Magazine article UN Chronicle

A World Opened, A World Protected

Magazine article UN Chronicle

A World Opened, A World Protected

Article excerpt

Writing in The Financial Times a few weeks ago, Philip Knight, Chairman and Chief Executive of Nike, observed that "like many other multinationals, Nike has been criticised over a range of ... issues, including labour standards. That is why the Global Compact marks an important moment. It has the potential to become a truly effective forum because companies, trade unions, UN agencies and NGOs will work together to address global issues through dialogue and cooperative initiatives for the people most affected by globalization."

So what is this "Global Compact" all about?

Simply put, it is a platform sponsored by the Nations to encourage and promote good corporate practices and learning experiences in the areas of human rights, labour and the environment; an entry point for the business community to work in partnership with UN organizations, in support of the principles and broader goals of the United Nations. And it provides a basis for structured dialogue between the United Nations, business, labour and civil society on improving corporate practices in the social arena, offering means to significantly broaden the number of companies undertaking such activities.

Initiated in Davos hi 1999 by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the Compact is rooted in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, of the International Labour Organization; and the Earth Summit--Agenda 21 principles on the environment. These three texts express a clear set of universal values supported by all Governments. No other initiative on corporate social responsibility has such universal and legitimate underpinning. And in the months since the world trade talks in Seattle, more and more businesses and organizational leaders are recognizing the importance of the Global Compact as a means to address social problems and keep world markets open.

The Compact sets a frame of reference for industry initiatives, as well as regional and government-led efforts. It is not a code of conduct. Corporate partners that join the United Nations in it do not sign anything; monitoring and verification of corporate practices do not fall within the mandate or the institutional capability of the United Nations. But the Compact is not a corporate shield from criticism; it highlights the global citizenship qualities of corporations and opens up opportunities for focused, mediated, directed and constructive dialogue together with other core partners, including labour and civil society. …

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