UN: One Year Later Global Compact Has Little To Show

Publisher Name: 
Reuters

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,
www.unglobalcompact.org, 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."

COMMITMENT TO HUMAN RIGHTS

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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