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The Deputy Secretary-General Statement to Roundtable Meeting on Cooperation Between the United Nations and the Russian Business Community


Moscow, Monday, 19 November 2001

Foreign Minister Ivanov,
Mr. Volzhky,
Distinguished leaders of business and industry,
United Nations colleagues,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you for this very warm welcome. I am always delighted to visit the Russian Federation, but this time I have come for a particularly exciting reason -- introducing the Russian business community to the Global Compact.

I am happy to be here with you today. I very much welcome the initiative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation in convening this meeting, and I appreciate the important role of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Employers in making this event possible. I am really glad to see so many prominent representatives of the Russian business community who have decided to be here today.

Before I get into the main topic of today's meeting - the Global Compact - let me first say a few words about the United Nations and where we stand today. It is clear that at this point in time, the aftermath of the 11 September terrorist attacks, including the situation in Afghanistan, is very much on our minds. The United Nations is poised to play a key role, both in the global fight against terrorism, and in assisting the Afghan people in building a more stable future in their country.

While this event has had a fundamental effect on the work of the United Nations, it has also provided evidence that the United Nations is a most valuable institution, with a machinery in place to face ever new challenges, while also continuing to pursue the old ones. Indeed, to remain relevant, the Organization must change and adjust to the political, economic, cultural and social transformations that determine relations between peoples and States. I believe we have been quite successful in keeping pace with these changes.

Today one can say, probably more than ever before, that there is a common vision of the purpose of the Organization shared by all its Members. Beyond the UN Charter itself, there has not always been such a shared vision, especially during the Cold War. But today, it exists: it is encapsulated in the Millennium Declaration adopted a little over a year ago at the Millennium Summit, the largest-ever gathering of world leaders. This Declaration has not become any less important after the 11 September events, on the contrary.

The Declaration establishes clear objectives and priorities for the United Nations: to overcome poverty, put an end to conflict, meet the needs of Africa, promote democracy and the rule of law, and protect our environment.

That is a pretty tall order. How can we hope to achieve these goals?

The United Nations of the 21st century cannot do its job alone. Since Secretary-General Kofi Annan took office almost five years ago, he has consistently advocated for strengthening partnerships with business and civil society. Only working together with actors outside the confines of the Organization itself can we hope to make a real difference in improving the lives of ordinary people. Therefore we are now consistently and vigorously interacting with non-governmental organizations, foundations, academic institutions and, of course, the business community.

The Secretary-General's strong-held view is that if the United Nations is to be equipped -- managerially, financially, politically -- to meet the needs of the world's people, it cannot afford to ignore the competencies, resources and networks offered by the private sector.

That is why, almost three years ago, the Secretary-General proposed a Global Compact to world business leaders, under which they commit themselves to respect a number of international norms in the areas of human rights, labour standards and the environment.Philosophically, the Compact rests on the premise that doing what is good for society is also good for business. Moreover, the Compact sees business as an agent of positive change -- as part of the solution.

The Global Compact calls on business leaders around the globe to embrace and implement nine principles, which have already been enshrined in international agreements. Let me briefly outline for you those principles:

  • In the area of human rights, businesses should support the protection of human rights and make sure they are not complicit in human rights abuses.
  •  In the area of labour standards, businesses should uphold the freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining; and they should work for the elimination of forced and compulsory labour, child labour, and discrimination in the workplace.
  • And with respect to the environment, businesses should support a precautionary approach to environmental challenges, promote greater environmental responsibility, and encourage the development and diffusion of environmentally friendly technologies.

The idea is to weave these principles into corporate practices everywhere. The Global Compact is not a regulatory instrument or a legally binding code of conduct. Rather, the Compact is a voluntary initiative to promote good corporate citizenship.

I should stress that the Compact is not, and must not be, a public relations exercise. Pledging support is a necessary first step. But this is not enough. A commitment must lead to concrete actions in support of the principles. This is the core challenge. Companies must reflect the nine principles in their policies and in their practices. We have placed much emphasis on the Compact as a learning forum, where companies share their experiences and engage in dialogue with NGOs and trade unions. I would like to encourage Russian companies to set up their own Russian Global Compact Network, as a way to promote the exchange of experiences in translating the nine principles into their day-to-day operations. Such a Network can also be a platform for all stakeholders to together seek solutions to challenges.

In addition to establishing partnerships with labour and civil society organizations Companies are also encouraged to work with the United Nations and other development actors. In some countries, for example, companies participating in the Compact have joined with others in trying to reduce emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Russian companies could take steps to confront the many acute environmental challenges that Russia faces.

Another example of an area where the business community has worked in partnership with Governments and the United Nations is the issue of HIV/AIDS. The situation in the world concerning the rapid spread of the disease is a matter of great concern, and regretfully, this part of the world is not immune. The first warning signals might already be there. At the end of last year, an estimated 300,000 people in the Russian Federation were living with HIV -- twice as many as the year before. In Ukraine, the figure is more than 250,000 people. If allowed to spread, HIV/AIDS can have serious effects on the economy of a country. An increase in the numbers of people affected will certainly have adverse effects on business.

But the private sector can play an important role. In some countries, companies have contributed to drawing up effective AIDS policies and educating the work force about HIV. Businesses can also integrate HIV awareness and prevention messages in marketing and public relations. As respected members of their communities, business leaders are also uniquely placed to advocate, and to encourage all sectors of society to get involved, showing that they care for the people in their communities and not only for the "bottom line".

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Global Compact offers a historic opportunity to further strengthen ties between Russia and the United Nations, and to usher in a new era in Russian corporate culture. Encouraging businesses to act in support of broader societal goals can go a long way towards creating more effective markets, and building more inclusive, stable societies. This will be of benefit to the companies, to the employees, and to the communities themselves. The Global Compact initiative is also an excellent platform for building and strengthening the relationship among companies, Government bodies, labour, NGOs and international organizations.

And here I would like to come back to the shared vision I mentioned at the beginning of my speech, the hopes for a better world embodied in the Millennium Declaration. I believe that we all share a yearning to reach these noble goals. The Global Compact is a way for the business community to contribute, within their sphere of influence, to making progress towards attaining these goals and being a positive force in their communities.

I wish you a productive and enlightening session this afternoon.

Thank you.