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Attitude of NGOs to the Global Compact

Nongovernmental Organizations and the Global Compact (Part #4)

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An organization with the misleading title Business Council for the United Nations ( has been created "to bring a better understanding of the U.N. to the business community". It is in fact not an independent body, nor an international body, nor is it formally a part of the UN system. It is in fact a division of the American NGO called UNA-USA. The latter is a strong NGO supporter of the Global Compact.

Reporting on the launch of the Global Compact on 26 July 2000, the Earth Times Service carried an article by Nandan Desai titled NGOs back the Global Compact (, naming 5 NGOs and offering quotes from some of them. It mentioned none of the reservations that absent NGOs might have had.

To counter-balance the potential for abuse, a coalition had already been formed to promote a Citizens Compact on the United Nations and Corporations. This was announced on the occasion of the Davos Forum in January 2000, one year after the Secretary-General's preliminary launch and is supported by at least 50 organizations on 6 continents. The coalition argues that "The UN is our best hope to monitor and hold accountable the giant corporations that control so much of our economies and our lives" (*ceo/untnc/citcom.html)

A letter to that effect was sent to the Secretary-General on 20th July 2000, with a follow-up on 28th July (, in the light of the text of those Guidelines published on 17th July. The letter draws attention to the abusive practices that have characterized, or continue to characterize the initiatives of a number of business entities already adhering to the Compact, despite the explicit statement in the Guidelines that "business entities that are complicit in human rights abuses...are not eligible for partnership". The letter expresses further dismay at the right accorded to such business entities by the Guidelines to use the name and emblem of the UN. Especially since no provisions are made for monitoring the Guidelines' modalities, these are viewed as quite susceptible to abuse.

The letter concludes that the Compact and the Guidelines "do not 'ensure the integrity and independence' of the United Nations. They allow business entities with poor records to 'bluewash' their image by wrapping themselves in the flag of the United Nations. They favour corporate-driven globalization rather than the environment, human health, local communities, workers, farmers, women and the poor".

This alternative Compact favours rules and monitoring excluded from the Global Compact. In that it is consistent with views articulated, curiously, by UNDP: "Tougher rules on global governance, including principles of performance for multinationals on labour standards, fair trade and environmental protection, are needed to counter the negative effects of globalization on the poorest nations" - a view immediately challenged by ICC (Financial Times, 21 July 1999).

In the lead up to the WTO Seattle event, the Corporate Europe Observer (October 1999, #5) sees the Secretary-General (having "embraced the corporate trade and investment agenda") as having:

"clearly taken sides in one of the most heated issues in the current debate about the global economy. He not only alienates himself from a very large part of the 'civil society' he otherwise speaks so positively of, but also from the large number of Southern governments which oppose the idea of a comprehensive round of liberalization negotiations..."

Detailed critiques of the Global Compact can be found in the correspondence of one NGO, TRAC, with the Secretary-General and in its report Tangled Up in Blue: Corporate Partnerships at the United Nations ( This chronicles a set of policy decisions that are steering the UN away from its potential role as an independent regulator of transnational corporations and toward a model where the UN is just as entangled in corporate interests as all other international finance agencies. TRAC has been leading an international campaign to document and expose the growing number of, often secretive, partnerships between various UN agencies and corporations with poor records in the light of the values of the Compact.

According to the TRAC UN Project Coordinator, "The Secretary-General seems to think the UN can help 'fix' the problems of globalization by getting serial violators of human rights, labour rights and the environment to declare that they won't be bad anymore".

With reference to the Secretary-General's effort to seek legitimacy for the Global Compact through the support of NGOs, the Rural Advancement Foundation International jokingly refers to the "importance of IQ tests to screen out idiot CSOs [civil society organizations] who don't know when they are being used." (

Victor Menotti of the International Forum on Globalization concludes his Brief History of Corporate vs Citizen Power under the UN :

"Yet with the existing set of peoples' rights already negotiated and agreed to internationally by governments under UN auspices, Secretary General Kofi Annan has now undermined the UN's own accomplishments by issuing a set of voluntary and unenforceable principles called the Global Compact. When understood in this historical context, Annan's recently unveiled deal between himself, some of the world's largest corporations, and a few hand-picked "representatives" of civil society, is nothing more than a feeble and cynical attempt to diffuse the backlash to global corporate power that was so evident on the streets of Seattle. The Global Compact ignores the original mandate of the UN, legitimizing the corporate highjack of peoples' protections chartered under the UN some fifty years ago. Today, the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and World Trade Organization institutionally subordinate the citizens' rights embodied in the UN. This is why people must begin to focus on the relationship of the BWIs [Bretton woods Institutions] to the UN system, with a view to resubordinating the BWIs back to their original and rightful place." ($129)

At the time of the World Economic Forum (Davos, January 2001) a counter-forum entitled the World Social Forum met concurrently in Porto Alegre (Brazil).

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