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Conference Takes Stock of Compact in Germany

2003-11-03 

On 24 October, some 200 representatives of business, civil society, government and academia gathered in Berlin to take stock of German Global Compact activities. The event titled  "Global Partnerships – from theory to practice" was organized by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the Federal Foreign Office, the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ) and the German United Nations Association (DGVN). It quickly emerged that the Global Compact has proved to be a versatile learning platform. There was also broad agreement that the Global Compact as a voluntary initiative has played a very useful role as a complement to existing regulatory approaches. While pilot projects are making convincing progress and several new "accession candidates" were recruited in Berlin, participants agreed that particularly the small and medium enterprises that are so vital to the German economy must be attracted in greater numbers.
 
In her keynote address, Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development, emphasized not only the "moral authority" of the Global Compact as a "coalition of common sense and responsibility", but also put her vision into words: "A time will come, when the Global Compact will be a leading quality standard among responsible enterprises. Companies that fail to comply with the principles of the Global Compact will find it difficult to survive in the market place. They will be branded as the dinosaurs of economic history, which have failed to adapt to new, better conditions."
 
"We must learn to work together," demanded Georg Kell, Executive Head of the Global Compact Office in New York. "Thanks to BMZ and GTZ, we now have brand-new structures for this cooperation." After three years of Global Compact activities, he saw positive trends: GC networks have now been established in about 50 countries, and more than 1,200 companies worldwide have become involved.
 
In addition to Georg Kell, the opening panel included members of parliament Walter Riester (SPD) and Claudia Roth (Bündnis 90/Die Grünen), BDI (Federation of German Industries) foreign trade expert Dr. Claudia Wörmann, Prof. Dr. Dr. Sabine von Schorlemer from the University of Dresden, Dr. Peter Eigen, Chairperson of Transparency International and Heinz Putzhammer, member of the management board of the German Trade Union Federation (DGB). The debate focussed on the fundamental question whether existing voluntary commitments should be replaced by binding rules for enterprises. "Voluntary commitments alone are not enough", claimed Claudia Roth. "It is essential that we lay down concrete standards that go a step further than voluntary commitment, so that compliance can be required." Walter Riester echoed this notion: "Additional regulations such as ILO standards or OECD guidelines are indispensable, in order to keep to the path taken by the Global Compact." Resistance to more rules and regulations for the implementation of the nine principles was voiced by the BDI. While stressing that she fully embraced the introduction and implementation of social and environmental standards, Claudia Wörmann believed that it should be left to the companies themselves to decide what path they take to achieve these. 
 
In several workshops, participants discussed successful partnership projects to illustrate forms of corporate commitment in developing countries and emerging economies. There was consensus that one of the future tasks of the partners involved will be to develop models on the basis of the pilot projects to help establish longer-term, sustainable structures. The participants also recognized the need to strengthen decentralized structures – national, regional or topic-specific Global Compact networks – in order to ensure shorter paths between potential partners and helpers. It was encouraged that each of the groups involved – the private sector, civil society, politicians or academics - should take a critical look at their own contribution and find new ways of thinking.
 
The organisers had set three goals: to provide information about the activities of the Initiative and difficulties encountered, to add impetus to the critical dialogue between private industry and other stakeholders as repeatedly called for by Kofi Annan, and to recruit more members from the ranks of the private sector. Participants were delighted that all three objectives had been achieved. At the end of the meeting several companies announced their intention of joining the Initiative.
 
"The Global Compact is not self-evident" summed up Kerstin Müller, Minister of State at the Federal Foreign Office. "It is an intellectual and a practical challenge. No participant can fall back on previous experience. Many components have been spontaneously called into being, and much must simply be tested in practice."
 
For further information please contact Paula-Marie Hildebrandt at the GTZ.