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United Nations Global Compact Office Responds to Letter by Corporate Accountability International on The CEO Water Mandate

(New York, 21 March 2008) – The United Nations Global Compact Office has been made aware of a letter that has been released publicly by Corporate Accountability International and a group of other non-governmental organizations. The letter concerns the Global Compact’s CEO Water Mandate initiative, which was launched by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in July 2007 in partnership with a number of Global Compact signatories.

The Global Compact Office shares and appreciates Corporate Accountability International’s concerns about the emerging crisis in access to clean water and sanitation in many regions of the world. However, the letter – addressed to the UN Secretary-General – contains a number of misunderstandings about the nature, activities and aims of The CEO Water Mandate.

First, the purpose of The CEO Water Mandate is to provide a platform for companies and stakeholders to share learnings and emerging practices with respect to water stewardship and sustainability. Endorsing chief executive officers acknowledge that the private sector, through the production of goods and services, impacts water resources – both directly and through supply chains.

As The CEO Water Mandate states: “In order to operate in a sustainable manner, and contribute to the vision of the UN Global Compact and the realization of the Millennium Development Goals, companies have a responsibility to make water-resources management a priority”.

Second, contrary to the suggestion of the letter, The CEO Water Mandate is a multi-stakeholder initiative. Companies commit to working with UN agencies, non-governmental organizations, and other non-business stakeholders to address the emerging water crisis.

The letter states: “To make matters worse, we understand that these same corporations and their allies met on March 5 th behind closed doors at the United Nations in New York to map out their plan of action for the CEO Water Mandate”.

In fact, the 5 March event – the first working conference of The CEO Water Mandate –brought companies together with a range of stakeholders for a learning-and-dialogue session. Non-business attendees included: World Wildlife Fund, The Nature Conservancy, Plan Malawi, the Pacific Institute, as well as the following UN agencies: UNICEF, UNDP, UNEP, UN OHCHR, and UNESCO. A summary of the working conference will be available in early April.

Third, with respect to transparency, while The CEO Water Mandate is a voluntary initiative, endorsing companies pledge to report regularly on the ways in which they are implementing The CEO Water Mandate’s elements, using platforms such as the Global Reporting Initiative and the UN Global Compact’s Communication on Progress. Indeed, a commitment to transparency is one of the six core elements of The CEO Water Mandate.
The UN Global Compact Office has long recognized and stated that voluntary initiatives cannot be a substitute for regulation or government action. Rather, the two are complementary, with voluntary platforms such as The CEO Water Mandate providing a space for learning and innovation. 

As the non-profit Pacific Institute, an authority on the topic of water stewardship, stated at the 5 March meeting: “In light of the immense scale of the global water challenge and significant percentage of private sector firms that remain unaware of the breadth and depth of the problem, this CEO-driven initiative makes a needed, complementary, and unique contribution”.

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Click here to learn more about The CEO Water Mandate.

For more information, please contact
Mr. Gavin Power
Senior Advisor
UN Global Compact Office