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Corporate Europe Observer

UN-Business 'Partnerships' Update

he Citizens' Compact on the UN and Corporations rejects the idea of 'partnership' between UN agencies and corporations and outlines some strict criteria to avoid inappropriate joint projects between the UN and business. The need for such rules once again became clear when the news broke about a new UN-business body called the Business Humanitarian Forum (BHF). The Geneva-based BHF brings together UN institutions and corporations, many with a poor social and environmental record. Its first meeting in January 1999, in a luxury hotel in Geneva, was "to focus on ways to improve communication and cooperation between global corporations and humanitarian organisations in their common efforts to promote the stability and well-being of countries likely to be affected or affected by conflict and natural disaster." [1]

The BHF is co-chaired by UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Sadako Ogata and John Imle President of UNOCAL, an oil company known for human rights violations in Burma. Also UNICEF is in the BHF, with Nestlé, a company stubbornly continuing to violate the UN's code of conduct on infant formula -- the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes. Suez-Lyonnnaise des Eaux, Rio Tinto and ICI are other controversial corporate members, not to speak of United Technologies Corporation, the largest military contractor in the world. This did not seem to disturb Kofi Annan, who sent an encouraging message to the founding meeting of the BHF, stressing the UN's newly found positive attitude to business. [2] NGOs involved in the BHF include the International Rescue Committee, Save the Children, Care USA and the Red Cross. [3]

In September, the Transnational Resource and Action Centre (TRAC) and numerous other groups called on UN High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata and UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy to resign from the BHF. [4] Protests against joint UN-business projects can be effective, as was shown when the UNDP put its Global Sustainable Development Facility (GSDF) in the freezer. [5] The UNDP decided for 'a review' of the project after continued critique by a global coalition of groups led by TRAC.

For more information, check TRAC's Corporate Watch website.


1. UN press release "Business-Humanitarian Forum holds first meeting," Geneva, Switzerland, 27 January 1999.  | Back to Text |

2. "The United Nations has developed a profound appreciation for the role of the private sector: its expertise, its innovative spirit, its unparalleled ability to create jobs and wealth," Annan wrote. The Secretary-General, Message to the Business Humanitarian Forum, Geneva, 27 January 1999.  | Back to Text |

3. BHF participants' list.  | Back to Text |

4. TRAC press release, 23 September 1999, "Groups Expose More United Nations Affiliations with Corporate Predators." | Back to Text |

5. See CEObserver, Issue 3 for background on the GDSF.  | Back to Text |

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