Press Releases

    8 May 2002

    Deputy Secretary-General, in Address io International Chamber of Commerce, Says UN Needs Business As Full Partner in Mission of Peace, Development

    NEW YORK, 7 May (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the address of Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette to the International Chamber of Commerce in Denver, Colorodo, on 6 May:

    Thank you for this very warm welcome. It is a great pleasure for me to be here today, and to have this opportunity to talk to you about how the United Nations and the business community can work more closely together.

    Some of you might be thinking that a United Nations official is out of place at a meeting such as this. You might be under the impression that the United Nations is hostile to free enterprise, or, conversely, that we are starting to rely on you to solve all the world's ills -- neither of which is true, I can assure you. My task today is to dispel such myths, and to make you feel more at home with the Organization.

    Let me start by saying a few words about where the United Nations stands today.

    Certainly, the attacks of 11 September and their aftermath have had a fundamental impact on our work. The fight against terrorism has become one of our main priorities -- in particular implementation of the 12 international conventions already on the books that seek to clamp down on the financing and other support for terrorism. We have also been given a major role in Afghanistan -- helping to repatriate thousands of refugees, and to rebuild schools, clinics and a functioning government, all in a still very insecure environment.

    The terrible cycle of violence in the Middle East is quite naturally another of our major preoccupations. Last Thursday, the Secretary-General joined Secretary Powell and others in Washington to discuss how to end the violence and get the parties back to the negotiating table, which is the only place where this conflict will be resolved. As you know, they agreed to convene an international conference in the early summer.

    But, these are far from the only items on our agenda. Poverty, AIDS, environmental degradation, conflicts in Africa and elsewhere -- none of these pressing issues has become any less urgent since 11 September. Quite the opposite. These are issues that should compel all of us to pay attention -- not just because it is a moral imperative to help others find dignity and peace, but because no one in this world can feel comfortable, or safe, while so many are suffering and deprived. In an age of globalization, our planet is suddenly a much smaller place, and we now see more clearly that we live in one world, not two.

    But even if you agree with that proposition, you might also think that the United Nations is not the organization to tackle these challenges -- that it is a lumbering bureaucracy, a place where Members can never agree on anything and, if and when they do, they tend to reach the lowest, slowest common denominator.

    That was and remains a caricature of the United Nations. Even so, there was room for improvement, and in the past five years we have undertaken a top-to-bottom reform of our management, our procedures, and our priorities. Have we done away with disagreement? Of course not; interests and views will always differ. Have we sped up every last piece of the institutional machinery? Not as much as we would like, but we are keeping pace with the dramatic changes occurring in our world, from globalization to the digital revolution.

    We also have, probably more than ever before, a common vision to guide our work. Beyond the United Nations Charter itself, there has not always been such a shared vision, especially during the cold war. Today there is the Millennium Declaration, adopted in September 2000 at the Millennium Summit, the largest-ever gathering of world leaders. The Declaration expresses both concern and hope about the human condition. It also sets out a number of very specific, time-bound targets -- the Millennium Development Goals -- for example to reduce by half, by the year 2015, the proportion of people living on less than one dollar a day; and to halt and begin to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS and the incidence of malaria and other major diseases.

    That is a pretty tall order. How can we hope to achieve these goals? That is where the business community has a key role to play.

    Governments today readily recognize that they can't do it all, that a society's goals can only be realized through the combined efforts of civil society groups, private sector businesses, philanthropic organizations and others. The same recognition has made its way into the inter-governmental process, whether we are talking about policy-making in conference halls or project delivery at the country level. In other words, the doors of the United Nations are open as never before to the vast and dynamic constellation of non-State actors. And the Secretary-General has made it one of his main priorities to see that this trend continues.

    So let there be no mistake: the United Nations needs the world's businessmen and businesswomen -- as creators of jobs and wealth; as promoters of trade, investment and stable markets; as innovators in the development of new technologies; in short, as full partners in our global mission of peace and development.

    This marks a real change in attitude for the United Nations. Confrontation has taken a back seat to cooperation. Polemics have given way to partnerships. But it also marks a new recognition by the United Nations and the private sector alike not only that business can do a great deal for the United Nations, but that a strong United Nations is good for business.

    What exactly do we bring to the table?

    First, we offer a framework of values -- the values of equality, tolerance, freedom and justice found in the Charter. Every society, from Asia to the Americas, is the product of values, of shared bonds and ideals. Our emerging global society also needs such a framework if it is to thrive. United Nations-based values enjoy worldwide acceptance and can provide that common understanding. In particular, they can serve as pillars of a fair and inclusive global economy.

    Second, the United Nations establishes global norms -- the standards that make our international system function, and that make international markets and global movements of people and goods possible. When ships sail across the seas and through international straits, they are protected by rules defined and legitimized by United Nations conventions. Airlines have the right to fly across borders and land in case of emergency because of agreements negotiated by the International Civil Aviation Organization. Mail and overnight courier packages move throughout the world with the help of protocols established by the Universal Postal Union. The World Intellectual Property Organization protects trademarks and patents, including hallmark United States products like movies, music and computer software. The International Telecommunication Union allots frequencies and keeps the airwaves from becoming hopelessly clogged.

    Together, these norms make up the "soft infrastructure" of the global economy. They come at very low cost. They build trust and transparency. And while they rarely make news, you would know they were missing the minute they were gone.

    Third, the United Nations carries out wide-ranging work for political and economic stability. Private investors do not want to risk their capital in insecure neighbourhoods. Our efforts to broker peace agreements, to help countries recover from conflict, and to promote literacy, health and good governance, are our very raison d'être. For business, they translate into reduced risk and greater opportunities.

    Thus, it is quite natural for the United Nations and the private sector to join forces. I am pleased to say that the partnership with the International Chamber of Commerce has already yielded some very positive results. Together, the ICC and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) created guides designed to steer foreign investment to some of the world's poorest countries. Last March at the Monterrey Conference on Financing for Development, the ICC and UNCTAD launched an effort to bring investment and know-how to Africa. The ICC is working with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and other United Nations agencies, and is actively involved in inter-governmental deliberations, making sure the "voice of business" is heard.

    The ICC was also the first global business association to respond when the Secretary-General proposed that businesses work more closely with the United Nations, and with trade unions and civil society, in a Global Compact.

    The Compact is a response to the many challenges raised by globalization. Globalization is bringing us more choices and new opportunities for prosperity. But, it also brings uncertainties. Millions of people around the world experience it not as an agent of progress, but as a disruptive, even destructive force. Many millions more are completely excluded from its benefits.

    Businesses have been among the main engines and primary beneficiaries of globalization. It is in their interest to do what they can to make globalizaion a sustainable process by ensuring that its benefits are spread more evenly. Businesses must behave as good global corporate citizens, just as they are expected to be at the national level.

    The Compact asks businesses to adopt a set of principles in three areas -- human rights, the environment and labour standards -- where businesses have obvious responsibilities: for example to treat workers fairly, to ensure that their operations do not harm local ecosystems, and to avoid complicity in human rights abuses. These and the other principles are not new; they are based on existing international agreements and the United Nations values I mentioned earlier.

    Let me stress as well that the Compact is not a regulatory regime or a code of conduct. It is a voluntary initiative. It is a learning forum where enterprises can share best practices. And it is a platform for dialogue, where business, labour and civil society can explore some of the dilemmas they face -- such as the responsibility of multinational companies in zones of conflict, or ways of ensuring that economic growth is ecologically sustainable. The objective is always to find solutions through cooperation.

    The Secretary-General also hopes that companies will use the Compact as a vehicle through which to link up directly with United Nations agencies on specific development projects. Already, both on their own and in tandem with governments, United Nations agencies, non-governmental organizations, companies are working to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, and to integrate HIV awareness and prevention messages into their marketing and public relations. I encourage each of you to think of creative ways in which your company could help us meet the many challenges that face the international community. I do not mean to suggest that business should be a substitute for governments. Governments have their responsibilities. But business does not need to wait for governments to act. Often, it is in your interest to lead.

    Ours is an age of accelerating interdependence. No country, no business, no community and no person can exist in isolation. We face common vulnerabilities -- from terrorism and climate change to the proliferation of weapons and the spread of disease -- that transcend borders. But we also have unprecedented opportunities for common progress, made possible by technology, the growing store of global knowledge and the lessons of the last century of international cooperation. The world organization very much looks forward to building an even stronger partnership with the business world, and working closely together to achieve the dividends we all want: peace and prosperity.

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