Home / News & Events

The High Commissioner Opening Remarks

Global Compact Dialogue on the Role of the Private Sector in Zones of Conflict
Palais Wilson, 27 September 2001

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a pleasure for me to welcome you all to the Palais Wilson for this second Global Compact dialogue on the role of the private sector in zones of conflict.

I think all of us here must be feeling that the agenda for the next two days has taken on added importance given the events of 11 September. I certainly do. I visited New York last week and went to see "Ground Zero". I also met with rescue workers and social service providers caring for victims and family members. So many people have been impacted by the attacks on so many different levels:

  • the victims and their family members and friends,
  • the thousands fighting to rebuild businesses and offices or simply to keep up payments on mortgages and medical bills;
  • the millions of people who are now struggling to return to their jobs, to keep their children safe, to find a way to somehow make life "normal" again;
  • And we cannot forget those who have been subjected to acts of violence and discrimination since the attacks simply because of how they looked or dressed, or where they may be from.

The terrorist attacks on New York and Washington have brought into sharper focus for all of us fortunate enough to live with a sense of relative security and safety how dramatically and completely life changes when indiscriminate violence and terror strike our communities.

11 September has been a powerful reminder of the vested interest we all have, as representatives of business, trade unions, non-governmental organisations and academic institutions in working together and with the United Nations to help end conflicts and to foster peaceful societies where the human rights of all people are guaranteed.

Your first meeting in March of this year began the work of deciding how best the Global Compact network could do just that. I know that significant progress has been made since then in the four substantive areas that you identified and I look forward to hearing about how you plan to move ahead on these issues after your meeting here.

I thought it would be useful for me to update you briefly on what has happened within the UN since your March meeting. As you may know, the Secretary-General was requested by the Security Council to prepare a series of reports to it on various dimensions of conflict. Each of the three reports submitted to date has included a section on the role of the private sector.

The first of these reports was released just after your first meeting in March and focused on the protection of civilians in armed conflict.

The report stressed that the United Nations and other international organizations must engage the private sector in a constructive dialogue by building creative partnerships and by working together to ensure that corporate operations are placed within the framework of international norms and standards that provide the infrastructure on which global commerce increasingly depends.

The Secretary-General encouraged the Security Council to continue investigating the links between illicit trade in natural resources and the conduct of war and to urge Member States and regional organizations to take appropriate measures against corporate actors, individuals and entities involved in illicit trafficking in natural resources and small arms that may further fuel conflicts.

He also urged governments to adopt and enforce executive and legislative measures to prevent private sector actors within their jurisdiction from engaging in commercial activities with parties to armed conflict that might result in or contribute to violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.

In a second report last June, the Secretary-General reported to the Security Council on the prevention of armed conflict. He made clear that primary responsibility for conflict prevention rests with national Governments, with civil society playing an important role. He called on the United Nations and the international community to support national efforts for conflict prevention and to assist in building national capacity in this field.

The report's recommendations also encourage the business community to adopt socially responsible practices that foster a climate of peace in conflict prone societies, help prevent and mitigate crisis situations, and contribute to reconstruction and reconciliation. I believe this is a good framework to keep in mind as our discussions progress today.

Finally, earlier this month the Secretary-General submitted a third report to the Security Council on Children and armed conflict that also provides valuable recommendations. For example, the report suggests that multilateral development banks and the corporate sector could conduct "child impact assessments" with regard to particular investments and projects that they may be funding in or near zones of conflict. The report notes that such assessments will repay their own costs by leading to better relations with local communities and hence more viable investments.

This report also underlines the key role that governments can play to promote accountability among corporate actors in conflict situations. Labeling products coming from conflict zones is one area where States can make a difference. Another involves agreements or legislation requiring the public disclosure of all investments, transactions or profits originating, concluding or involving actors based in countries experiencing armed conflict.

I believe all three of these reports offer valuable guidance for all of us in the Global Compact network as we seek to make real progress on these issues.

One other UN development that I wish to mention briefly is the Durban World Conference against Racism, which, as you know, concluded just two days before the terrorist attacks of 11 September. The Conference was a difficult one – it was bound to be – for it addressed some of the most contentious issues faced by every country and by the international community. Yet real progress was made. The Durban programme of action provides a valuable framework for follow up action at all levels, including by the private sector.

Equally important, the Conference brought together people from around the world committed to fighting racism, discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. You will be pleased to know that the Global Compact was well represented in Durban. The Secretary-General participated in a high-level dialogue with Global Compact participating organisations, a multi-stakeholder workshop looked at partnership approaches to fighting discrimination and fostering diversity and a panel we co-hosted with the ILO brought together trade union, company and UN representatives to talk about the challenges of implementing equal-opportunity and diversity policies within organisations. Information on Durban is available here in our Office and I invite you all to give consideration to how we can involve the Global Compact network more in addressing the issues of equality and non-discrimination which are central to the prevention of conflict.

What do we hope to accomplish over the next two days?

My hope is that we will evaluate progress made on all topics, providing input on both substance and structure. But equally important, that we will begin gathering ideas on how best to move this work forward.

How can wide-spread transparency be achieved in all dealings between corporations and host governments? How can we best encourage all companies to adopt conflict and human rights impact assessment tools? What leverages can be used to convince governments and companies of the benefits of revenue sharing agreements? How can we learn from and jointly inspire increasing numbers of multi-stakeholder initiatives on conflict prevention and peace building?

These are some of the questions for which I hope we will find answers.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

The Global Compact is about the values that unite us. The attacks two weeks ago were a direct challenge to these values – they were an attack on fundamental human rights.

Now is the time to make universal values stronger through our individual and collective actions. Now is the time to show that the network of organisations participating in the Global Compact is taking a stand for them and acting on them.

We have the opportunity over the next two days to make a significant contribution to this cause. I wish you well in your discussions.

Thank you