This week, at United Nations headquarters in New York, we have made a bit of history. Global leaders from the worlds of business, labor and civil society came together to forge a new coalition in support of universal values. Why is that necessary?
Eighteen months ago, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, I warned international business leaders that globalization might be far more fragile than they realized. Since then, events in Seattle and elsewhere have reinforced my warning.
But it would be tragic if local or national communities react to the challenges and shortcomings of globalization by repeating the mistakes of history, and turning in on themselves. Open markets offer the only realistic hope of pulling billions of people in developing countries out of poverty, while sustaining prosperity in the industrialized world.
What we must do instead is to ensure that the global market is embedded in broadly shared values and practices that reflect global social needs, and that all the world’s people share the benefits of globalization.
That is why, in Davos, I proposed the Global Compact, based on nine key principles drawn from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Labor Organization’s principles on rights at work, and the Rio Principles on environment and development — which were agreed on at the Earth Summit in 1992 and enjoy universal consensus among the world’s governments.
The essence of the compact is that, to help make markets sustainable at the global level, enlightened corporate leaders of the new world economy will act on these principles in their own corporate-management practices.
At this week’s meeting, the corporate leaders who are prepared to take this step have been joined by heads of international labor and civil-society organizations active in the fields of human rights, economic and social development and protection of the global environment.
They, too, are taking a bold step. Their joining this coalition doesn’t mean they’ve abandoned their own causes. It does mean they accept the need to place those causes in a broader context, because it is more likely to flourish in a freer, more prosperous world.
Some may say that business should stick to business and leave wider concerns to government. Certainly it is true that neither corporations nor voluntary groups can replace the state.
But we cannot wait for governments to do it all. Globalization operates on Internet time. Meanwhile, governments tend to be slow-moving by nature, because they have to build political support for every step. That is especially true in international affairs, where they also have to reach agreement with each other.
Moreover, business, labor and civil-society organizations have distinct skills and resources that are vital in helping to build a more robust global community.
In the last year, many of the firms and organizations represented at this week’s meeting have been working with the U.N. to define their roles in the Global Compact. Specifically, our business partners have agreed to do three things:
* They will become public advocates for the compact and its nine principles in their corporate mission statements, annual reports and similar venues.
* At least once a year they will post on our Web site specific examples of progress they have made, or lessons learned, in putting the principles into practice in their own corporate domains.
* And they will join with the U.N. in partnership projects, either at the policy level or at the operational level, such as helping African or South Asian villagers link up to the Internet, or strengthening small and medium-size firms in developing countries.
The labor and civil-society partners have helped build and deepen the compact and lent their expertise and support to designing and implementing its undertakings.
The meeting has sent out a clarion call for others to join us. We need to gain a critical mass among leading companies, and in their supply chains, so that the compact can truly be called global.
The compact is now established as a forum for ongoing dialogue among the three sets of partners — devising common solutions to common problems.
Finally, and most important, our new coalition for universal values must move swiftly to translate good intentions into concrete actions. The success of the Global Compact will be measured by its ability to make a real difference to the lives of real people.
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