Secretary-General, Opening Global Compact Summit, Calls on Business, Civil Society, Government Leaders to Be Architects of Sustainable Future

20 September 2013

Secretary-General, Opening Global Compact Summit, Calls on Business, Civil Society, Government Leaders to Be Architects of Sustainable Future

20 September 2013
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Secretary-General, Opening Global Compact Summit, Calls on Business, Civil

Society, Government Leaders to Be Architects of Sustainable Future

Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s opening remarks, as prepared for delivery, at the Global Compact Leaders Summit, entitled “Architects of a Better World”, in New York on 20 September:

I am delighted to open the fourth UN Global Compact Leaders Summit.

I am inspired to see such a diverse group of leaders from business, civil society and Government.  You are here because you understand that change and progress are possible with vision and ambition.

The message of the introductory video, and our guest speaker, Dr. Trent, is that individual actions count.  Your actions count.  We need you to be architects of a sustainable future.

I am particularly happy to see a large representation of women today.  Women’s empowerment is central to sustainable development and stable, progressive societies.  We must commit to breaking the glass ceiling — from the classroom to the boardroom.

We need all actors — working together — to pursue a sustainable path that links economic growth, social justice and environmental stewardship.

We live in volatile times.  Great advances towards eradicating poverty and disease point to what can be achieved when we work together.  But, inequality persists, and in many cases, is growing.

Climate change threatens and the environmental base for future progress is becoming ever more fragile.  Sustainable development presents many challenges.  But, I am confident we can meet them.

In my lifetime, I have seen change and progress.  I grew up in a country devastated by war.  I knew hunger.  My school was bare earth under a tree.  My homework was lit by candlelight.  Now, when I visit developing nations and meet schoolchildren and heads of Government, I can tell them first hand that better things can lie ahead.

But, such change does not happen by itself.  It must be pursued with vigour — and by all of society.  We cannot accept a rising tide that floats only some boats and leaves many to drown.  That is where you come in.  My appeal to you is to act for the common good — and to get others to join you.  This is the morally correct thing to do.  And it is the smart choice, too.

The sustainable journey that we all need to take is in everybody’s best interest — even if it may sometimes demand short-term sacrifice.  Nobody can benefit from catastrophic climate change or rampant unemployment and the social unrest that comes with it.  Prosperous, stable societies and a healthy planet are the bedrock of political stability, economic growth and flourishing new markets.

Everyone has a role to play.  Our Global Compact is working to bring business to the table as a key partner.  It embodies the spirit of shared responsibility that is essential for achieving a better world.

At the Compact’s launch in 2000, few companies considered their impact on the environment and on society.  Now we have 8,000 participating companies and 4,000 civil society signatories in 145 countries.  We have 101 country networks supporting a growing global corporate sustainability movement.  CEOs increasingly see a direct link between corporate sustainability and the bottom line.

Human rights abuses, poor working conditions, discrimination, environmental degradation and corruption — whether in direct operations or the supply chain — are a threat to morale, reputation, long-term investments and growth prospects.

Modern communications technology, combined with growing demands for transparency, make it harder for companies to flout laws or ignore public opinion.

Companies that take their responsibilities to people and the planet seriously will increasingly be in the vanguard.  That is why the investment community is looking closely at sustainability and factors like environmental stewardship, labour standards, social responsibility and good governance.

In short, business can no longer ignore its social and environmental responsibilities.  We need it to help build sustainability through the marketplace.  Your companies have already committed to these principles.  Most of you are reporting on your progress.  But, I want you to go further.

First, I want you to see what more you can or should be doing in your own operations and in your relationships with trading partners.  Second, I want you to act on your commitment by helping to swell the ranks of the Global Compact so we reach a critical mass.  Third, I want you to consider how to use your expertise and resources to help to promote the changes we need for a truly sustainable future.

We need you to advance innovations and forge collaborations that can have transformative impacts on some of the toughest issues we face.  I am firmly committed to the power of partnerships, working with business and all key stakeholders to make progress on UN objectives.  The immediate challenge is achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Much has changed since the Millennium Declaration in 2000.  Even though the private sector was identified for the first time as a strategic player in reaching UN goals, there was no clear role for business in the agenda.  Yet, business has had a major hand in reducing extreme poverty … combating diseases like HIV/AIDS and malaria … and in advancing solar, wind and other modern energy sources.

Now, the 2015 deadline for the Millennium Development Goals is fast approaching.  Governments, the UN and stakeholders are working hard to accelerate action to meet the existing commitments.  Your support is essential.

Member States are also working to define the twin pillars of a more sustainable world:  a new, universal legal climate agreement and a post-2015 sustainable development agenda.  The private sector will be integral.

The post-2015 period presents a historic opportunity.  Perhaps, for the first time in human history, we have the tools to eradicate extreme poverty.

In my report “A Life of Dignity for All”, which I submitted to the General Assembly ahead of next week’s Special Event on the MDGs, I call for a single, coherent and ambitious post-2015 agenda articulated by one concise set of inspirational goals.  This is a universal agenda.

Poverty eradication must be the highest priority, with sustainable development at the core.  We must also address the challenges of climate change.  This will require urgent actions towards a new dynamic of sustainable energy and job-rich, low-carbon growth.  We will need business to play a leading role.  Companies can move from bystanders to builders.

Today, I am pleased to table an important report from the Global Compact on Building a Business Engagement Architecture for the Post-2015 Agenda.  While this architecture will need to grow and evolve as Governments set their directions on climate and a post-2015 development framework, this is a very important starting point.

This architecture is designed to drive and scale up corporate actions to directly advance United Nations goals.  It connects the dots in the ever-growing field of responsible business initiatives, standards and certifications.  And it calls on corporate leaders to work together on an entirely new scale — collaborating and co-investing to share risks and realize opportunities.  The Architecture report is also an open call to organizations, initiatives and networks working globally to engage business.  I am pleased that the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and the Global Reporting Initiative have joined us.

Today, as part of this effort, we will launch three new issue platforms on Education, Business for Peace and Sustainable Agriculture.  We have seen how powerful such collaborative efforts can be.  Our Caring for Climate and Women’s Empowerment Principles are the world’s largest business action platforms in their fields.  These platforms, and the entire direction suggested in the report, can make a significant contribution to my priority objective to bolster the ability of the United Nations to advance our goals and mandates through a comprehensive multi-stakeholder partnership architecture.

The Global Compact has helped generate a major shift in corporate mindset in just one decade.  Enlightened leaders are making sustainability a core part of business strategy.

Today, I ask you to be architects of a better world.  What was once a call to the founding members of the United Nations is now a rallying cry to business and civil society leaders everywhere.  Help us to respond to the urgency of our global challenges and build a better tomorrow.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.