Governments and business can and must work together!

UN Global Compact

Architects of a Better World – the United Nations Global Compact meeting in New York – September, 18-20, 2013

In September 2000, world leaders from governments came together at United Nations Headquarters in New York to adopt the United Nations Millennium Declaration, committing their nations to a new global partnership to reduce extreme poverty and setting out a series of time-bound targets – with a deadline of 2015 – that have become known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).[1]

The MDGs aim was to half extreme poverty, to stop spread of HIV/AIDS and to provide universal primary education. The target date for the achievement of all these goals was 2015 and all the world’s countries and leading development institutions signed up.

While much seems to have been accomplished thanks to the MDGs, a lot remains to be done to achieve a world that is equal and where people have access to rights that are the basic human rights of human beings.  The MDGs have not been achieved and 2015 is nearly upon us.

The United Nations Global Compact is “a strategic policy initiative for businesses that are committed to aligning their operations and strategies with ten universally accepted principles in the areas of human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption.” [2] Multinational corporations have become extremely powerful with some of the largest ones earning revenues that are larger than the GDPs of countries. According to Fortune 500 [3] Royal Dutch Shell is the highest earner today closely followed by Walmart and there are many more international companies of a similar size and importance.  It is clear that companies have enormous power, incredible agility and they are moving around the world in an unprecedented way and so what?

Well, the Global Compact has, in the 10 plus years of its existence, signed up over 10,000 companies in 130 countries [4] to the 10 principles I have just referred to.These companies have effectively agreed to behave in a responsible way no matter where they operate- a big promise.[5]

Mary at UN Global Compact Meeting 2013

Freda Miriklis (middle), International President (2011-14) BPW International; Mary Mayenfisch-Tobin (right), Stakeholder Relations and Student Counseling at BSL, at the UN Global Compact Meeting in New York, September, 18-20, 2013

The meeting I just attended in New York (September 18- 20th, 2013) – “Architects of a Better World- Building the Post- 2015 Business Engagement Architecture” [6] was a very interesting one. It brought together over a thousand people from the UN, Business, civil society, and academics- to talk about the future. What will happen and follow on from the MDGs?  What part will businesses play in this future? How can business be a force for good? What is the future in Africa and what is the responsibility of companies who go there to do business? What about women in business? Can we continue to ignore the 50% of the human race who are women? Does this really make business sense?

The MDGs will expire in 2015; in the UN 68th General Assembly session (25th September, 2013) government heads of State will discuss a proposal for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – and all this is happening as I write.

The Global Compact meeting which just took place last week  [7] took a stride forward and organizations, initiatives and networks working globally were requested to engage business on sustainable development. They were asked to join forces with the UN Global Compact, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), the Global Reporting Initiative in particular. The invitation went further when these organizations were invited to promote and support corporate commitments and actions that support UN goals [8].  Quite an invitation…

Governments and Business working together with a common goal that of saving the planet and its people.   There is no time to lose.

2 thoughts on “Governments and business can and must work together!

  1. As a huge fan of Mary Mayenfisch-Tobin, I was delighted to see she had another posting on the BSL Blog. I feel compelled, however, to take issue with a couple of the points made therein, and one omission.

    In referring to the laudable call for Governments and business to work together, is Mayenfisch-Tobin assuming that all Governments have the interests of their people at heart? What about those governments who perhaps feel more accountable to the corporate sector than to their citizenry? What role does she see for civil society organisations such as unions and nongovernmental organisations, which often do as much if not more to highlight the plight of the disadvantaged in today’s world?

    Separately, if one were to dive into the minutiae, the UN Global Compact is certainly a good thing on its face. Many companies have adopted it because it is often the benchmark that the social responsible investment community, particularly in Europe, uses when assessing a company’s corporate responsibility. It is, however, almost devoid of a meaningful dispute resolution procedure in the event that there are allegations that a particular company is not adhering to its obligations. Conversely, the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises – imperfect as they no doubt are – do have a national remediation provision contained therein where an interested party can go to seek redress. The work that the UN does on business and human rights is irreplaceable, as ably demonstrated by what emanated from the report by the UN Rapporteur, Professor John Ruggie, but to hang one’s hat on the UN Global Compact in its present construction as the solution would be, in my view, overly optimistic.

    Michael Bride
    Washington D.C.

  2. I am also a huge fan of Mary and pleased to see her involved in UN and business meetings. As a former UN civil servant myself, I never held much stock in the UN’s influence since its statements are produced by committees and tend to try and please everyone and thereby please no-one. The UN Global Compact is oft-vouched as the UN’s CSR approach but is limited in that case since it finds it hard to take a multi-stakeholder approach as I argued here:

    Yet the folks at the UN. led by Georg Kell, have done an admirable job in pushing the UNGC forward as Mary notes and to see 10,000 companies companies signed up is certainly a step in the right direction.

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