I thank the United States Council for international Business for inviting me to join you this evening.
I also warmly congratulate tonight’s awardee, the CEO of FedEx Fredrick Smith.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We often need to re-discover the past to successfully navigate the future.
Few people today are aware of the strong support of business, especially U.S. business, for the United Nations at its founding. A spirit of hopeful pragmatism prevailed in 1945, with the end of the Second World War. Business understood peace and prosperity as two sides of the same coin. International cooperation based on fairness and non-discrimination was seen as essential for societies to flourish and businesses to grow.
The International Chamber of Commerce and its affiliate in the United States were firmly in this camp.
Phillip A. Reed, chairman of the United States Associates International Chamber of Commerce, attended the historic founding conference in San Francisco in 1945. He wired his organization’s “earnest and enthusiastic support of the UN Charter” to the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, urging unanimous Senate ratification.
The private sector’s alignment with the United Nations foundered later on the rocks of Cold War hostilities and ideological rivalry. But with the end of the Cold War, and the re-emergence of global consensus on the important role of accessible markets, interaction between the business world and the world Organization resumed.
Today, business is more global than ever. It is time to fulfil the potential of 1945, and re-discover our sense of shared purpose. It is time for business and the United Nations to reconnect in building a world where international peace and prosperity reinforce each other.
You in the business community are very much aware that, wherever in the world you are operating, strong markets and strong societies go hand in hand. Not only war has a negative impact on economic growth and opportunities. The same goes for disease, degraded environments, social strife and poor access to food, water and energy.
There is more than just an overlap between United Nations development goals and private sector interests. We share common ground. Think of strengthening the rule of law or respect for human rights. Think of nurturing peace in fragile social environments and making jobs available to youth. Think of ensuring that basic services like piped-in water and sanitation are available everywhere. Let me assure you that we at the United Nations very well understand that successful development depends heavily on sufficient private investment to create broad-based economic growth.
This is the heart of the case for cooperation between business and the United Nations.
Already, many of you and your companies have signed on to UN principles, as advocated by the UN Global Compact. You have realized that this type of engagement and cooperation gives us the platform and the leverage by which, working together, we can change the world for the better.
The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) has for decades well represented the world business community at the United Nations. ICC helps to provide business leaders with something they very much want and need: a seat at the table where decisions of worldwide importance are taken.
Following last year’s UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, UN Member States are deeply engaged in a quest to extend and expand the successes of the Millennium Development Goals, the most successful anti-poverty push in history. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has just issued a report, “A Life of Dignity for All”, which sets out his thoughts on how to accelerate the Millennium Development Goals action as the 2015 deadline approaches, and on the possible elements of a post-2015 development agenda.
Business leaders, through both the ICC and the Global Compact, have provided invaluable contributions to this process. I encourage the business world to stay engaged as this effort intensifies. The United Nations wants to hear your voices. We will respond; to borrow one of your own formulas: we are open for business.
At the same time, I would like to make a few appeals to you.
First, I ask you to take action to support and advance UN goals and values.
Action now on MDG targets such as water and sanitation access, food security, women’s empowerment, education, health and protection of the environment will give us the strongest possible start for the post-2015 era. To speak up for the rule of law and human rights is another contribution.
Second, I encourage you to join the Global Compact initiative or step up your involvement in it if you have already joined.
A good number of you will be taking part in tomorrow’s Global Compact Leaders Summit. That meeting of CEOs, business leaders, Heads of State and other government officials is being held under the theme of “Architects of a Better World” – the phrase used by President Truman at the San Francisco conference.
The Secretary-General will unveil a global architecture for business engagement with the post-2015 agenda.
Also at the Leaders Summit, the ICC will be a core partner in a new instrument of action called Business for Peace. This initiative will build on the efforts that have been made by businesses in various trouble-spots to bridge divisions between religious or ethnic groups through the unifying presence of work and market places.
We have high hopes for these efforts.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Whether you are attending tomorrow’s event or not, I hope you will look closely at the many opportunities for working with the United Nations that are opening up where public and private interests align.
This is a critical moment, on the eve of a very important General Assembly session. The United Nations is wrestling with immediate crises such as the conflict in Syria. But we are also aiming to build the longer-term foundations of peace and stability.
We count on partnerships to help us achieve the progress we seek.
And I am counting on all of you to join us and to be architects or builders for a better world. This is a daunting yet noble and inspiring mission for us all.
Thank you for your support.