Press Releases

         15 June 2005

    ‘Together, We Can Create a Freer and Fairer World’, Says Secretary-General in Paris Address to World Business Leaders

    NEW YORK, 14 June (UN Headquarters) -- Following is UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s address to a meeting on “The Business Contribution to the Millennium Development Goals”, in Paris, 14 June:

    I am delighted to be with you today. I would like to thank President Chirac for his initiative in convening this meeting and for his enduring commitment to the United Nations. Prime Minister Blair shares that commitment, and I would like to thank him, too, for all he is doing to make next month’s G-8 meeting a success, for Africa and for the world.

    We have gathered here today to explore how to conquer one of the greatest scourges of our times: extreme poverty, in all its many manifestations.

    The presence in this room of some of the world’s most visionary business leaders underscores the fact that this is no longer a job for Governments alone.

    Quite the contrary.

    All of us, business and Government alike, have an interest in making sure that globalization delivers real benefits to more of the world’s people.

    All of us have an interest in offering alternatives to chronic economic despair.

    Our world is more interconnected than ever before. Poverty not only destroys people and families from within, it ripples outward in waves, spreading misery and upheaval. Again and again, we have seen how deprivation, human rights violations and war feed on one another in a deadly cycle that transcends frontiers.

    No company is immune. No company operates in isolation. Many have long experience of working with developing countries. Many others, new to the expanding contacts and supply chains of globalization, are confronting these issues for the first time.

    All now know that how they address them has a direct impact on their risks, their reputations, the morale of their employees and the very strength of the markets on which they depend.

    All of us can see, more clearly than ever before, how business interests have come to dovetail with the long-standing development objectives of the United Nations.

    And all of us should understand that this creates opportunities -- not at some distant point in the future, but right now.

    So we are here today in common cause.

    We are not here to forge a new plan, but rather to implement one that commands unprecedented international legitimacy and support. I refer, of course, to the Millennium Development Goals, which were derived from the declaration adopted by world leaders at their September 2000 Summit at the United Nations.

    If the Goals are met by the target year of 2015, the world will be a very different place.

    Five hundred million people will be lifted out of extreme poverty.

    More than 300 million people will no longer suffer from hunger.

    Thirty million children will be saved from dying of preventable illness

    One hundred fifteen million children will be enjoying primary education, instead of labouring in factories and fields.

    Two million mothers will have been spared death from childbirth complications.

    AIDS will no longer be spreading, but at last beginning to retreat.

    Africa, the continent most afflicted and most neglected, will be given a new chance, building on the important progress of recent years.

    Far from utopian, such goals are achievable. Many countries are making valiant efforts, and are on track to reach some of the Goals. But many others lag behind, especially in Africa. A more intense effort is urgently needed.

    The main responsibility for meeting this challenge rests with Governments. But business has a central role to play.

    Business generates employment and wealth. Your tremendous human, technical and organizational capacities have direct applications in virtually all realms of development. These capacities are every bit as important as capital. It is the absence of broad-based business activity, not its presence, that condemns much of humanity to suffering. Indeed, what is utopian is the notion that poverty can be overcome without the active engagement of business.

    Business is of vital importance to the Goals. The value of the Goals to business is equally undeniable.

    Reducing poverty builds healthy and dynamic workforces. It creates purchasing power, boosts productivity and eases social tensions. And at a time when businesses spend much of their time fighting the perception that they are responsible for many of the world’s ills, playing a stronger role in the fight against poverty would show that business can be part of the solution.

    This sense of what business can do for others -- and what it must do for itself -- is at the heart of the Global Compact corporate citizenship initiative that I launched six years ago. What started as a simple call to action is today a multi-stakeholder partnership in which some 2,000 companies, from more than 80 countries, are working together to advance 10 universal principles in the areas of human rights, labour standards, the environment and the fight against corruption.

    Through the Compact, companies are integrating the principles into their mission statements and activities. They have been spreading awareness about HIV/AIDS in the workplace, and in the wider community. They have provided microfinance for rural entrepreneurs, and assistance to small- and medium-sized local enterprises. They have taken steps to ensure transparency and more ethical management of their supply chains.

    Our challenge now is to scale up what works, and to build on the pilot projects we have started in several places. For example, business can play a key role in many large-scale “quick wins” -– such as universal access to anti-malaria bednets or the provision of locally produced school meals. These would save and improve millions of lives in just a few years.

    At the same time, we will continue to look to Governments of developing countries to put in place the necessary incentives, infrastructure, policies and property rights protections. We look to them for effective governance and to uphold the rule of law. Only in this way will capital and business activity flow to more than just the handful of countries that receive the lion’s share today. Only in this way will we realize the full potential of business in supporting the Goals. Business cannot grow if States falter or fail.

    We will also continue to press the Governments of developed countries to make good on their long-standing pledges for more aid and debt relief, and to open up global trade. At long last, we are seeing major progress in this regard. Last month, the European Union agreed that its members would increase official development assistance substantially over the next decade. And last Saturday, the G-7 Finance Ministers agreed to cancel $40 billion of debt owed by 18 of the world's poorest nations, mostly in Africa. These steps give real hope. They also create a solid platform for the greater aid increases that are still needed -- and for even more positive decisions in favour of the developing world that we need at the G-8 meeting next month and beyond.

    Much as we need you to do on the ground, in the streets and settlements of the developing world, we also need business to be our advocate in the halls of power. That is always true, but it is especially so in the months ahead.

    Three months from today, world leaders will gather for an all-important Summit meeting at the United Nations in New York, the largest such gathering in world history. On the agenda is nothing less than a fundamental change in the international system and in the United Nations itself. We will not be satisfied with a Summit that merely reiterates the pledges made five years ago. Instead, with my “In Larger Freedom” report and the excellent work of two UN-commissioned panels on development and collective security, we have set the stage for major decisions to be taken.

     Earlier this month, in an important step towards the decisive action we are seeking, the President of the General Assembly circulated a draft political outcome for the Summit, reflecting many weeks of intergovernmental discussion. I was delighted to see that it takes up most of my proposals. I hope you will voice your support for this agenda of reform and revitalization.

    Overcoming poverty and combating the many other threats to our security demands a global effort. I wish to express my great appreciation for your engagement in this endeavour. I am confident that, together, we can create a freer and fairer world -– a world safe for business, a world where every human being lives in dignity, with real hope of a prosperous future.

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