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UN: One Year Later Global Compact Has Little To Show

by Irwin ArieffReuters
July 27th, 2001

UNITED NATIONS -- The Global Compact, a U.N. program intended to help businesses become better world citizens, celebrates its first anniversary yesterday with more than 300 corporate partners, up from 44 at its launch.

Though it so far has little to show for its efforts, participating firms are to post their techniques for dealing with the many labor, human rights and environmental challenges spawned by globalization on the program's Web site in October, said U.N. Assistant Secretary- General Michael Doyle.

The idea, he said in a recent interview, is to use the Web site,, as the foundation for a learning network where companies can share "best practices" on how they deal with the human side of economic change.

"It's going to be a genuine learning exchange," he said. "One year in, we've seen the companies making the kinds of practical and intellectual bridges we were hoping for."

Doyle acknowledged the program's form was in part dictated by a recognition that the corporate world was unwilling to accept binding global standards on corporate governance.

But environmental and human rights groups that have been participating in the program from the start said they were nonetheless underwhelmed by the Global Compact's achievements to date.

"Viewing the program solely as a learning experience represents a wasted opportunity in assuring corporate responsibility," said Arvind Ganesan, the Washington-based director of business and human rights programs for Human Rights Watch. "The progress we expected on moving beyond just a learning forum hasn't occurred yet."


Doyle said companies participate in the Global Compact by making a commitment to observe a series of general principles on human rights, labor relations and environmental protection, and to engage in an open dialogue on how they were doing so.

Once their chosen methods of carrying out those guidelines are posted on the Internet, they are subjected to critiques - by their own employees as well as outsiders including human rights and environmental groups and labor unions.

Among the firms already posting their submissions, the German chemical giant BASF said, for example, that it had developed a code of conduct linked to business goals and was assessing the environmental impact of its activities.

South Africa's state-owned Eskom, Africa's largest provider of electricity, said it had incorporated human rights considerations into its decision-making and was actively recruiting more black supervisors.

Ganesan of Human Rights Watch said that since the program had issued guidelines on how businesses should behave, it should at least try to assure the guidelines were being applied, for example by procuring goods only from responsible companies.

It should also try to assure that companies were moving forward, by adopting new measures rather than simply reporting on past accomplishments, he said.

Even the United Nations itself was not yet applying the guidelines in its own procurement policies, he said.

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