Global Policy Forum

UN Documents: Corporate Influence


Corporate Influence at the United Nations: UN Documents

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, his wife, Yoo Soon-taek, and Georg Kell, Executive Director of the UN Global Compact Office, pose for a group photo with guests of the Global Compact LEAD luncheon in Davos, 2012. UN Photo: Eskinder Debebe. 

Global Compact and UN Partnerships with Business

The Role of Business and Finance in Supporting the Post-2015 Agenda

United Nations Global Compact - White Paper
July 2, 2014

"As the terms of the UN General Assembly’s Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals and of the Intergovernmental Committee of Experts on Sustainable Development Financing near their conclusions, important questions remain as to the magnitude and range of business engagement, its accountability within the Post-2015 project and how business can be a more positive force for sustainable development.

These discussions and questions occur amid a highly transitional time for the international business community. In recent years, rising numbers of for-profit organizations – from the largest global multinationals to the smallest micro enterprises – have embraced the tenets and principles of responsible business, for both commercial and ethical reasons. While it is arguably the case that the majority of business organizations are in the nascent stage of this shift, there is a compact but global and ever-expanding group of enterprises, both private and state-owned, for whom responsible business and “corporate sustainability” are strategic imperatives. The defining feature of these organizations is a growing desire to link their policies and behaviour – rooted in accountability and transparency – with broader sustainable development priorities and objectives. Fundamentally, they recognize that what is good for societies and the planet is also good for business over the long term.

This paper attempts to bring the perspective of responsible business to these issues of current discussion, which are likely to remain matters of interest and even of some dispute throughout the formulation and implementation of a new set of sustainable development goals (SDGs)."

Enhanced cooperation between the United Nations and all relevant partners, in particular the private sector

Report of the Secretary-General
August 15, 2013

The most recent report of the Secretary-General on the UN's collaboration with business, this document was issued under the General Assembly agenda item on "Towards Global Partnerships." The report emphasizes the shift of the UN towards "a more strategic approach to engaging with business partners and the design of more innovative, effective and impactful partnerships," including by "leveraging its reputation and normative strength for aligning the business community with the values of the United Nations." It also provides an update on the activities of Global Compact and on the implementation of the UN Guidelines on Business and Human Rights (see below). Finally, the report identifies challenges in the UN's engagement with business and recommends "Creating an enabling environment for more effective and efficient partnerships with the private sector," as well as improving the function of integrity standards.

United Nations Corporate Partnership: The Role and Functioning of the Global Compact

September 2010

In 2010, the UN’s Joint Inspection Unit (JIU) reviewed the Global Compact. This report highlights the absence of an acceptable regulatory and institutional framework, lack of vetting of participants, and the problematic setup of the Global Compact Office (GCO) that counters existing rules and procedures of the UN. The JIU recommends Member States involvement to provide a clear mandate for the GCO and to prevent influence from “external actors” i.e. major corporations. (Joint Inspection Unit)

September 2005

The Global Compact Office called the release of its new governance framework, "a constitutional milestone in the evolution of the Global Compact." However, like the old governance framework, the new document provides no specific means to hold members up to standards of corporate social responsibility. According to the new governance framework, "the initiative is not designed to monitor or measure participants' performance." (Global Compact Office)

Business and Human Rights (UN Human Rights Council)

Summary of discussions of the 2013 Forum on Business and Human Rights

April 15, 2014 

As a follow-up mechanism to the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (see below), UN the Human Rights Council established a Forum on Business and Human Rights "under the guidance of the Working Group." The Forum is mandated to "discuss trends and challenges in the implementation of the Guiding Principles and promote dialogue and cooperation on issues linked to business and human rights," among multiple stakeholders. The Forum has no decision-making power or political mandate to deliver recommendations to the Human Rights Council; its only formal outcome is a Chair's summary of the discussion. The 2013 session had 1,489 pre-registered participants from over 110 countries, with around 17 per cent from business enterprises and associations, law firms, business advisory services and consultancies, 36 per cent from civil society, and 14 per cent from state delegations. More than 160 representatives from transnational corporations, including around 50 from major oil, gas and mining companies (e.g. AngloGold Ashanti, BP, Chevron, Rio Tinto, Shell, Total, Vale) were registered, as well as more than 50 representatives of business and industry associations. This is the advance edited version of the summary of the 2013 Forum session, prepared by the chairperson, Makarim Wibisono. 

Report of the Working Group on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, transmitted to the 68th Session of the General Assembly

August 7, 2013

As the other follow-up to the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (see below), the UN Human Rights Council established a Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises. The group consists of five independent experts, of balanced geographical representation, with a three-year mandate that began in November 2011. The Council defined as the main objective of the Working Group "to promote the effective and comprehensive dissemination and implementation of the Guiding Principles (...)." This is their second and most recent annual report to the General Assembly. For all reports of the Working Group (to the UN Human Rights Council, General Assembly, etc) please see their website.

Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: Implementing the United Nations "Protect, Respect and Remedy" Framework

June 16, 2011

Presented by Special Represeentative for business and human rights John Ruggie, the Guiding Principles "operationalize" and promote the Protect, Respect and Remedy Framework (below). Like the Framework, the Guiding Principles exclusively focus on the duties of the State towards guaranteeing human rights, while emphasizing (voluntary) corporate responsibility standards and human rights due diligence. Many civil society groups expressed dissatisfaction with the legal weakness of the Guiding Principles, while major business associations, trasnanational corporations and international law firms (sometimes on behalf of their corporate clients) expressed strong support for the Special Representative and the results of his work. The Guiding Principles were unanimously endorsed by the governments of the UN Human Rights Council on June 16, 2011.  (UN Human Rights Council)

For analysis on the role of transnational corporations in the formation and follow-up of the Guiding Principles, see GPF's new report Corporate Influence on the Business and Human Rights Agenda.

Treaty Road Not Travelled

May 6, 2008

John Ruggie, UN special representative for business and human rights, argues against legally binding rules for transnational corporations under international law - a policy that GPF has long advocated. Defending his position, Ruggie argues that it takes a long time to negotiate a treaty and governments may evoke the negotiations as a pretext to not take any action on a national level. Ruggie further argues that enforcing a treaty would be difficult, rejecting the idea of an international court for companies. (Business and Human Rights)

Protect, Respect, and Remedy: A Framework for Business and Human Rights

Report of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, John Ruggie
April 7, 2008

Report by John Ruggie, presenting a conceptual framework comprising three core principles: the State duty to protect against human rights abuses by third parties, including business; the corporate responsibility to respect human rights; and the need for more effective access to remedies. (UN Human Rights Council)

Report on the Responsibilities of Transnational Corporations and Related Business Enterprises with Regard to Human Rights

February 15, 2005

This United Nations report provides an overview of the existing corporate social responsibility initiatives and standards. It also discusses the UN Norms on the Responsibilities of Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises with regard to Human Rights, and makes recommendations on how to advance the dialogue between states, transnational corporations and other stakeholders. (UN Commission on Human Rights)

UN Norms on Transnational Corporations and Human Rights

August 2003

The UN Sub-commission on the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights adopted norms stating that "transnational corporations ..., as organs of society, are also responsible for promoting and securing ... human rights," including the right to development. While those norms signify an important step towards codification of corporate accountability, they do not include binding monitoring mechanisms.

Other UN Analysis 

Argentina's 'vulture fund' crisis threatens profound consequences for international financial system

June 2014

This online essay by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) examines global and systemic implications of the United States Supreme Court rulings in favour of hedge funds over Argentina on 2001 defaulted bonds, and reiterates its long-standing call for the creation of a sovereign debt workout mechanism. 

Links and Resources

UN Global Compact Site

A UN web site maintained by the United Nations Global Compact Network. Includes press briefings, the ten principles of the Global Compact, and the partners of the initiative. Also see some statements on the Global Compact by UN officials and NGOs.

The United Nations and Business

The UN's web site on initiatives with business includes statements, press releases, case studies and further information and developments. The Un has also compiled some Fact sheets on some of the projects in the UN & Business partnership.

Business and Government Alliances on Trade and Finance

Many organizations assist transnational corporations in their efforts to lobby both international and domestic policy makers for business-friendly policies. In addition, rich governments fund ministerial forums, think tanks, and lending institutions that support market liberalizing initiatives. Yet, should major corporations have special privileges to "develop" poor communities for corporate profits? Here is a list of links to the websites of business and government alliances.

The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre

As a partner of Amnesty International and academic institutions, this non-profit organization provides an online library composed of links to a wide range of materials published by companies, NGOs, governments, intergovernmental organizations, journalists, and academics on corporate misconduct, as well as "best practices" by companies.

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