joined me this evening in support of Humanity in Action:

Tonight, you have before you two honorees, John Lewis, a distinguished statesman, a founding father of the Civil Rights movement, one of the greatest moral crusades in not just US but human, history—and a lawyer (or, as we like to call ourselves, an attorney).

An attorney is someone authorized on behalf of others, and I am accepting this deeply gratifying award from Humanity in Action as an attorney—attorney for the dozens, if not hundreds of colleagues at LexisNexis who have made meaningful contributions to our fostering of the Rule of Law. While several notable colleagues are here, if everyone who deserves to share this recognition were in this room, fire codes would be violated, so you have to make do with me as their attorney—me, and Andy Prozes, the George Washington of the LexisNexis Rule of Law initiative.

I’d like to mention briefly two subjects this evening: the importance of defending and promoting the Rule of Law as the cornerstone of civilized life and the importance of public corporations actively engaging in not just philanthropy but a major activity that promotes the public good that is integral with their mission.

The latter first: the modern public corporation with its access to global capital markets, limited liability, global reach and professional managers separate from investors is a marvellous force for marshalling resources, developing human talent and creating wealth. Such corporations can, and routinely do, accomplish great things. However, some corporations have also been monstrously destructive to lives, health and wealth, as we all have seen, fostering fraud, corruption, violations of human rights, environmental destruction and other calamities on a scale that challenges the power of governments to put right. So we have to ask, how can we channel some of the resources and capabilities of public corporations not just to the creation of economic wealth but to the good of society in other important regards, and how can we control the demons that unleash the destructive potential of these vast aggregations of human, economic and technological resources?

With very rare exceptions, the people who work for large public corporations are not evil. Unlike professional criminals, they do not set out on a career of intentional and purposeful injury to others. Hubris, myopia and indifference are a different matter. All too often, the combination of economic pressure and hubris result in catastrophically short sighted actions or inaction with tragic results. An organizational commitment to the public good that calls upon the same knowledge and skills needed in the principal business of the corporation is a significant help in maintaining an awareness of context and a healthy engagement with the real world.

In the case of LexisNexis, that commitment to the public good is to the propagation, and defense, of the Rule of Law. It helps us never to lose sight of why we are in the business of creating, compiling and distributing legal information.

We believe a transparent legal system is a fundamental element of a healthy society and a growing economy. We also believe it requires a clear set of democratically enacted laws that are freely and easily accessible to all, strong enforcement structures, and an honest and independent judiciary to protect citizens against abuse of power by the state, or other persons. In other words, everyone lives by one set of legitimate rules, available to, and enforceable by, everyone. That is the Rule of Law. It sounds simple enough, and as current events in the Middle East demonstrate, the Rule of Law is in harmony with deep-seeded needs of humanity. On the other hand, equally deep-seated, and all too frequently triumphant, is the desire for special privileges based on membership in an elite group or possession of naked power. The dialectic goes on, and the Rule of Law needs all the help it can get.

My company is in the business of making the law known to others. Those of us in the legal info biz don’t really appreciate the significance of what we do, or the responsibility that comes with it; that is, until we work with lawyers in sub-Saharan Africa to codify the laws of their countries for the first time and make them available on the world’s cheapest, minimally functional laptops, or meet a young lawyer in Pakistan who lives in a remote rural area to offer legal services to poor farmers and has to bicycle fifteen kilometers to the nearest Internet hot spot to do legal research. You don’t appreciate the threat of perversion of legal process until you get involved in the prosecution of a sitting judge under an absurd interpretation of a statute as retaliation for upholding due process. You don’t feel the human cost of a breakdown of the Rule of Law until you have spoken to girls in Cambodia who have been trafficked into a life of prostitution as de facto slaves—and this leads you to discover how prevalent human trafficking is in Europe and the United States.

Obviously, one company cannot counter all of the evils in the world that stem from breakdowns in the Rule of Law, but we have found, to our pleasant surprise, that we can move the needle more than we expected, and whether the direct benefit of our activities flows to a few dozen, or a few hundred, or a few thousand individuals, the beneficial effects continue to ripple out and touch many more.

Chief Justice Marshall (to whom my friend and mentor, Steve Kaye always directed me for guidance on fundamental questions) warned, “We must never forget that it is a Constitution we are expounding... intended to endure for ages to come.” Our Rule of Law initiatives remind us that it is the law, and liberty under the law, that we are expounding in our “day jobs,” that imbues our long days and our ceaseless exertions with meaning that transcends the most recent financial report.

Similarly, our scientific, technical and medical information side, Elsevier, applies the expertise it has developed in such projects as assisting in the development of a national cancer database for Egypt, and development of medical libraries in six African countries, working with Libraries Without Borders, and health information delivery in rural Guatemala.

Under our New Scholars program, we continue to support the Organization for Women Scientists for the Developing World with a grant to conduct a national assessment and benchmark of gender, science, technology and innovation, as well as continuing programs. By providing childcare for young women scientists at scientific conferences, we have made it possible for many to take advantage of the career-building opportunities these conferences offer.

We focus our efforts on projects where we can make positive contributions as a business through our unique knowledge, resources and skill. We look for opportunities to make catalytic contributions that will prime pumps for future independent growth. In many ways, our vision of serving the public good is congruent with the vision of Humanity in Action. While we think that our public policy goals of universal sustainable access to information, advance of science and health, and promotion of the Rule of Law with justice are fundamental to the establishment and maintenance of a modern democratic society, other corporations have much to contribute to critical elements of the public good. The goal here is corporate dedication to initiatives using that corporation’s unique expertise and resources to promote some important aspect of the public good—not just philanthropy detached from the “day job,” but as a core element of the corporation’s mission and identity—and its franchise.

Calvin Coolidge (not often looked to for inspirational speeches) rightly observed that “[T]he chief business of the American people is business…. Of course the accumulation of wealth cannot be justified as the chief end of existence…. We make no concealment of the fact that we want wealth, but there are many other things that we want very much more. We want peace and honor, and that charity which is so strong an element of all civilization. The chief ideal of the American people is idealism. I cannot repeat too often that America is a nation of idealists. That is the only motive to which they ever give any strong and lasting reaction.” This is an ideal that moved even Silent Cal to eloquence.

We work for a living; we do not live for working. It is inevitable that most of our waking hours, our energy and our creativity are demanded by our employment. However idealistic our intentions, if pro bono activity is optional, an extra, a luxury to be indulged in good times, there will always be a higher priority. Only when serving the public good is integrated into the corporate mission and culture will it become organic and sustainable over good times and bad over the long term required to achieve meaningful change, and we the workers will be complete persons. Then we will have better workplaces practicing “practical idealism” (as President Coolidge put it) contributing to a better society, and, not incidentally, corporations that Humanity in Action’s fellows will be proud to join and contribute to.

As I accept this award, a great deal of acknowledgement and gratitude is in order:

I thank Humanity in Action for selecting me for this great honor, and also for the inspiration you provide through your highly effective work in cultivating the commitment to the public good in the future leaders of our society, so that when we refer to them as “the best and the brightest,” we do so with sincerity and conviction.

I thank Reed Elsevier for giving me the freedom and the resources to pursue the public good and for persevering in its mission through bad times as well as good without wavering. I thank my colleagues who inspire me constantly with their dedication and their energy, and particularly Andy Prozes, who as CEO of LexisNexis was a model of executive leadership for the Rule of Law.

I thank my friends, who have so generously supported me and Humanity in Action.

Finally, I thank my family, here with me this evening in person and in spirit, who have supported me in my best instincts, kept my worst ones in check and have kept me focused on the kind of world I will leave for the next generation.

Thank you, everyone."

Henry Horbaczewski

April 11, 2011

New York City


Latest News