Magazine article UN Chronicle

The Triple Bottom Line Economic, Social, Natural Capital

Magazine article UN Chronicle

The Triple Bottom Line Economic, Social, Natural Capital

Article excerpt

A quiet revolution is in the making. The business sector is realizing that the goals of the United Nations are essential prerequisites in achieving its own goals of wealth creation and prosperity. The international community, meanwhile, is increasingly relying upon the private sector for its ingenuity and capacity in generating the economic opportunities that are the prerequisites for peace, environment protection and development. The role of business in creating employment is essential to reduce poverty--the main cause of environmental destruction and child labour in poor countries. However, business relies on the United Nations to foster the international peace, political and economic stability, and rules-based system of international trade and finance it needs to prosper.

Capitalizing on this growing mutual understanding, Secretary-General Kofi Annan has taken the initiative of developing a "Global Compact" to help companies understand the rising expectations of global corporate responsibility in three critical areas of greatest external pressure: human rights, labour standards and environmental practices. The Compact challenges individual corporations and representative business associations to embrace, support and enact a set of nine core values within their sphere of influence and to advocate for a stronger UN organization in the areas involved. These core values are the most relevant at the corporate level and the global rule-making level. They are widely accepted in already existing international agreements.

This call for a Global Compact is made amidst increasing awareness that the process of globalization has huge positive as well as negative social and environmental impacts. Its negative impacts, and the unequal distribution of its positive impacts, are starting to create a backlash from those who are left behind. As a result, more voices are calling for the establishment of measures that would ensure the proper functioning of the market economy, geared to meeting the needs of sustainable development and the effective implementation of the Rio principles.

The questions over the role of companies in society, which are resurfacing with increasing urgency, revolve around a number of interlinked issues, including:

* Corporate purpose and objectives: Is shareholder value the goal of a company or simply the means to achieve a higher purpose?

* Corporate governance and accountability: What are the responsibilities and obligations of companies to societies?

* Incentives: How can corporate objectives and environmental objectives be more closely aligned?

* National and global governance: How can national governments and global institutions help to unleash the power of companies for environmental and societal ends?

The Secretary-General's call for a global compact and the moving by business and governmental organizations of corporate responsibility issues to the forefront of the agenda are part of this process. The UN Environment Programme has a tradition of working closely with NGOs and partners from the private sector. It is doing this with the objective of Agenda 21 and to ensure that they are fully involved in the preparation and implementation of international environmental agreements. UNEP also works with business to develop a lifecycle approach to their activities, addressing in a comprehensive manner all issues related to resource extraction and use, production processes, product use and disposal.

The three Global Compact principles related to the environment require business to support a precautionary approach to environmental challenges, undertake initiatives to promote greater environmental responsibility, and encourage the development and diffusion of environmentally-friendly technologies. …

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