25 June 2015

Business Must Be ‘Force for Good’, Catalyst for Responsible Sustainable Development, Secretary-General Tells Global Compact Anniversary Event

Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks to the “Global Compact+15:  Business as a Force for Good” event, in New York today:

Today, we celebrate the fifteenth anniversary of the United Nations Global Compact.  What began as a simple call to action has become a global force for good.

Many reasonable observers worried that the United Nations had bitten off more than it could chew in seeking to mobilize the international business community to embrace universal principles.  Yet, here we are.

The Global Compact has more than 8,000 business participants committed to doing business responsibly in line with universal principles encompassing human rights, labour rights, environmental protection and anti-corruption efforts.  We have thousands of dynamic partners from beyond the business community — from Government, civil society and labour.

The Global Compact reaches both the developed and developing worlds, with signatories in 170 countries and nearly 100 country networks.  Investors and educators are also actively involved.  Most importantly, the initiative is having a positive impact on key issues of concern to all humankind, from climate change to women’s empowerment, and from water to good governance.

A major global assessment, which you will hear about shortly, highlights the advance of corporate sustainability — and the role of the Global Compact in generating these gains.

Today, as we recognize this progress, let us pledge to do even more.  Our gathering today takes place in a potentially transformative year.  Member States are forging a new development agenda for the next 15 years.  We want to build on the remarkable advances that have been made under the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) — while going even further.

The centerpiece of the new framework will be the sustainable development goals, which will be adopted by world leaders at a special summit meeting at United Nations Headquarters in September.  Then, in December, Governments will meet in Paris to forge a collective way forward on climate change.

Escalating climate impacts pose risks to development and business alike.  Climate action offers tremendous opportunities for low-carbon, climate-resilient growth that can benefit the bottom line, as well as our health, security and society as a whole.

Just as the private sector made a huge difference in supporting the MDGs, so was it a key participant in last year’s Climate Summit.  And business will be indispensable in the period ahead.  The business agenda and the sustainable development agenda are converging in new and exciting ways.

Sustainable development is not charity; it is smart investment.  The Sustainable Development Goals offer an extraordinary pipeline for investment and platform in which responsible business can thrive.  As we embark on this new era, the Global Compact will continue to provide many avenues to scale up efforts and achieve greater impact.

Let us deepen what we are already doing through the Caring for Climate effort, the world’s largest business-led climate initiative, and through the CEO [Chief Executive Officer] Water Mandate, the Women’s Empowerment Principles, the Children’s Rights and Business Principles, Business for Peace and the Anti-Corruption call to action.

The Principles for Responsible Investment effort now includes nearly 1,400 institutional investors representing an astonishing $59 trillion in assets.  The Principles for Responsible Management Education involves more than 600 business schools that are embedding responsibility into curriculum for more than 2.5 million students.

Many of the business leaders in this General Assembly Hall are blazing the trail — understanding that healthy societies and healthy markets go hand in hand.  By respecting and supporting universal principles in their operations, and by pioneering new business models and forming innovative partnerships, enlightened leaders are poised to make long-lasting contributions to the cause of global sustainability.

This is a time of grave test, but also one of tremendous promise.  We can be the first generation to erase poverty from the face of the planet.  We have a golden opportunity in Paris in December to reach a meaningful agreement on climate change that can stave off planetary disaster.

At the same time, some trends are profoundly worrying.  There are more refugees, displaced persons and asylum seekers than at any time since the Second World War.  Poor governance prevails in too many countries, creating instability and depriving many millions of vulnerable people of their chances for a better life.  Violent extremism continues its appalling death march.

Our challenge is to uphold the values of the United Nations and to strengthen the foundations of multilateralism.  Distinguished business leaders, I call on you to become statesmen and stateswomen in the years and decades ahead.  Most urgently, you can move boldly on the climate agenda and join the growing chorus of companies calling for a price on carbon.

On the governance front, we need you to work with Governments and political leaders to stamp out corruption — and ensure that your own houses are in order.  This includes aligning lobbying efforts with your sustainability commitments.  You should not speak out publicly for climate action while working behind-the-scenes against sensible climate-friendly legislation.

I urge you to make sure that tax policies are consistent with fair and transparent best practice.  I encourage you to work within your trade and industry associations to spread the tenets of sustainability and the principles of the Global Compact.

And to the esteemed leading investors here today, I ask you to reward good business practices in financial markets.  We are here together in the belief that business can and must be a force for good.

The Global Compact has been instrumental, not just in reshaping global business practices, but in refreshing the United Nations — opening its doors to a business community that for too long saw little common ground or shared interest.

We are bound together in our Global Compact of shared values and principles.  Together, let us move ahead with compassion and resolve to leave no one behind and build a future of dignity for all.

For information media. Not an official record.