Press Releases

    4 September 2002


    (Received from a UN Information Officer.)

    JOHANNESBURG, 2 September (Global Compact Office) -- Mobilizing resources and expertise to address the scourge of entrenched poverty, major international companies today agreed to partner with governments, labour and civil society to pursue sustainable business development in the world's least developed countries at the World Summit on Sustainable Development.

    The initiative was the focus of a high-level meeting at the Summit, chaired by Secretary-General Kofi Annan and attended by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, French President Jacques Chirac and other heads of State and government; ministers; United Nations officials; representatives from labour and non-governmental organizations; and the chief executive officers of such companies as Hewlett-Packard and Shell International.

    "Growing sustainable business in the world's least developed countries is arguably the most promising pathway in overcoming the poverty trap," said Secretary-General Kofi Annan. "By working together to mobilize sustainable investment in the least developed countries, government, business and civil society give hope and opportunity to the world's poorest".

    The round table was organized by the United Nations Global Compact, in cooperation with the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and other United Nations agencies.

    At the round table, Sir Mark Moody-Stuart, Chairman of Business Action for Sustainable Development, presented a plan that would commit partners to identifying, over the next year, business opportunities in specific least developed countries that would be sustainable and designed in ways to help grow local small and medium-sized businesses.

    The plan received wide endorsement from the round table participants. Government heads agreed to help facilitate the process through active participation, while labour and civil society groups agreed to work as partners with companies in the development and implementation of specific initiatives. Participants agreed on the critical importance of: growing sustainable business and economic capacity in the least developed countries; working in partnership; and developing a defined process for implementation.

    The companies represented at the meeting are participants in the Global Compact, a corporate citizenship initiative launched by Secretary-General in July 2000. The Global Compact asks companies to support nine principles in the areas of human rights, labour standards and the environment. (See

    During the next 12 months, companies will identify specific least developed countries that they will target for business development in partnership with other stakeholders and in alignment with the nine principles of the Global Compact. Participants in the initiative agreed to publicly share progress made and their respective contributions to the process over the next year.

    The least developed countries is a United Nations category that describes the world's poorest and economically marginalized nations. The number of least developed countries has almost doubled since the category was first created in 1971, from 25 to 49 today. According to recent figures, the average per capita gross domestic product in the least developed countries is approximately $235, compared with $24,522 in the developed world. Eighty per cent of the 613 million population of the least developed countries -- the majority of which are located in sub-Saharan Africa -- live on less than $2 a day, while 50 per cent live on less than $1 a day.

    Development experts say that one of the primary challenges facing the least developed countries is their inability to attract significant levels of foreign direct investment. According to the latest estimates, during the 1990-2000 period, least developed countries received only 0.5 per cent of global foreign direct investment (FDI) flows.

    For further information in Johannesburg, please contact Gavin Power at New York contact:

    Melissa Powell,
    Global Compact Office,

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