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Corporate Europe Observer

Toothless UN Website on Global Compact with TNCs

n the 28th of January, the UN launched a website on its controversial 'Global Compact' with major transnational corporations. [1] Since its launch last year, the Global Compact has been criticised for giving corporations a free ride, by being able to use this UN seal of approval to improve their public image, without corresponding tangible changes in their overall corporate social, environmental or human rights behaviour. The new website confirms this picture. Even the previously announced pledges by corporations, which were to be posted on the website to allow monitoring by NGOs, are absent. The Global Compact consists of a list of very general principles for corporate social, environmental and human rights behaviour. The UN in return commits to support the business agenda for continued moves towards global "free trade". The Compact is not binding and lacks any real enforcement and monitoring mechanisms. In July 1999, the UN told the international media that a UN-sponsored website would be launched to present "the specific pledges made by multinational corporations and allow independent aid groups and non-governmental organisations to publicly challenge companies if they do not abide by the substance of these pledges." [2] The launch of the website -- the only concrete element of the Global Compact -- was to happen in the Autumn (an ILO conference in early November was one of the missed deadlines), but it was postponed time and again. [3]

When the website was launched in January, the promised references to individual corporations or pledges they have made were painfully absent. This undoubtedly has to do with the fact that as of this writing, no individual corporation has committed itself to the Global Compact, despite its non-binding character. The corporate partners mentioned on the website are all business associations, such as the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD). Their 'partnership' has no binding effects for the individual corporations which are members of these groupings. [4] NGO partners include Amnesty International, World Wide Fund for Nature , Human Rights Watch, the World Resources Institute and three other lesser known groups. [5] The International Confederation of Free Trade Union's (ICFTU) is also involved, representing labour. For the rest, the website consists of the text of the Global Compact, a selective overview of academic literature on globalisation and on industry self-regulation as well as a news section with media reports on corporate accountability issues.

The UN website was launched at the occasion of the World Economic Forum (WEF), the annual gathering of the global business and political elite in Davos, Switzerland where UN Secretary General Annan also first proposed the Global Compact a year earlier. [6] This year, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson was present at the WEF, taking part in a debate about business and human rights. [7] The UN website came almost three months after the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) launched its own website on the Global Compact. The ICC website consists of a collection of reports on various isolated environmental and human rights initiatives by the likes of BPAmoco, Fiat, Unilever and other corporations that are involved in the ICC. While the ICC is eagerly using the Global Compact to promote a positive image of transnational corporate behaviour, it remains strongly opposed to enforceable rules, claiming that self-regulation will make its members responsible 'global corporate citizens'.

'Citizens Compact': Enforceable UN Rules for Corporate Behaviour

On the same day as the UN Global Compact website was announced, a "Citizens Compact on the UN and Corporations" was launched. More than 100 organisations from North and South have signed on to this statement, which is a fundamental critique of the Global Compact. Instead of 'partnership' between the UN and corporations (among which many have controversial social and environmental records) the Citizens Compact demands that the UN develops internationally enforceable rules for corporate behaviour.

To sign on to the Citizens Compact on the UN and Corporations, please visit http://www.corpwatch.org/un

The UN's website on the Global Compact can be found at http://www.unglobalcompact.org

For the ICC's Global Compact website, go to http://www.iccwbo.org/


1. See Corporate Europe Observer, Issue 5 for background.  | Back to Text |

2. Business Backs Trade Role for UN. The Guardian, 6 July 1999.  | Back to Text |

3. 4 November 1999 in Geneva at the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Enterprise Forum. Letter from Jessica Jiji, UN Information Officer, 24 September 1999.  | Back to Text |

4. Apart from the ICC and the WBCSD, also the International Organisation of Employers (IOE) and eight other business associations are official Global Compact partners. Other business partners include Business for Social Responsibility (BSR), the Conference Board, the Prince of Wales Business Leaders Forum (PWBLF), the European Business Network for Social Cohesion (EBNSC), the International Petroleum Industry Environmental Conservation Agency (IPIECA), Enterprises pour l'Environnement, the International Federation of Consulting Engineers (FIDIC) and the International Fertiliser Industry Association (IFA).  | Back to Text |

5. Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, Ethod and Fundação Abrinq pelos Direitos da Criança.  | Back to Text |

6. For more on the World Economic Forum, see the article "Davos 2000: 'New Beginnings' for Global Capitalism?", elsewhere in this issue.  | Back to Text |

7. UNHCR used the WEF to present its new paper "Business and Human Rights: A Progress Report", see UNHCR website  | Back to Text |

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