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UN's Global Compact Accepts Nearly All Sinners, Struggles to See UN Comply with Principles

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN

UNITED NATIONS, June 18 -- "To save succeeding generations from the scourge of war" -- that is the first phrase in the UN's Charter. But sixty-two years later, can corporations engaged in the production of armaments and weapons join the UN's Global Compact? The answer candidly given on Monday by the Global Compact staff was, "Yes... we accept sinners."

            The one exception stated was companies producing landmines. Tobacco companies are "actively discouraged" but not prohibited from joining the Global Compact. Inner City Press asked if, for example, Radio Television Milles Collines, the company in Rwanda involved in inciting and promoting genocide, could join. Apparently yes. Although later it is possible that "local network focal points" might comment against such a company's continued membership.

    "We don't like to say that there is a public vetting, because there really isn't," a Compact staffer said. On the other hand, she acknowledged, a failure to expel outlier companies "devalues the brand of the Global Compact."

Mr. Ban and DSG Migiro meet with Global Compact board, April 4, 2007

            In sixteen days, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will preside over a two day Global Compact Leadership Summit in Geneva. Monday at UN headquarters, Global Compact staff briefed the media about attendees and Compact members from three countries: India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. (Inner City Press three months ago reported on a Sri Lanka initiative praised then and Monday by the Global Compact, click here for that story.)

      One reporter Monday questioned the involvement of Nestle's Indian subsidiary; another asked how the Compact addresses multinationals which are destroying the environment in the developing world. Interim answers were proffered and dialogue was had. Whether other stories will be written remains to be seen. For information on the Summit, click here

    Monday it was said that Brazilian president Lula has still not confirmed his attendance, and ex-UN figure Shashi Tharoor was apparently not asked to participate, despite his statement that his new employment with a Dubai-based investor in India is related to the Global Compact's principles.

   Compact staff has complained to Inner City Press about previous reporting that such "regional briefings" were by-invitation-only, or only for Global Compact supporters. While the first may still be said to be true until the Compact more widely e-mails out notices of its briefings, we stand corrected on the latter, if Monday was any measure. Of the four reporters present, at least three asked critical questions, and Compact staff to their credit responded with seeming candor, including acknowledging some in the UN system's failure to live up to the principles of the Compact, if not to say of the UN Charter.

            The UN's Office of Human Resources Management, for example, was said to not have engaged with the Global Compact. This may be explained by the UN's proud assertion that it is immune for employees' claims in any national court, and its internal justice system is widely admitted to be broken (but not yet fixed).

            Inner City Press asked how it is consistent with the Compact's principles that the UN still has no freedom of information procedure, and does not allow any recording of its procurement department's bid openings. The response on the latter was that turn-over in procurement put an end to progress that was being made there, "before Oil for Food hit." Reference was made to a General Assembly resolution which allows the UN to consider social issues beyond price in choosing the UN's contractors. Just as Wal-Mart has critics of its chain of suppliers, this Compact staffer said, the UN too can have issues. We will continue reporting on this.

Footnote: One media-specific request that has been made to the UN Global Compact, but not yet complied with, is to allow an opportunity for some questions-and-answer with the corporate chieftains who come to UN Headquarters in connection with the Compact, for photo-ops with the Secretary-General and otherwise. If diplomats can do it -- and they do -- the same should be expected of of the corporate CEOs whom the Compact is now calling "leaders." We'll see.

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UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540