Global Policy Forum

Business and the UN

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By Pragati Pascale

UN Department of Public Information
June 1, 1998

As part of his "quiet revolution" to renew the United Nations for the twenty-first century, Secretary-General Kofi Annan is building a stronger relationship with the business community. "Thriving markets and human security go hand in hand; without one, we will not have the other," he told corporate leaders at the World Economic Forum in early 1998. In what ways are business and the UN working together? Consider these facts:

A Stabilizing Force in the World Economy

As national economies become more and more interdependent through information, trade, investment and financial ties, the UN is helping to fill a growing need for international cooperation and regulatory consistency to spread the benefits of globalization and to avoid chaos and backlash.

* The UN provides the "soft infrastructure" for the global economy. It sets technical standards and norms in such diverse areas as statistics, trade laws, customs procedures, intellectual property, aviation, shipping and telecommunications, thus facilitating economic activity and reducing transaction costs.

* The UN prepares the ground for investment in emerging economies, by promoting political stability and good governance, battling corruption and human rights abuses, urging sound economic policies and business-friendly legislation, and working to improve health, education and social well-being.

* The UN addresses the down side of globalization, by fighting transnational crime, the traffic in drugs, arms and people, and other "problems without passports". Much of its operational work in over 170 countries is aimed at combating poverty. These efforts reduce tensions, prevent backlash and help build future markets.

* The UN is working to solve global environmental problems, something which free markets, left to themselves, cannot do. As an international forum for building consensus and negotiating agreements, the UN is tackling transboundary problems like climate change, ozone depletion, toxic waste, loss of forests and species, and air and water pollution. Unless these problems are addressed, markets and economies will not be sustainable in the long term - for they are depleting the natural "capital" on which growth, and human survival, are based.

* UN values are the cornerstone of an interdependent world. Globalizing markets rely on contractual and trust-based relationships built on shared values. Since its inception, the UN's primary mission has been to advocate universal values: freedom, justice and the peaceful resolution of disputes; social progress and better standards of living; equality, tolerance and dignity. The global acceptance and spread of these values is forging a common understanding that is paving the way for markets to expand and take root.

Win-Win Solutions

* The UN is looking to its business partners to assist with the biggest economic challenge and opportunity facing the international community: fostering worldwide sustainable growth. More specifically, the UN recognizes that the private sector must be a key player in integrating the developing world into the global economy in order to raise living standards and reduce poverty.

* A joint statement issued in February 1998 by the UN Secretary-General and the International Chamber of Commerce stressed the UN's role in setting the regulatory framework for the global marketplace in order to facilitate cross-border trade and investment. Among the business leaders present were executives from Alcatel Alsthom, Anglo Gold, BAT Industries, Bata, Coca-Cola, EdperBrascan, Goldman Sachs, Henkel, McDonald's Worldwide, Reemtsma, Rio Tinto, Unilever and US West.

* The UN Secretary-General and the ICC agreed that the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) should prepare a series of business investment guides to the 48 least developed countries to make opportunities in those regions known and boost private capital flows. The least developed countries currently attract less than 1 per cent of total foreign investment.

* As a place where business can make its voice heard and engage in dialogue with policy-makers and other stakeholders from all countries, the UN is helping to bring the private sector to the table to solve global problems as partners rather than adversaries.

* With the broad support of business, the UN is taking strong action to combat corruption. A 1996 General Assembly resolution called on Governments to outlaw payment of bribes to public officials as part of international financial transactions and to disallow tax deductions for such payments. This paved the way for tough measures against corporate bribery of foreign officials approved by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 1997.

* An industry-led assessment of voluntary business environmental initiatives is getting underway, at the urging of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development. The Commission acted on a proposal coming out of a groundbreaking dialogue among business, trade unions, citizens groups and government delegates in April 1998.

* Business is building support for the UN, recognizing that diminishing the Organization's role or its capacity to act because of budgetary restrictions only means that the world will be less able to address globalization effectively.

* In its statement to the G8 Summit of major industrialized countries in May 1998, the International Chamber of Commerce advised Heads of State that the UN and other intergovernmental organizations "require sufficient resources and more authority" to handle complex global problems.

* Increasingly, UN agencies are cooperating with businesses on projects, with mutual benefits: Advocacy support: Insurance companies, worried about the rising incidence and cost of disasters thought to be caused by climate change and other man-made problems, are helping the UN Environment Programme to create environmental awareness.

* The Italian fashion giant Benetton is adding style to a campaign promoting the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Providing know-how: Information technology companies are contributing technical assistance to an automated customs system developed by UNCTAD, which has already improved trade efficiency in developing countries by several hundred million dollars.

* Emergency aid to millions of people is being delivered faster and fresher by the World Food Programme thanks to new bagging and handling technologies from the private sector. Promoting investment: Banks with global reach are helping the UN Development Programme extend credit to poor people to start their own businesses. The MicroStart project so far is up and running in 15 countries.

* The UN Industrial Development Organization, acting as a broker between technology suppliers and developing countries, has brought over a billion dollars worth of investment and clean technologies to more than 80 countries in the last four years.

Fund-raising: US entrepreneur Ted Turner has pledged $1 billion over ten years for UN programmes, a strong vote of confidence in the world body.

* Rotary Clubs worldwide, backed heavily by the business community, have given more than $400 million to the World Health Organization's efforts to eradicate polio.

* Working with UNICEF's "Change for Good" project, major airlines such as British Airways are collecting and donating extra foreign currency from passengers returning from abroad. Since 1991 they have raised over $18 million for children and generated good will for participating firms.


 

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