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CorpWatch Disputes UN Official's February 14 Letter

CorpWatch
March 7th, 2002

In a January 29, 2002 letter the Alliance for a Corporate-Free UN documented several human rights violations and environmental abuses by companies signed on to the UN's Global Compact. Corporations that join the compact are supposed to voluntarily adhere to a series of human rights and environmental principles. Instead of addressing the charges of rights violations, UN officials accused CorpWatch and the Alliance of being "misinformed." In the correspondence below CorpWatch disputes the Global Compact Office's assertions point by point.

Michael Doyle, Assistant Secretary-General
Georg Kell, Executive Head of Global Compact
UN Global Compact Office
United Nations
New York, NY 10017
Via fax (212) 963-2155

March 7th, 2002

Dear Mr. Doyle and Mr. Kell,

Thank you for your letter of February 14, 2002, which replies to the Alliance for a Corporate-Free UN correspondence of January 29, 2002. We note that your letter does not respond substantively to the January 29 letter, but rather seems to be addressed mainly to us at CorpWatch and to our recent publication Greenwash + 10. Representing only CorpWatch, we will respond in this letter to your unfounded suggestion that our analysis is based on "certain fundamental misunderstandings and inaccuracies." The Alliance signatories still await a substantive response to the suggestions for strengthening the Global Compact contained in the January 29 letter.

Before going through the details of your letter, we wish to point out that despite your accusations, you have not quoted or referenced any inaccuracy in our materials. Claiming inaccuracies on our part and publicly impugning our integrity, without identifying the supposed inaccuracies, has been a pattern with your Office. We have called your attention to this pattern repeatedly, by email and in person.

We agree with your statement that "the credibility of any organization depends on its integrity and truthfulness" and we believe that your behavior in this matter is damaging to your Office's credibility. Your letter does not identify any specific passages or statements in our materials that are incorrect. But since you indicate that Greenwash + 10 is the basis for your comments, we will based our reply on that text.

You state that our "analysis is based on the assumption that the Compact assesses performances of companies in the social and environmental fields." At the top of page 4 of the report, we quote the Secretary General's report: "the Global Compact is not intended as, and does not have the capacity to be a corporate codes of conduct or global standard." Two paragraphs later, we write that the UN says "it does not have the resources of mandate to do monitoring or enforcement of the Global Compact" Clearly, there is no misunderstanding on our part, as we state the same thing in our report that you state in your letter. We continue to believe, along with many other NGOs, including some on the Global Compact Advisory Board, that this is a fundamental weakness of the initiative, and we make this opinion clear in the Recommendations section on page 2 of the report.

Your second point relates to your decision to claim hundreds of corporate supporters while identifying only a fraction of them. Your letter explains that "a declaration in support of the principles is not sufficient" to be named publicly as a Global Compact company. On page 5, paragraph 3, we write that your Office has refused to name the companies that have signed up, "saying it wished to avoid giving those companies a free ride." Again, we are re-stating your own position. If there is any confusion on this point, it arises from your Office's policy. If you believe that the letter of intent is "not sufficient," then it is misleading to claim that the hundreds of companies that have sent such letters are supporters.

It would be more straightforward if your Office would simply say there are now 44 (or whatever number) corporate participants in the Global Compact, and several hundred that aspire to be participants. Incidentally, January 7, the day you posted new information on the website, was not "well before" publication of our report as you claim; it was after it had gone to the design stage. Nevertheless, seeing the new postings I adjusted some of the material on pages 5 and 6 of Greenwash + 10. Despite your condescending suggestion that we "check our facts more diligently in the future," you have not identified any factual error in the report.

The third issue you raise is that of the Global Compact logo. You say "we have strict guidelines on [the UN logo's] use." The "No Logo?" section of our report (page 4) does not contradict this, but elaborates that some UN logo use is permissible under the Secretary General's Guidelines of July 17, 2000, which state: "In principle, and subject to the appropriate terms and conditions, a business entity may be authorized to use the name and emblem [of the UN] on a non-exclusive basis." You acknowledge that you "have no control over an image of a decomposed globe, which is not copyright protected."

We did not state otherwise. As we describe on page 4 and 5, we believe this lack of control is symbolic of a problem with the Secretary General's approach to corporate partnerships. The side by side reproductions (page 16) of the Global Compact logo and the image used by DaimlerChrysler make it clear that the company's GC image and the UN's are very similar, and are not merely two unrelated "decomposed globes." We believe it is a mistake for the UN to allow an "image transfer" with global corporations that have unsustainable practices and have questionable motives for using UN images in their own publications. Your admission that you have "no control" over the use of the Global Compact image is not reassuring.

Your fourth point brings up differences of opinion between yourselves and us, but, again, does not identify any misunderstanding or inaccuracy. Our material on page 6 acknowledges that case studies evaluated by the UN have advantages over those prepared exclusively by business. However, we do not share your hopefulness that case studies will "bring about significant changes." Case studies are a piecemeal, anecdotal, and extremely limited approach to change. Moreover, when used by corporate lobby groups, they are designed to support a public message that everything is fine, and no new regulations are necessary.

Our suggestions for improving the Learning Forum are to open it to public commentary, and to require companies submitting "best practices" to also provide a plan for implementing those practices at all levels of corporate operations. Our view is based on our experience with over a decade of reading corporate "best practices" case studies that have not gotten us very far toward sustainability.

As we state in the third paragraph of the Executive Summary (page 2) of our report, we know that the Secretary General's motivation with the Global Compact is to bring corporate behavior in line with universal values. But we believe that business influence on the Global Compact has led to substantial weaknesses and contradictions. These include the lack of monitoring, the lack of substantive commitments by participating companies, the possibility of bluewash abuses by companies anxious to associate with the UN's positive image, the implication that "partnership" is the "correct" relationship between the UN and business, and the inclusion of companies that have negative environmental and human rights records.

Since you have posted the unfounded accusations in your letter on your website, we trust you will likewise post this reply. If you would prefer to take down the correspondence between yourselves and CorpWatch and continue this exchange face to face, we are happy to do so.

Sincerely,

Joshua Karliner
Executive Director

Kenny Bruno
UN Project Coordinator