Press Releases

    11 April 2002


    NEW YORK, 10 April (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of the address by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the Ceremony of Adherence to the Global Compact, Madrid, 9 April:

    Thank you, Don Rafael [del Pino] for those very kind words. Let me assure you I can understand your English very well, and I wish my Spanish was as good as your English, and I think it is really wonderful to see so many people here in this room, including my old friend and colleague Federico Mayor, and I can assure you that my wife and myself and the whole team from New York are very excited to be here with you this afternoon.

    Spain has much to share with the global community. You have gone through major changes in your recent history. Those changes show that when men and women of good will and determination work together, societies can renew themselves even after the most bitter conflicts, overcoming the past and charting a course for a better future. You have every reason to be proud of what you have achieved.

    Today, business, civil society and labour are building on this tradition, and it is a great honour to me that you have chosen the Global Compact as a means to renew your efforts for dialogue and social change.

    As you know and as we heard from Don Rafael, I first proposed the Global Compact in January 1999. My major objective was to give global markets a more human face, so that people all over the world, including the poorest, could share in the benefits of globalization. The commitment you are making today will give that effort a new and much-needed impetus.

    The [Compact’s] nine principles are universal principles, long recognized by governments in every part of the world. By giving practical meaning to them within your own sphere of influence, you will help to improve the prospects of millions of workers in many different countries, and to show that respecting human rights, decent labour standards and the environment makes sound business sense.

    I know some people see business as part of the problem. But I believe that, working with other sectors -- governments, non-governmental organizations, unions and the United Nations -- business can and must be part of the solution. It can improve working conditions. It can protect the environment. Above all, it can improve the prospects of those who, at present, are excluded from markets altogether.

    The Compact aims to give business that opportunity. By making the nine principles a part of business strategy and day-to-day practices, we can underpin markets with the social and environmental foundations they need to make them sustainable. And by aligning business activities more closely with the Millennium Development Goals -- the agenda set by the world’s political leaders for an onslaught on extreme poverty, ignorance and disease in the first 15 years of this century -- we can give hope to all those who now live in despair, deprived of their chance to improve their lot.

    So, let me first applaud the business leaders here who have had the courage to step forward today, taking a stand on human and labour rights and the environment, and asserting boldly that these things matter to business.

    The Global Compact is not a regulatory regime. It does not substitute for other approaches that rely on monitoring and enforcement. It is designed to complement such approaches by giving business and other sectors of society space to try out new ideas, and to make a difference through voluntary action.

    We at the United Nations are not in a position to monitor or assess your performance in different countries and different industries. So, we will only list you as a participant in the Global Compact when you yourselves give us examples of concrete action that you have taken, to advance one or more of the nine principles in your own sphere of operations. Such examples are displayed, exchanged and compared on a Web site, which serves as a learning forum and also, in effect, as our roster of participants.

    To help you demonstrate further leadership, we also offer two other mechanisms of engagement:

    • The first is a dialogue forum, where business, labour and civil society can explore some of the challenges of globalization, with a view to finding solutions through cooperation;
    • The second is a number of concrete project activities, which give business the opportunity, in partnership with others, to help advance some of the broad goals of the United Nations.

    I am well aware that adhering to the Compact requires you to take some risks. After all, the business case for human and labour rights and the environment is not yet established fully, and those who help to make it -- those who are at the forefront of change -- are exposing themselves to heightened scrutiny. Labour and civil society will question your sincerity, while your competitors who remain silent will get a free ride.

    But please do not shy away from leadership. You must have confidence in your own ability to demonstrate to your competitors that doing the right thing makes good business sense, and that to your civil society critics, that real and positive change can be achieved incrementally, if we are really determined to do it together and to work together.

    Secondly, let me say a word to the Spanish labour organizations, which I am delighted to see so strongly represented here today. Labour unions are an integral part of industry and of civil society at the same time. Your experience and commitment to dialogue will be crucial in establishing the nine principles and making the Global Compact a success. You have much to contribute not only in Spain, but all over the world, especially in countries where your fellow workers cannot make their voices heard or, even worse, are persecuted for trying to do so.

    And thirdly, civil society organizations: you too have a crucial role to play. You have come together voluntarily to lobby for more social justice, development, human rights, and better protection of the environment. We should all listen to you, because you speak for the deprived and the persecuted. You can act as the conscience of those who have the power and resources to bring about change -- reminding them that inequality, social injustice and environmental degradation are not only morally wrong, but are a threat to humanity as a whole.

    In the Compact, your critical voices and practical know-how are indispensable. But I hope you will not only challenge those who have accepted the Compact to live up to their pledge, but also those businesses that remain aloof -- urging them to come off the fence and take a stand on the Global Compact’s principles.

    The Compact can only succeed if all these different actors in society work together. And working with all of you is an important learning experience for us at the United Nations, too. I see the Compact as a chance for the United Nations to renew itself from within, and to gain greater relevance in the twenty-first century by showing that it can work with non-State actors, as well as States, to achieve the broad goals on which its Member have agreed.

    That means that we, too, have to take risks -- breaking free from yesterday’s ideologies and bureaucratic impediments. Only by doing so can we earn the moral authority to mobilize people for real change in the world in the twenty-first century. If we avoided those risks, contenting ourselves with the fine words in intergovernmental declarations, we should condemn ourselves to being less and less relevant to the real lives of people around the world.

    So, let me once again thank you, Don Rafael and the many people in the Foundation that bears your name, as well as those in the Asociación Cultura pro Naciones Unidas, for their enthusiastic and generous support which has made this remarkable event possible, and thereby has helped put Spain at the forefront of a growing global movement. And I also thank Mrs. del Pino who I know is always by your side in these endeavours. I very much hope that you will all remain engaged and maintain the momentum, working with the Global Compact Office at United Nations Headquarters.

    If you do, I know that Spain will become a driving force in this historic undertaking. I count on you to achieve that, and I thank you very much. Muchas gracias amigos.

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