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UN: Annan Says Only Open Markets Can Ease World Poverty

Reuters
July 26th, 2000

UNITED NATIONS -- Open markets offer the only realistic hope for lifting billions of people in developing countries out of poverty while maintaining prosperity in the industrial world, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Wednesday.

But the global market must be embedded in broadly shared values and practices reflecting global social needs, and all people should share the benefits of globalization, he added.

Annan was addressing a gathering of high-level representatives of business corporations and labor, human rights and conservation groups taking part in a ''Global Compact'' aimed at ensuring that global corporations comply with international standards of human rights, labor rights and the environment.

Annan first proposed the ''Global Compact'' in a January 1999 speech to the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland.

''Never before have so many global leaders from the worlds of business, labor and civil society come together at the United Nations to forge a new coalition in support of universal values,'' Annan said, opening Wednesday's meeting.

It would be tragic if local or national communities reacted to the challenges and shortcomings of globalization by repeating the mistakes of history and turning in on themselves, he said.

''Why? Because open markets offer the only realistic hope of pulling billions of people in developing countries out of abject poverty, while sustaining prosperity in the industrialized world,'' he said.

''What we must do instead is to ensure that the global market is embedded in broadly shared values and practices that reflect global social needs, and that all the world's people share the benefits of globalization,'' he declared.

He said the ''Global Compact'' was based on key principles drawn from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Labor Organization's fundamental principles on rights at work, and a declaration drawn up at the 1992 U.N. Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro on environment and development.

Annan said that while governments, after lengthy and difficult negotiations, had drawn up the principles that the Global Compact was trying to put into practice, ''we cannot wait for governments to do it all.''

''Globalization operates on Internet time. And you in business, labor and civil society organizations, have the skills and resources that are vital in helping build a more robust global community,'' he said.

But the meeting was not without its critics, with a coalition of activist organizations telling Annan that ''some of the companies in the partnership are simply inappropriate for partnership with the United Nations.''

In a letter to the U.N. chief they strongly criticized the actions and practices of a number of those companies -- including Nike, Royal Dutch/Shell, and Rio Tinto PLC, the mining company, and others -- and charged that the Globa Compact allowed ''business entities with poor records to 'bluewash' their image by wrapping themselves in the flag of the United Nations.''

The coalition, which includes the environmental group Greenpeace International, urged Annan to ''reassess your overall approach to U.N.-corporate partnerships. The mission and integrity of the United Nations are at stake,'' they said.





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