World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance

Department of Public Information - News and Media Services Division - New York
Durban, South Africa
31 August 7 September 2001
31 August 2001


It is vital that company heads send a consistent message that they will not tolerate discrimination in hiring or promotion practices and make clear that their companies will uphold human rights in their operations, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said this afternoon.

Equally important was what happened from the bottom up -- in day-to-day relations between supervisor and employee, between customers and suppliers and among colleagues -- Mr. Annan told participants in a Global Compact panel event with the theme "Discrimination is Everybody's Business"

Joining a panel discussion held during the World Conference against Racism in Durban, South Africa, he said that a company with a reputation as an enlightened equal opportunity employer would find it easier to attract high-quality employees. It would also reap dividends in the eyes of increasingly rights-conscious consumers. Such companies would also be more open to innovation and new ideas, and be seen as responsible members of the community in which they did business

Describing the workplace as one of the front lines, the Secretary-General said discrimination on the basis of gender, race, age, disability, sexual orientation, background and other qualities were all too common. Statistics had amply documented phenomena such as unequal pay for equal work, the "glass ceiling" barring women from executive power and the lack of access to opportunities and services experienced by some groups, but not others.

The Secretary-General launched the Global Compact more than two years ago with the aim of improving the corporate citizenship in the areas of human rights, labour and environment. A voluntary initiative, it was also a learning forum, he said, so that participating companies could show the way for others through enlightened leadership and creative partnerships.

Today's high-level dialogue was the first of three events planned during the World Conference to address the role of the private sector in combating discrimination and fostering diversity.

Earlier, Klaus Topfer, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), cited examples of the links between environment and discrimination. The developed nations often exported to developing countries hazardous waste, the disposal of which would not be permitted on their own lands.

Mr. Topfer added that the world was regularizing the advantages of technical progress while globalizing the disadvantages.

The other panellists were: Alain Ludovic, Burkina Faso's Minister of Employment, Labour and Social Security; Sven Eckerstein, Deputy CEO of Volvo Car Corporation (Sweden); Bill Jordan, General Secretary, International Confederation of Free Trade Unions; Mpho Letlape, Executive Director, Human Resources of Eksom (South Africa); Ramalinga Raju, Chairman, Satyam Computer Services (India); Ashraf Tabani, immediate past President, International Organisation of Employers; and Vic Van Vuuren, Chief Executive, The Sanlam Group (South Africa). Bertrand Ramcharan, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, moderated the panel.


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