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UN: Swedish Businessman Loses Job

by Edith M. LedererAssociated Press
March 1st, 2002

UNITED NATIONS -- A Swedish businessman, whose multimillion-dollar pension came under fire, has lost his job as a spokesman for a U.N. program promoting ethical business practices.

The U.N. Global Compact decided not to renew the one-year appointment of Goeran Lindahl, as an unpaid special adviser, U.N. associate spokeswoman Marie Okabe said Thursday. The appointment ends on Feb. 28.

The compact was the brainchild of Secretary-General Kofi Annan who had wanted to form a partnership between U.N. agencies, corporations, labor unions and human rights organizations to promote good business practices around the world.

Two weeks ago, the Swiss-Swedish industrial group ABB asked Lindahl, the company's former chief executive, to return some of his $50 million retirement pay, which its board called excessive. ABB also asked its former chairman Percy Barnevik to pay back part of his $87 million pension package.

The size of the pensions disclosed at the same time as ABB's huge $691 million net loss for 2001 made headlines and drew sharp criticism in Switzerland and Sweden.

Annan, who won this year's Nobel Peace Prize, appointed Lindahl as a special adviser to the Global Compact in January 2001 to help achieve its goal of having 1,000 major companies join the program by 2002. Companies that join are asked to commit themselves to nine principles embodied in U.N. treaties to promote international human rights and fair labor practices and preserve the environment.

Okabe said Lindahl's contract wasn't being renewed because he will become chairman of the London-based mining giant Anglo American PLC in May "which will take up much of his time."

"We appreciate his contribution to the U.N. in the past year," she said. "The secretary-general thanks him for his service."

Assistant Secretary-General Michael Doyle, who is overseeing the Global Compact, said Lindahl was to go to business meetings and explain the program to CEOs but "he wasn't that active."

"In the end, we're not quite sure how much we needed an outside spokesman," Doyle said.

He said about 300 companies have expressed an interest in the compact and more than 100 others have expressed commitments and come to meetings around the world. "The only thing that counts for us" is that companies take concrete actions that respect human rights, labor rights and environmental principles, he said.

CorpWatch, a non-profit research and advocacy group based in San Francisco, welcomed the decision not to renew Lindahl's contract.

"Kofi Annan chose a business leader with a reputation for high ethical standards, but Mr. Lindahl turned out to have a greedy streak unbecoming to his role as a U.N. representative promoting business responsibility," said Kenny Bruno, the group's U.N. project coordinator.

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