Kofi Annan's Address


Washington, D.C., June 8, 1999

Mr. Donohue, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to join you this evening. Mr. Donohue., I would like to thank you for this invitation and for this opportunity to talk to your membership. I am well aware that the businesses and groups represented in the Chamber of Commerce are as dynamic as any in the world, and that they contribute not only to American prosperity but to global well-being as well. So I have great hopes of forging better ties and working more closely together with all of you.

Many of you may be thinking that a United Nations Secretary-General is somewhat out of place at a "business summit" such as this. You might even be under the impression that the United Nations does not support free enterprise, or that we wish to stick business with the bill for all the world's ills.

My task tonight is to dispel such myths, and to make you feel more at home with the United Nations. Let there be no mistake: the United Nations needs the world's businessmen and businesswomen: as promoters of trade and investment; as employers and entrepreneurs; as experts on globalization; in short, as full partners in our global mission of peace and development.

In that light, I have two simple messages for you.

The first is that a fundamental shift has occurred in recent years in the attitude of the United Nations towards the private sector. Confrontation has taken a back seat to cooperation. Polemics have given way to partnerships.

The second is that a strong United Nations is good for business. I know that just saying so is not enough. I hope to provide for you tonight not just words but works, not just promises but proof.

I hesitate to begin with myself, but the challenges I face are very much like yours, whether you are the owner of a small enterprise or the head of a multinational conglomerate. Like many of you, I have to manage and motivate people. Like you, I am accountable to shareholders. And like you, I have had to make my organization leaner, more cost-effective and better able to focus on its core strengths. I should add that this comparison goes only so far. Unlike you, my board of directors is made up of 185 Governments. Many of them can' t agree on our own bylaws. Many deny me the resources needed to do the job. Some are even at war with one another! Still, I think you get my point.

Of course, what counts most is what the United Nations has to offer. The Organization's primary mission -- our main stock in trade -- is to promote values: the universal values of equality, tolerance, freedom and justice that are found in the United Nations Charter. Every society, from Asia to the Americas, is the product of values, of shared bonds and ideals. Global society also needs such a framework if it is to thrive.

Moreover, without values -- without rules governing contracts and property rights; without confidence based on the rule of law; without trust and transparency -- there could be no well-functioning markets. We know this when it comes to national economizes, but we have yet to apply it fully to global markets. UN-based values enjoy world-wide acceptance and can provide that common understanding, for societies and markets alike. They are the cornerstone of our interdependent world and the foundation of the global economy.

These values also form the basis of the United Nations' work for political and economic stability.

Private investors do not want to risk their hard-won capital in insecure neighbourhoods. That is one reason why, from Central America to the Middle East, from Africa to Southeast Asia, the United Nations has brokered peace, separated warring forces, fed refugees and created vital space for negotiators to resolve their differences peacefully, through negotiation.

The United Nations fights poverty, illiteracy and the spread of deadly diseases such as AIDS. We promote democracy and work to safeguard the global environment. We also address what I call "problems without passports" -- such as terrorism, organized crime and drug-trafficking -- which do not respect borders and thrive where laws and institutions are weak. For business, these efforts translate into reduced risk and greater opportunities.

If this is the public face of the Organization, there is also a quieter side which is especially important for business: the UN system's wide-ranging technical services.

When ships sail freely across the seas and through international straits, they are protected by rules defined and legitimized by United Nations Conferences. Airlines have the right to fly across borders and land in case of emergency because of agreements negotiated by the International Civil Aviation Organization. Mail and overnight courier packages move throughout the world with the help of protocols established by the Universal Postal Union. The World Intellectual Property Organization protects trademarks and patents, including hallmark American products like movies, music and computer software. The International Telecommunication Union allots frequencies and keeps the airwaves from becoming hopelessly clogged.

These are all UN agencies. Such efforts make up what I call the "soft infrastructure" of the global economy, ensuring the free flow of goods, services, finance and ideas. It comes at very low cost. And while it rarely makes news and doesn't stare you in the face, you'd know it was missing the minute it was gone.

Values, stability, services: it is no surprise that the United Nations and the private sector are joining forces. The voice of business is now heard in UN policy debates. Corporations are also offering concrete support. Insurance companies, for example, are working with us to improve preparedness for natural disasters.

Still, there is more that we can do together. Our work for peace and democracy is never done. And too many countries and consumers remain outside the global economy. The United Nations would like to enlist your help in bringing the world to them, and them into the world.

It was with this in mind that I proposed, earlier this year at the World Economic Forum in Davos, a "Global Compact" between the United Nations and business. As you know, globalization is under intense pressure. And business is in the line of fire, seen by many as not doing enough in the areas of environment, labour standards and human rights. This may not seem fair, but it is a perception that will not go away unless business is seen to be committed to global corporate citizenship. The Global Compact offers a reasonable way out of this impasse. It asks businesses to adopt a set of principles in these three areas, such as protecting human rights within their sphere of influence, supporting the abolition of child labour and taking a precautionary approach to environmental challenges. These are steps which, I should stress, also make good business sense. The United Nations, for its part, would continue to make a strong case for free trade and open global markets. Business could then be left to do what iit does best -- create jobs and wealth -- while giving the global market a more of a "human face". Information on the Compact is contained in the materials that have been made available to you tonight.

The United Nations would also like to enlist your help in breaking another logjam. The United States has now been in arrears in its payments to the United Nations for 13 years. The private sector, more than any other, understands the meaning of a contract. It is a matter of honour, of keeping one's word. Last year, the Chamber of Commerce spoke out boldly in favour of renewing United States funding for the International Monetary Fund, a key part of the United Nations system. Your voice was crucial in tipping the balance, and I am grateful for that support. I am convinced that the Senate and Congress would listen again if you spoke up on the question of arrears. Senators Helms and Biden have shown leadership in crafting a compromise. But success is by no means assured. Your voice, loud and clear, could again make an important difference.

The United Nations I am asking you to support is in fundamental respects a changed Organization. New management structures are in place, as a result of a comprehensive reform effort. New leaders have taken the reins in the fields of human rights, health, development and the fight against crime and drugs. We even have a new web page designed to help business do business with the United Nations. At the same time we are retaining what is tried and true: all that we have done for half a century, from peacekeeping to humanitarian assistance, to help the peoples of the world help themselves.

I am aware that I have outlined a rather extensive range of challenges -- so many, in fact, that it may seem difficult to decide where to begin. Allow me, then, to say a special word about Africa. While I am deeply dismayed by the conflicts that have engulfed many countries, these should not obscure the good news emanating from other nations. In Nigeria, the military has just handed over power to an elected civilian leadership. In South Africa, elections for President have just taken place. Here, too, it is my hope that business will continue helping Africa turn over a new leaf.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Business is not an end in itself. Nor is the existence of the United Nations, though I know that many people think that bureaucracies are best at perpetuating themselves. Both the business community and the United Nations are engaged in the service of something larger than ourselves; human security in the broadest sense. Your terms are our terms. Peace and prosperity are the dividends we all want. The United Nations is part of the solution. Thank you again for this opportunity to state my case for a strong United Nations. Now I would be happy to answer your questions.

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