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Preserving the United Nations

Globalization and the Future of the United Nations (Part #3)

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The United Nations has long been extremely short of funds, to the point of threatening to be unable to pay monthly salaries to civil servants. The reluctance of US Republicans to authorize payment of arrears, and the probably perpetuation of these challenges under the Bush Presidency, means that creative ways must be sought to maintain a semblance of UN operations and credibility.

The Secretary-General will undoubtedly seek further guidance from his American colleagues in their effort to control the UN through the backdoor. A major step would be the full recognition that UNDP has long been discretely operating as the United Nations Developers' Programme and should no longer be concerned at the possibility of its covert behaviour being 'outed' by critics holding it to outdated standards requiring any genuine concern for "developees" -- beyond that required for public relations purposes.

It is worth recalling Margaret Thatcher's response to Harold Macmillan's early objection that her privatization proposals in the UK were tantamount to 'selling the family silver.' She declared that she was indeed selling the family silver, but that she was 'selling it back to the family'. History has identified the "family" that benefitted most from this process -- and the operational consequences for services such as the railways. The multinationals are finally being recognized as the UN's true family -- to whom the Secretary-General is selling UN values.

In the spirit of this new UN strategy, of which the Global Compact initiative is only a current example, the following might be envisaged as a means of maintaining the UN's income stream in the future:


  • Sponsorship of executive offices: Following the tradition, long-established for chairs in American universities, sponsorship could be sought for individual posts within the UN system. Thus the Director of Peacekeeping Operations could become the Mario Pistaccio Directorship of Peackeeping Operations. With over 30,000 staff, many with titles, this leaves much scope for sponsorship at different budgetary levels. There is no reason not to envisage sponsorship for a limited period (say a year), so that the new sponsorship could be sought for later periods.
  • Sponsorship of centers and buildings: The same principle could be applied to the many units within the UN Secretariat and its many Specialized Agencies. So there could be both a Nestlé Centre on Infant Care and a British American Tobacco Programme for Child Health at WHO, or the Monsanto Seed Research Centre at FAO -- notably with the involvement of the multinational corporations of the Global Compact. If any UN centre or office merits a separate building, the well-established trend -- ensuring payment for an academic building by a sponsor in exchange for naming it after the sponsor -- could be pursued. This could be extended to the offices in any secretariat, as well as to meeting rooms, restaurants and cafeteria. Preference should be given to corporations with a demonstrated interest in the theme.
  • Sponsorship of commissions: Again the same principle could be applied to the multiplicity of UN political commissions, or even working groups. For example the Akzo Nobel Disarmament, Peace-keeping and Security Questions or Glaxo-Wellcome Codex Alimentarius Commission.
  • Sponsorship of resolutions or conventions: This principle could be extended to individual Resolutions of the UN and its associated bodies. Rather than simply having a resolution referenced by its number, it could also be referenced by the name of a person or corporation who paid for that privilege (eg the ILO Nike Child Labour Convetion). Many national laws and amendments are already known by those presenting them, so there is no reason to resist financially rewarding strategies that ensure payment for that privilege. Clearly, as with TV advertising, rates should be determined by the importance of the resolution. This could be extended to major global strategies of the UN.
  • Sponsorship of publications: Given the number and cost of UN publications, there is no reason not to seek sponsorship for individual documents that would then bear the name of the sponsor (duly to be reflected in international indexing systems). UNDP has already explored CISCO sponsorship of its NetAid web information programme.
  • Sponsorship of delegates: There is an obvious case for inviting government delegates to UN conferences under sponsorship by specific corporations. Different degrees of sponsorship could be envisaged according to the visibility given by the delegate to the sponsor (badging, cap with logo, jackets, etc) -- as practiced by some corporations in which employees wear themed clothing, notably at exhibitions. Sponsorship of delegates by corporations was initially envisaged as a possibility for the Seattle WTO event.

Sale or rental of services:

  • Speaking fees: Now that officials of the UN are in high demand in contexts in which high speaking fees are normally requested and paid (such as the Davos Symposium), the UN system could envisage significant income from ensuring such payments whenever its representation is requested at an international event. Higher payment for longer speeches might prove to be a healthy measure for conference efficiency.
  • Auctioning naming rights: As with any scarce resource, such as broadcasting frequencies, the price of sponsorship (and naming) could be auctioned to the highest bidder, possibly after its significance had become apparent.
  • Rental of mailing lists: The UN system has a multiplicity of select mailing lists which are a highly valuable commodity that could be made available for a suitable fee. UNDP has already experimented with the sale of its contact list to multinational corporations seeking to do business in developing countries.
  • Rental of conference facilities: Many of the UN's main meeting rooms stand empty for significant periods. Such spaces could be rented (as is already done by UNESCO), notably to multinational corporations seeking to promote their adherence to the UN's "core values". They could also be rented to student bodies to demonstrate fruitful alternatives to UN conference dynamics and resolution generation.
  • Rental of office facilities: In the case of a multinational travel agency, the UN system has already demonstrated flexibility in providing office space to multinational corporations, as it has done for some NGOs (notably in the UNESCO Secretariat). There is no reason why this should not be extended more systematically to multinational corporations (as "NGOs") on an appropriate rental basis. Corporations might be persuaded to invest in prestigious office space extensions that could be shared with civil servants. If necessary this could be handled through NGO front (trade) associations -- a practice well-developed in Washington DC.
  • Sale of "access": The UN could solve its problem in relation to "NGOs" (whether non-profit or for-profit) by selling right of access to such "consultative" bodies at different rates corresponding to the degree of access -- ranging from access to briefings, through right to circulate documents or speak with a UN official, to luncheon with the UN Secretary-General (as developed by the presidents of the USA). Some heads of state have skillfully developed procedures for offering an "audience" (with photographs). This would appropriately filter demand into forms that could be handled practically. Rates could be adjusted in terms of the demand on such facilities.
  • Purchase of a place on a delegation: Various national governments have developed the practice of including "non-governmental" experts on a delegation to a major negotiating conference. The presence of CEOs on trade delegations accompanying presidential visits has become increasingly acceptable. The UN could usefully explore ways to ensure the presence of its Global Compact partners in negotiating teams -- whether its own or those of Member States. This would provide any such corporation with considerable advantages in obtaining contracts as a follow-up to disasters or regional wars.
  • Endorsements and Placement advertising: There is an extensive range of possibilities for the UN to sell its image through endorsements of products, notably those of its Global Compact partners, according to well-established practices that the UN is now espousing. The UN's activities and public information program offer numerous opportunities for placing advertising hoardings, or other public relations gimmicks (such as in the folders of conference delegates), that could be a major source of income. The UN shops and information centres could focus on products of Global Compact partners -- a UN-Levi Strauss range of jeans. UNICEF has already explored some possibilities with its greetings cards. Speakers (whether officials or delegates) could give positive exposure to the activities of sponsoring corporations in their addresses to plenary assemblies.
  • Payment for resolutions: More radical approaches to the generation of financial resources by the UN could be envisaged by following the practices of certain national parliaments in which lobbyists pay for themes to be introduced into debates (termed "cash for questions" in the UK Houses of Parliament). This could be creatively extended to ensure that resolutions are voted along the lines selected by a sponsor. Even more radical would be to allow visitors to the UN's various websites to pay online for the presentation of a "draft resolution", and more for having it "voted" - a form of international e-democracy. (Muslims have long taken the lead in this by allowing individuals to formulate fatwas on the web in support of their religious principles).
  • Sale of indulgences: To avoid condemnatory UN resolutions, it would be useful to explore the possibility of payment to exonerate corporate or other offenders (especially Global Compact partners). The Catholic Church has developed this practice over centuries. The explorations of UNCTAD on the possibilities of tradable permits for carbon emissions could be adapted to this end.
  • Record expunction: UN documentation survives accumulate records that may contain information embarrassing to corporations or other parties, even if their release is delayed by classification procedures. For a fee, such records could be removed from the system -- "bluewashing" for a fee.
  • Creative adaptation of statistics: As a major producer of statistics on which Member States have some right of "oversight" and veto, any such "adjustments" by an embarrassed party could in future be made for a fee.
  • Sale of information: As the recipient of large amounts of information of potential commercial value, there are clearly many possibilities for packaging and sale of such information to select clients. Multinational corporations, especially Global Compact partners, might be offered privileged access -- as already tentatively explored by UNDP.
  • Sale of influence: One of the principal assets of the UN is its status as an impartial mediator between governments. This could be developed into a highly saleable service to facilitate certain decisions. This practice has been widely developed, even within states that are permanent members of the Security Council. For example, it is now expected that the head of any country (including royalty) should promote the economic interests of that country when on a foreign visit. Such practices could be incorporated, for a fee, into the operations of UNDP -- as they have already endeavoured to do in response to the needs of multinational corporations. The practice could be extended down to the level of civil servants within the various UN secretariats in order to ensure secretariat support for any external proposal -- again a well-known practice significant in the treatment of the projects of developers in many UN Member States. It might be adapted to supplement the income of civil servants.
  • Secondment of personnel: In order to improve dissemination of corporate culture and values, civil servants could be seconded to multinational corporations for a fee. This would allow corporations to build up contacts within UN secretariats to cultivate sympathy for their future development projects.
  • Purchase of commissions: Even in the 19th century, it was possible for positions in the army, or other establishment institutions, to be purchased. There is anecdotal evidence that this practice still holds with respect to certain academic posts. It effectively operates with respect to the attribution of ambassadorial posts, notably in the case of the USA. A variant of this is in operation within, the UN system when a country effectively lobbies for a post, as in the case of the director-generalship of a major specialized agency. There is therefore no reason not to envisage the sale of commissions within the international civil service and notably within the UN system. Individuals, groups, corporations or countries could bid for given positions within the secretariats or other bodies. The position might then be held by the purchaser for a specified period, as with any contract, before it was once again opened to tender. Occupants would benefit from the many perks associated with employment in intergovernmental agencies, possibly extending to pension benefits. Corporations would benefit by being able to position employees for a period within a secretariat in order to be sensitized to the relevant issues and procedures before returning to their corporation to take advantage of that knowledge. This "revolving door" approach has been well-developed in the USA, between corporate and government offices. Such people have been distinguished as having "two-hatted" expertise (not to be confused with "conflict of interest").
  • Provision of legal facilities: The UN and its personnel benefit from a range of major legal advantages (under several multilateral treaties) that are unavailable to multinational corporations or their personnel. Consideration could be given to means of extending these facilities to Global Compact partners for a fee.

Corporate philanthropy:

This practice is highly developed amongst multinational corporations either in the form of direct donations or as a voluntary deduction on employee salaries (as notably developed by United Way). It might be adapted to direct support of the United Nations. The initiative of Ted Turner to donate $1 billion to the UN, as Time-Warner shares, is an indication of the possibility -- acknowledged by the UN through the creation of its United Nations Fund for International Partnerships ( to handle receipt of such funds.


  • Programmes: There is a strong case for placing many UN programmes and projects out to tender to Global Compact partners, eliminating all but a core of UN civil servants to manage the process for oversight committees and evaluators. UNESCO is already exploring the possibility of 'externalizing' its operations. The UN Office of Public Information might be outsourced to CNN - which is already running ads for individual Specialized Agencies.
  • Peacekeeping: Presumably even the peacekeeping operations could be outsourced to multinationals (see Outsourcing War by David Shearer. Foreign Policy, Fall 1998, pp. 68-81) such as Executive Services (which employs and trains military personnel in the same manner as the British Army employs Gurkhas). Calls have already been made by the UN for a new partnership with the arms industry ( The ICRC already recognizes a trend for multinational corporations to "privatize" conflicts, through use of mercenaries, and especially through the prosecution of wars by multinational corporations. Given that the UN has limited capacity to distinguish between multinational corporations and international criminal organizations, in terms of its Charter provisions, it is possible that the UN could explore ways of using other forms of "enforcement" of its resolutions. This approach has already been explored by one permanent member of the Security Council in the furtherance of its national interests.
  • Agencies: There seems to be no reason not to explore the possibility of placing management of individual Specialized Agencies (such as UNESCO), or smaller units, in the hands of corporations specializing in international office management services. Tenders could be put out on a periodic basis. A distinction would need to be made between situations where an existing secretariat is managed under such an arrangement, and where the programmes were undertaken entirely without the need for any civil servants (possibly from the offices of the corporation that made the best bid). Aspects of such agency privatization are already being explored at the national level in various countries. Periodic ministerial conferences could review the contract and choose whether to renew the tender procedure.
  • Countries: It has been frequently remarked that many multinational corporations now manage budgets far in excess of those of many countries. Where these countries are faced with economic crises, the IMF offers assistance conditional on programmes of governance that the country is not necessarily capable of maintaining. It is possible that, for a fee, the UN could assist the country to take advantage of management services that could be provided by one or more corporations. This might have the added advantage of clarifying the existing policy influence of some corporations in that country anyway. The country also might choose to be represented at international negotiations, or in UN bodies, by agents of such corporations acting on its behalf.

Theme parks:

As a longer term project to place the UN system on a sounder basis, there is a case for exploring the feasibility of integrating the thematic preoccupations of its secretariats into theme parks -- thus reframing secretariat activities as "edutainment" of public opinion. With the experience of Disney Worlds, the major media companies could certainly offer some interesting designs for public experience of the UN in operation.

Many more variants will become possible with the transition to virtual organization and programme management in an increasingly web-based society of which the UN has as yet little awareness. If the UN's view of globalization is genuinely designed to respond to the needs of the world's poor through action by multinational corporations, it would be logical (given the increasing democratic deficit) to explore the transition away from governance based on voter-democracy to governance based on shareholder-democracy. How might the UN then ensure that the poor then become shareholders in such corporations (according to the philosophy of Margaret Thatcher).

Any competent marketing agency could flesh out and extend such proposals in the light of well-developed models used by corporations in the USA. Which of these elements is incorporated into the actual strategy implemented, it will be interesting to observe. It is unfortunate that neither the UN nor the academic community has devoted resources to identifying acceptable boundaries for such initiatives under varying conditions. Cynicism aside, many of them could serve as the basis for thinking through creative possibilities for the future. However the covert nature of the current UN strategy makes any such investigation totally suspect.

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