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SWITZERLAND: UN Chief Warns Business

Globalization has its hard core opponents

by Orla RyanBBC News Online
January 28th, 2001

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan has called on business to work harder on environmental and social issues.

He warned delegates at the World Economic Forum in the Swiss resort of Davos that unless business did so, the backlash against globalisation could gain momentum.

His call followed Saturday's anti-globalisation protests in Davos, which were quashed by riot police.

The move is an extension of his call for companies to be involved in a Global Compact, under which they acknowledge their responsibilities to interests other than their shareholders.

Mr Annan said: "The simple fact of the matter is this: if we cannot make globalisation work for all, it will work for none.

"Companies are learning that as markets have gone global, so too must the concept and practice of corporate social responsibility."

Recruitment drive

The former head of Swedish multinational ABB, Goran Lindahl, is to lead a recruitment drive to get 1,000 companies to sign up to the compact by the end of the year.

What Mr Annan is hoping is that businesses will discover "that doing the right thing, at the end of the day, is actually good for business".

Mr Annan may win business over, but it seems doubtful that his initiative will win over the protesters who take to the streets at international summits such as Davos.

The demonstrators say the international political and business leaders attending the meeting are simply furthering the interests of multi-national companies at the expense of poor countries.

Scepticism

One group criticising the Global Compact has been Friends of the Earth, which claims that "participating companies have breached the compact's principles with impunity".

Other human rights and environmental groups have criticised the initiative.

Many have banded together into a group known as the Alliance for a corporate-free UN.

This alliance claims that the Global Compact "threatens the mission and integrity of the United Nations".

'Digital divide'

In anticipation of these critics, Mr Annan said in his speech that working with business was not an option, but an "imperative".

In his speech Mr Annan tapped into one of the key themes of the Davos conference - the digital divide.

He called for companies to invest in the developing world, boosting access to the internet.

"Try to imagine what globalisation can possibly mean to the half of humanity that has never made or received a phone call," he said.





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