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Competition to create a better world for all

Nairobi, 8 February 2001 - A striking degree of consensus emerged from a Senior Level Workshop hosted by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in advance of its Governing Council meeting of February 5-9, 2001. Hosted by UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer, the workshop was attended by 58 participants from 23 countries, representing industry, labour, governments, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), and relevant United Nations organizations.

The central concept of the UN Global Compact of holding enterprises accountable for their human rights, labour and environmental performance was universally endorsed. An overview of the Global Compact was followed by an energetic and generally positive debate. Although there was concern that the Global Compact process to date has not sufficiently addressed such issues as poverty reduction, social equity and radical dematerialization, there was agreement that the Global Compact is timely, valuable and, potentially, an important bridge between the developed and developing worlds.

Many participants, however, were more comfortable in describing it as a campaign, not a Code of Conduct, at least in the near term. Headline results of the Workshop included the following:

  • There is wide support for the Global Compact, and for its basic nine principles;
  • It is seen as a framework of expectations within which not just industry, but all sectors and sections of society, will need to show real, sustained progress;
  • To succeed, the Global Compact team will need to achieve high levels of transparency and accountability;
  • There remain real concerns among the various sectors represented at the Workshop about the ways in which the Global Compact is being presented and implemented.

For example, NGO representatives share strong concerns about the extent to which:

  • the Global Compact will be based on the founding values of the UN, namely transparency, justice, equity, and broad participation;
  • the compliance of signatory companies is monitored and verified  and the Global Compact standards are enforced;
  • the Global Compact process will be opened up to the broadest range of actors.

Industry representatives, in addition to expressing concern that the Civil Society Workshop mainly involved NGOs, said that NGOs had succeeded in capturing their attention  but called for practical help in putting the Global Compact principles into practice. One industrialist spoke of the culture shock involved in participating in such events. His colleagues spotlighted the following concerns:

  • A proliferation of standards is resulting in market confusion, with a growing need for the Global Compact team to consider the business case for adopting the Global Compact  and its relationships with other standard-setting initiatives.
  • Industry itself must work out how to better police its own community, reining in free riders, and publicly challenging poor practice.

The Union representative suggested that new ways must be found of using existing systems and processes, such as collective agreements with trade unions, as a mechanism for Global Compact monitoring and implementation.

Government and public sector representatives see the Global Compact as a necessary, indeed vital way of beginning to fill the global governance vacuum.
Among other things, they stressed that governments and their agencies:

  • Need to focus not just on OECD-based multinationals, but also non-OECD based companies, SMEs and the informal sector
  • Must catalyse and facilitate the Global Compact process, not just think in terms of regulation  although new regulations and consistent enforcement will be necessary conditions of progress
  • Can create the context within which new forms of partnership can evolve and succeed

Mutual trust and respect between all actors are seen as necessary conditions for progress. So, too, are corporate disclosure and reporting, with the aims and objectives of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) broadly supported by all sectors.

The concluding session saw many speakers welcome UNEPs initiative both in holding the Workshop and being the first of the supporting agencies to put the Global Compact on the agenda of its Governing Council.

One quotation that surfaced:
"The aim is to spur competition to create a better world, but a better world for all.

But there was also consensus that the future credibility and impact of the Global Compact  which should be seen as an additional tool alongside, for example, regulations and economic incentives - would depend on the real-world results achieved  and the extent to which the workshop is followed by a sustained, meaningful, participative, multi-stakeholder process of engagement.

For more information, please contact
Cornis van der Lugt.
Tel: +33 1 44 37 14 45. Fax: +33 1 44 37 14 74.

In Nairobi, please contact
Tore J. Brevik,
UNEP Spokesman/Director of Communications and Public Information,
P. O. Box 30552; tel.: (254-2) 623292;fax 623692;

UNEP Information Note 01/11


Thursday 08 Feb 2001
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