Press Releases

                                                                                                                     25 June 2004

    Addressing Business Leaders at Global Compact Summit, Secretary-General Says Experience Shows That Voluntary Initiatives ‘Can and Do Work’

    NEW YORK, 24 June (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of closing remarks as delivered by Secretary-General Kofi Annan at the Global Compact Leaders Summit today:

    Let me start by thanking the four presenters for their wonderful and rich reports they have given us this afternoon.

    This has been an extraordinary day.

    It is fitting that we end it here in the General Assembly Hall, where all the world’s peoples, all the governments and other stakeholders that make up the international community, come together to address common challenges and find common solutions.

    Symbolism is good, but substance is even better. And I believe we have made important substantive progress today.

    We end the day with reinvigorated commitments to the Global Compact and to responsible cor­porate citizenship, and with a deeper understanding of our joint venture and where we hope to take it.

    We have addressed the challenges facing the Global Compact as partners, transforming our differences and tensions into constructive strategies for action. You have shown that, even in an era of uncertainty and fear, business, labour, civil society and governments can overcome their divisions, and build on what they have in common.

    We were joined today, for the first time by the investment community. That shows there is a growing mainstream interest in aligning market rewards with good corporate practices. It also offers yet another powerful argument to the already strong business case for doing the right thing.

    Today we added a tenth principle to the Compact, to combat corruption. The extensive consultation that you went through to arrive at this amendment not only showed that an overwhelming majority of participants wanted to strengthen the Compact in this way; it also was an exemplary deliberative process. As a result, the Compact is now better positioned to address one of the most pernicious obstacles to growth and development, and to cooperate more intensively with groups such as Transparency International.

    Today you also made a range of specific pledges: to implement the Compact’s principles in your supply chains; to defend human rights in zones of conflict; to ensure decent working conditions; to invest in clean technologies; to implement no-bribe policies, to combat diseases such as AIDS and to grow small businesses in the least developed countries. You are showing that principles and projects are two sides of the same coin, and that normative and operational efforts can and must complement each other. I hope you will continue doing your part, in this way, to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

    Last but not least, the United Nations itself is now fully committed to internalizing the principles of the Global Compact. From the start, one of the Compact’s singular achievements has been to help renew the United Nations from within. By adopting its principles in our internal processes, we take yet another step in this direction.

    Much has been achieved, but much more needs yet to be done. In important respects, our journey has only just started.

    Our experience with the Global Compact over the past four years has shown conclusively that voluntary initiatives can and do work. But we have also learned that they have to be made to work. Governments have to do the right thing: to govern well, in the interests of all their people. Business must restrain itself from taking away, by its lobbying activities, what it offers through corporate responsibility and philanthropy. And civil society actors need to accept that the business community is not a monolithic bloc; that it has leaders and laggards; and that leaders should be encouraged when they take positive steps, even though they may occasionally stumble, and not to be frightened off from trying in the first place.

    Our immediate task ahead is to define the precise features of the Global Compact’s new strategic concept, and to design a new governance structure that matches its widening scope.

    The Compact’s core comparative advantages are the universality of its principles, the international legitimacy that only the United Nations embodies, and the Compact’s potential to be a truly global platform with great appeal not only in the industrialized countries, but also in the developing world. The Compact’s new strategic concept must therefore give special emphasis to the potential for links, synergies and mutual support between the global and local levels of our activities.

    We also need to devise a new governance structure for the Compact. To put it in corporate terms, the primary mission of the Global Compact Office should become brand management and quality assurance. We must avoid bureaucratization. And ownership and the power of initiative must be much more broadly shared among all participants, including businesses, labour and civil society; the UN agencies that are the guardians of the principles; and the rapidly expanding family of national networks that have sprung up, almost spontaneously. Two thirds of these are in the developing countries, where roughly half of our participating companies are based.

    Reconfiguring the Compact in this manner will not be an easy task, and we need your help to pull it off. I have asked John Ruggie, my Special Adviser for the Global Compact, and Georg Kell, Executive Head of the Global Compact Office, to coordinate an intensive consultation process and to come back, no later than twelve months from now, with recommendations that reflect your best ideas. You can expect them to call on many of you to join in brainstorming sessions, working groups and bilateral discussions.

    We will also continue to count on your leadership. We need you to be cheerleaders, recruiters, advocates, and more, so that your own efforts will bear fruit and so that others will get involved. Governments, for their part, have done much to bring the Compact to life through their political support, and with voluntary funding for the Global Compact Office. I thank them for that contribution.

    Our global village cannot prosper unless we establish stronger common bonds and values. Our future is tied together through webs of trade, investment and technology. Yet, while we know that we have common aspirations and a common destiny, we have yet to understand fully what this means. For most people, and for the governments they elect, the global village remains a distant and abstract concept, even though everybody’s life is profoundly shaped by it. We are still tied up in ideas from long ago, and in behaviour and institutions that are being left behind by events.

    Your voices count across the breadth of the international agenda. You have real power to build the rule-based global order on which our shared future depends. I applaud you for putting aside short-term tactical considerations, and for giving us your sustained engagement. Let us stay together on this journey. Let us be true global citizens. Let us not rest until we have truly succeeded in bringing positive change into the lives of people, and laid the foundations for peaceful, well-functioning, sustainable societies throughout the world.

    Thank you for being here. Thank you for your commitment. I look forward to working with you in the months and years ahead.

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