23 June 2015

Deputy Secretary-General, at Global Compact Event, Urges Companies to Implement Responsible, Conflict-Sensitive Business Practices

Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson’s remarks to the second Business for Peace Annual Event:  Building Peace, Realizing Sustainable Development, in New York today:

It is a pleasure for me to join you for the second Business for Peace Annual Event.  This is a great Global Compact initiative, recognizing the role of partnerships also in the area of peace and security.

The world is facing multiple crises.  Threats and conflicts are plaguing many parts of the world.  Violence and hatred are destroying lives and eroding the foundations of peace and prosperity.

In September, the United Nations is to adopt a new development agenda and launch a new set of sustainable development goals.  As we end the period of the Millennium Development Goals this year, major achievements have been made.  But, much remains to be done.

Notably, the new framework includes a goal focused on peaceful and inclusive societies, with access to justice for all and effective, accountable and inclusive institutions.  These elements are critical for progress towards the world’s development objectives.

Never before has it been so urgent for business to step up efforts to support peace, not least by supporting conflict prevention and conflict resolution.  While the primary responsibility for peace lies with Governments and the United Nations Security Council, business has a critical role to play.

A company’s decisions — on investment and employment, on relations with local communities, on protection of the environment, and on inclusive recruitment and training — can help a country overcome conflict, reduce tensions and build peaceful societies.

Business cannot thrive in failing States.  At the same time, when business is stifled, societies fail to thrive.  Market disturbances, social unrest and conflict have impacts on supply chains, capital flows and productivity.  Peace and stability are critical for long-term business success.

The innovations, trade and investments which the private sector can bring can all be means to help build peace.  However, not just any type of investment will do.  Investment and business activity must be responsible — upholding the highest standards of business ethics when it comes to the environment, labour relations, human rights and anti-corruption.

For more than 15 years, the United Nations Global Compact has strengthened responsible business principles and values around the world.  Enlightened business leaders have responded to this call — understanding that such principles and business interests go hand in hand.  With more than 8,000 companies from 150 countries, the Global Compact shows the universal appeal of responsible business.

Two years ago, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched the “Business for Peace” platform.  Sources of instability vary, depending on the national and local context.  I am glad to hear that “Business for Peace” is anchored in the Global Compact’s Local Networks from all regions of the world.

With more than 140 participants from 30 countries, the initiative is making good headway.  These efforts include training programmes that increase human capital, not least for ex-combatants and youth.  They also include improvements in responsible natural resource management, as well as better management of security issues and programmes to foster inter-cultural and religious understanding.

The Global Compact is also working with business to strengthen the rule of law.  Special efforts are under way on the Call to Action on Anti-Corruption and the Global Development Agenda.  We appeal to Governments to improve transparency in public procurement and adhere to international instruments such as the United Nations Convention against Corruption.

Tomorrow, the Global Compact, the United Nations Rule of Law Unit and other partners will launch a “Business for the Rule of Law Framework”, which proposes further ways for business to act.

However, we must also acknowledge that in some cases, companies may exacerbate conflict or instability.  One common pitfall is hiring certain local groups while neglecting the rest, and by that, unintentionally benefiting one group over another.  This can foster grievances between communities.  And at times, well-intentioned social investment projects may undermine a Government’s or local community’s role in providing basic services.

Such impacts can create reputational and operational risks.  When companies take active steps to deal with such complex issues, they minimize the negative impact and enhance long-term sustainability of their business.  In this way, they can play an important role in supporting peace and development.

Governments must also do more to enable business to make contributions to development and peace.  Through legal frameworks, policies and institutions that support responsible business practices in high-risk operating environments, Governments can have an even greater positive impact on the growth of local communities and national well-being.

It is clear that the public and private sectors need to work better and more closely together.  This is the best way to build trust in the marketplace and ensure that it works and delivers for the long-term benefit of society.

In closing, I urge each of you to make the right choices, even in challenging operating environments.  I ask you to respect the rights of employees and all people who are touched by your operations.  I ask you to ensure decent workplace conditions.  I ask you to safeguard the environment and to apply the highest standards in the use of natural resources.  I ask you to practise business based on sound ethics, fair competition and good governance.  I ask you to lead by example, and ensure that your subcontractors and suppliers do the same.

In short, I appeal to you to implement responsible, conflict-sensitive business practices, aligned with the principles of the Global Compact.

Through the “Business for Peace” initiative, you are showing that you are willing to be part of the solution.  The United Nations will look to you to demonstrate that responsible business is a force for good, and when undertaken by a critical mass, can help deliver a more sustainable, peaceful and prosperous future for all.

I wish you a successful meeting and look forward to our continued partnership.

For information media. Not an official record.