With over 1,000 participants from government, business, labor, and civil society, the Global Compact Leaders Summit, held July 5-6 in Geneva, was heralded by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon as the largest single gathering ever held to address corporate responsibility. The UN Global Compact, launched seven years ago by Mr. Ban’s predecessor, Kofi Annan, is a voluntary pact to promote corporate practices in support of key UN goals.
Mr. Ban, who opened and closed the summit, acknowledged the positive role of business. “You have made it abundantly clear that market leadership and sustainability leadership go hand-in-hand,” he said. “This will help us build the supportive measures needed to create more sustainable markets, and it will ultimately help improve the lives of many people around the world.”
The Geneva summit – attended by USCIB President Peter M. Robinson, several USCIB members and representatives from our global business network – afforded companies, either publicly or through the publications distributed at the meeting, to illustrate specific, “on-the-ground” projects in which they had participated with a variety of UN agencies.
One of the most important presentations came from USCIB Trustee Neville Isdell, chairman and CEO of Coca-Cola, who in the opening plenary appealed to business to “Speak Up, Step Up and Scale Up” its leadership in conservation and sustainability. Mr. Isdell pointed specifically to Coca-Cola’s programs for water conservation, as well as its participation in tsunami relief with the UN Development Program and the UN Fund for International Partnerships.
Mr. Isdell defended the Global Compact’s voluntary nature. “Governments can enforce accountability, but they cannot engender responsibility,” he stated. “Responsibility is a choice, and the Global Compact allows business people to make that choice.”
Among the other leading global CEOs making plenary presentations were Carl-Henric Svandberg of LM Ericsson, Anne Lauvergeon of Areva, B. Muthuraman of Tata Steel and Ntombifuthi Mtoba of Deloitte South Africa.
Participating civil society leaders included Irene Khan, secretary general of Amnesty International, and Jeremy Hobbs, executive director of Oxfam International. While supportive of voluntary corporate responsibility initiatives, both called forcefully for greater accountability and compliance programs to measure company performance.
Abraham Katz, chairman of the International Organization of Employers and president emeritus of USCIB, also addressed the Global Compact summit, citing the important role of small and medium-sized enterprises in furthering sustainability at the local level. He highlighted the importance of support for open trade policies and offered IOE help in this regard.
The summit concluded with the adoption of a “Geneva Declaration,” which pledged joint action in support of the Global Compact’s goals by business broadly, by adherents to the Global Compact and by national governments.
ICC Secretary General Guy Sebban and IOE Secretary General Antonio Peñalosa serve on the Global Compact Board, a multi-stakeholder body comprised of 20 representatives from business, labor, civil society and the UN.
In preparation for the summit, the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) unveiled a new policy statement on “The Role of the United Nations in Promoting Corporate Responsibility.” In its paper, ICC said the role of the UN should be to promote corporate responsibility broadly, including through the creation of new initiatives – local, regional and global – and to support their growth and development.
ICC defines corporate responsibility as a voluntary commitment by business to manage its activities in a responsible way. The UN can best support these commitments by acknowledging the value of having a broad range of initiatives available to tackle different issues and try new approaches, the statement said.
Noting that companies and organizations elect to engage with or support a diverse array of corporate responsibility initiatives, ICC said it was essential for the UN to work with as many different initiatives and programs as possible to ensure the broadest engagement with the private sector.
ICC also called on the UN to improve the governance of the Global Compact, in order to increase its transparency and its accountability within the UN system. In particular, ICC called on the UN to give the Global Compact Board oversight responsibilities as opposed to its current advisory role.
Staff contact: Ariel Meyerstein