For information only - not an official document.
  Press Release No: UNIS/SG/2618
Release Date: 27 July 2000
 Secretary-General Welcomes International Corporate Leaders
To Global Compact Meeting

NEW YORK, 26 July (UN Headquarters) – Following is the text of Secretary-General Kofi Annan's opening remarks to the high-level meeting of the Global Compact, delivered this morning:

Together, we are making a bit of history today.  

Never before have so many global leaders from the worlds of business, labour and civil society come together at the United Nations to forge a new coalition in support of universal values.

Why is that necessary?

Eighteen months ago, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, I warned international business leaders that globalization might be far more fragile than they realized.  Since then, events in Seattle and elsewhere have reinforced my warning.  

But it would be tragic if local or national communities react to the challenges and shortcomings of globalization by repeating the mistakes of history, and turning in on themselves. 

Why?  Because open markets offer the only realistic hope of pulling billions of people in developing countries out of abject poverty, while sustaining prosperity in the industrialized world. 

What we must do instead is to ensure that the global market is embedded in broadly shared values and practices that reflect global social needs, and that all the world’s people share the benefits of globalization. 

That is why, in Davos, I proposed the Global Compact as one step towards reaching those goals. 

The Compact is based on nine key principles drawn from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) fundamental principles on rights at work and the Rio Principles on environment and development —  which were agreed to and enjoy universal consensus among the world’s governments.

I applaud the corporate leaders who, by their presence here today, signal that they are ready to embrace the Compact, and translate its principles into corporate practice.  You are demonstrating leadership and exercising responsibility that come with the role you play in the global economy. 

I also applaud the leaders of labour and civil society organizations in our partnership.  Your participation does not mean that you have abandoned the particular cause you were set up to champion.  But it means that you have decided to place that cause in a broader context, because it is more likely to flourish in a freer, more prosperous world.

Some may say that business should stick to business, and leave wider concerns to government.  Certainly it is true that neither corporations nor voluntary groups can take over the indispensable role of the State.

Indeed, governments have given us the principles that we are endeavouring to turn into concrete practices – in each instance after lengthy and sometimes difficult negotiations. 

But we cannot wait for governments to do it all.  Globalization operates on Internet time.  And you, in business, labour and civil society organizations, have skills and resources that are vital in helping to build a more robust global community.  

Over the past year, many of you have been working with my team to define that role.

Specifically, our business partners have agreed that they will do three things: 

--  They will become public advocates for the Compact in their corporate mission statements, annual reports and similar venues.

--  At least once a year they will post on our Web site specific examples of progress they have made, or lessons they have learned, in putting the principles into practice in their own corporate domains.

--  And they will join with the United Nations in partnership projects, either at the policy level – for instance, a dialogue on the role of corporations in zones of conflict –  or at the operational level, such as helping African or Asian villagers link up to the Internet, or strengthening small- and medium-sized firms in developing countries.

Our labour and civil society partners will help build and deepen the Compact, and lend their expertise and support to designing and implementing its undertakings.

Indeed, probably the most important step we have taken in the last 12 months has been to bring those organizations into the Compact as partners. 

The result is that in this Chamber today we have a new global coalition, linking together enlightened leaders from business, labour, and civil society organisations.  

So what do we hope to achieve at this meeting?  

First, I hope we can send out a clarion call for others to join us.  We need to gain a critical mass among leading companies, and in their supply chains, so that the Compact can truly be called Global.  

--  Business leaders can persuade their peers to follow suit.  

--  Business associations can inform their members.  

--  Labour unions can mobilize the workforce – for after all, companies are not composed only of their executives.  
--  And civil society organizations can campaign publicly – as only they know how! – to create the dynamic context in which our objectives can flourish.

Secondly, I hope we can establish the Compact itself as a forum for dialogue between the three partners  -- devising common solutions to common problems. 

Thirdly, and most importantly, we must decide on priorities, and devise mechanisms for translating our good intentions into actions that make a real difference to people's lives. 

There is no shortage of good ideas about what to do.  The real challenge is getting it done.

Rest assured that I personally intend to remain fully engaged.  And I am ready to establish a Global Compact Office, to coordinate the support you will get from different partners within the United Nations system.  

And, as you see, the leaders of the main United Nations bodies involved -- including the ILO, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the United Nations Development and Environment Programmes -- are here with us today.

What we want now is to hear your priorities, so that we can move into a truly operational phase.  

So let's get straight into the first topic of discussion.

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