|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference by Global Compact Office on Millennium Development Goals
At a Headquarters press conference today convened by the Global Compact Office, a panel representing Governments, the United Nations system and the private sector discussed the role of Governments and business in catalysing actions in support of the Millennium Development Goals.
Global Compact Office Deputy Director Gavin Power introduced the panel participants, which included German Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development Dirk Niebel; World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director Josette Sheeran; Grupo de Energía de Bogotá President Monica de Greiff; and Mo Ibrahim, Founder and Chair of the United Kingdom-based Mo Ibrahim Foundation. The Global Compact, now considered the world’s largest corporate citizenship initiative, is celebrating the tenth anniversary of its launch this year as the United Nations key strategic programme to encourage businesses to adopt policies reflecting agreed principles in the areas of human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption.
Mr. Niebel said that emphasis should be placed on mobilizing private money for development cooperation to achieve sustainable development in developing countries. In order for the poorest countries to achieve sustainable economic development, it was necessary for people to be able to make their own money, and for States to collect revenue from taxation. In that regard, private investments and responsible cooperation were key to dynamic growth and better living conditions. In order to more actively include the private sector, international frameworks must be put in place to promote better investment climates.
Continuing, he said that Germany, for its part, was promoting small and medium sized companies, since stable financial systems were crucial. The 2006 Nobel Peace Prize had been rightly awarded to the pioneering inventor of microcredit, and such systems should be made accessible to those at the bottom of the pyramid. Innovative models such as that should be scaled up, in order to fully tap into the potential of the private sector for development.
Continuing the discussion, Ms. Sheeran said she could tell from her work on the front lines of poverty and hunger with the World Food Programme that there was no way to reach the Millennium Development Goals without connecting the “bottom billion” to the resources of the private sector. Today, as the Global Compact brought together 300 Chief Executive Officers from across all industries, focus should be placed on making every dollar count in the battle against hunger and poverty. (See also Press Release DEV/2826)
She went on to say that innovations such as cell phones and highly nutritious food products were examples of ways in which private sector cooperation could help those most in need. Private industry was a critical engine in helping United Nations agencies develop, refine and deploy leading-edge strategies, such as the high-nutrient bars and instant foods currently being distributed in Pakistan. When done responsibly and sustainably, she stressed that partnerships with the private sector could save lives and build livelihoods.
Ms. de Greiff said that in Colombia, where inequality was very high, many wanted to help with the Millennium Goals but did not know how. Her organization was providing such a platform through programmes to inform enterprises on steps they could take to help achieve agreed targets on sustainable development. It was also working to give certification to smaller companies, in order to diversify purchasing away from large and often sole providers of certain goods or services. Once receiving the certification, more money could be sent to smaller enterprises, thus creating jobs and strengthening the economy. The group was willing to share the programme details with anyone who was interested in employing the strategy in different parts of the world.
Mr. Ibrahim said that, as an African businessman, his primary focus was on creating and promoting good governance by refusing to take part in corrupt systems based on bribery. It was not the job of Governments, but rather that of the private sector to create employment and prosperity. At a recent meeting of private sector enterprise, he had urged participating companies to “put the World Bank and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) out of business”, because it was private industry that should be delivering the Millennium Development Goals.
With regards to battling corruption, he said that such systems had two partners. While officials might be attacked for their actions, the international community should also look to the role of the private sector in perpetuating such activities. “Officials don’t corrupt themselves,” he said, adding that efforts should also be made to recover stolen assets, amounting to trillions of dollars taken from the world’s poorest people due to bad governance.
When asked about doing business in Sudan and other African countries, Mr. Ibrahim said that everyone had told him he couldn’t do business in Africa without bribes. However, he had resolved to not pay a single dollar in bribe money, and had stood behind that conviction backed by a strong board of directors and evenly distributed spending power. He said that European countries should do more to hold companies accountable. The United States had passed a law requiring all energy companies to declare their secret contacts. “No one knew what Chevron paid to a county, and what went into the pocket of the President,” he said. The United States stood up and said “stop this”, and Europe should have the moral backbone to do the same.
When asked about the role of the Global Compact in holding companies accountable for their actions, Mr. Power noted that while all companies were invited to participate, thousands had been de-listed for failing to supply compliant progress reports.
Responding to a question about corruption and the global financial crisis, Ms. Sheeran stressed that partnering to give the “bottom billion” access to technologies could help avoid corruption. Examples included using cell phones to deliver food vouchers directly to individuals, and harnessing private capital and technologies to increase the efficiency of locally produced food.
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