Global Policy Forum

Articles on UN and Business


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Tangled Up in Blue (September 2000)

This report by the Transnational Action and Resource Center (TRAC) identifies certain weaknesses of the UN's Global Compact and advocates a 'Corporate-Free United Nations'.

Calling Corporations To Account (June, 2000)

United Nations Research Institute for Social Development commissioned over 50 researchers from 35 countries to look into the social effects of institutional and policy reforms of the 1990s. Chapter 5 of "Visible Hands," the resulting report, deals with multinational corporations. (UNRISD)

Activists Help End Flawed UN/Corporate Partnership (June 14, 2000)

After a year-long campaign by TRAC, UNDP finally abandoned its perilous partnership through the Global Sustainable Development Facility with a group of TNCs. After claims that the tarnished human rights and environmental records of TNCs threatened to rub off on the world body, the GSDF was finally collapsed. (TRAC Press Release/Corporate Watch)

Special Report: NGOs Wary Of UN Corporate Links (May 26, 2000)

Non-governmental organizations are pressuring the UN to strengthen its regulatory roles on transnational corporations. When domestic regulations are weakened under "free trade" and international regulations are unable to keep up the pace, it will be even harder to control private business behaviors. (UN Wire)


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Should the Development Community Beware Corporates Bearing Gifts? (Aug 7, 2011)

UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon has appointed Unilever’s CEO Paul Polman to a UN panel on the post-2015 development agenda. As more businesses realize they can benefit from “development,” the UN has been reaching out to the private sector’s resource and technical capacity. However, “just because there’s a business case for development doesn’t necessarily mean there is a development case for business”— development by consumer-driven capitalism is not sustainable, does not reach the poorest of the poor, and could be tokenism for profit-driven businesses. (Guardian)


In a Globalised World We Need Globalised Regulation (July 13, 2011)

In today’s interconnected world, the financial sector needs a global level regulation of our financial system. Persuading businesses to act ethically and sustainably is insufficient by itself, and national level laws have proven to be inadequate. There should be incentives for acting ethically and sustainably, and the costs of acting irresponsibly must be raised. The UN Global Compact, and other similar measures, are too weak because they rely on voluntary measures by companies. International financial law must be strengthened so that acting ethically is thought to be integral to a good corporate business strategy. (Guardian)

NGOs Complain of Corporate Role in UN Water Policy (May 19, 2011)

The UN has worked closely with private water corporations to address the global water crisis.   However, NGOs claim that the relationship between these corporations and the UN has become too intimate.  A Council of Canadians Report, endorsed by 139 organizations, asserts that private corporate interests exercise undue influence over UN water policies.  NGOs are lobbying against the grant of Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) consultative status to AquaFed, a lobby group of private water operators, arguing that ECOSOC should be a forum "that is free from corporate conflicts of interest." (AFP)

UN's Watchdog Says the General Assembly Needs to Rein in 'Self-Expanded' Global Compact Initiative (March 2011)

The Global Compact is a UN project which claims to promote core UN principles through collaboration with business. This business alliance model represents a departure from the standard modus operandi of the UN and has proven highly controversial, especially in NGO circles. The Global Compact has now come under fire from the UN's own watchdog, the Joint Inspection Unit (JIU). JIU claims that the Global Compact legitimizes corporate actions, but does not adequately monitor the compliance of corporations with UN principles. The UN risks damaging its reputation by legitimizing corporate activities that are potentially at odds with its core principles. (Fox News)


United Nations - Business Partnerships: Good Intentions and Contradictory Agendas (May 2009)

The UN has established and increasing number of partnerships with transnational companies. This paper questions the corporations' contribution to basic UN goals such as poverty reduction and equitable development. It argues that the UN presents the partnerships in an idealized way. Instead, the UN must practice more critical thinking and consider the broader implications of relationships with the private sector. (Journal of Business Ethics)

Global Compact 2.0: Multinationals to the Rescue! (February 5, 2009)

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for the launch of a "Global Compact 2.0" as part of the solution to the crises discussed at the World Economic Forum of 2009. This article argues that the original UN Global Compact ignores the fundamental reasons why transnational corporations commit human rights violations, such as their search for deregulated labor markets to increase profit. The Global Compact increases and legitimizes the power of companies to determine the rules of their own conduct, instead of enforcing respect for freedom of association and empowering public authorities to uphold human rights. (Global Compact Critics)


Network Governance in International Organizations: The Case of Global Codes of Conduct (May 2008)

This paper argues that the UN Global Compact marginalizes civil society, lacks transparency and gives transnational corporations a privileged relationship with the UN. Further, the Global Compact cannot hold TNCs responsible for their actions and has no power to ensure any implementation of the agreements that the TNCs have signed. The author argues that the inefficiency of the Global Compact results from it being launched by corporate lobbyists to "pre-empt" other UN initiatives to regulate practices of TNCs. (The Fourth Transatlantic Dialogue, Workshop 1)

Ahead of the Curve (April 22, 2008)

This article claims that the growing importance of transnational actors, such as NGOs and businesses, threatens to undermine the founding UN principle of "division of nation-states." The author advises the UN to cooperate more closely with these organizations, in order maintain its moral and intellectual leadership. Otherwise, new actors, including governments, companies or NGOs may step in to fill the role the UN currently holds. (Harvard Political Review)


Taming Corporations or Buttressing Market-Led Development? - A Critical Assessment of the Global Compact (December 2007)

This essay argues that the UN Global Compact – with its vaguely defined principles and lack of both monitoring and independent review – enforces the power of transnational corporations. The author questions the ideas that shape the Global Compact, specifically that poor countries must "cater to the needs of transnational corporations" by looking for market-based solutions instead of developing government-led reforms to ensure basic social and environmental protection. (Routledge)

Global Compact with Business 'Lacks Teeth' – NGOs (July 6, 2007)

A group of NGOs criticized the UN Global Compact for giving legitimacy to companies even when they violate the initiative's ten principles on labor, human rights, the environment and anticorruption. The NGOs said that the most critical aspect is the complete lack of legal enforceability. Companies who join the initiative benefit from being associated with the UN, but they face no consequences when not adhering to the principles. A Greenpeace spokesperson stated that "the world needs action and binding global codes for corporate behaviour." (Inter Press Service)

United Nations and Transnational Corporations: A Deadly Association (April 4, 2007)

John Ruggie, UN Special Representative on transnational corporations and advisor to the Global Compact, stated in his February 2007 report to the Human Rights Council that transnational corporations "should not be placed under international law." The author argues that Ruggie's ideas are in line with the philosophy behind the Global Compact, which promotes weak voluntary guidelines rather than binding international regulation requiring companies to respect basic human rights and labor standards. The article criticizes Ruggie's – and the UN's – failure to acknowledge the "serious economic, political and social problems represented by the disproportionate power of large transnational corporations." (Transnational Institute)


Putting Teeth in Corporate Social Responsibility (November 21, 2006)

Programs such as the "Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative" and the "UN Global Compact'" have helped create public debate and possibly higher levels of corporate and political awareness about human rights and environmental problems. But as the initiatives are voluntary and unsanctioned, skeptics argue they just allow companies to appear socially responsible while not fundamentally changing operations. The author of this Policy Innovations article sees a future for genuine corporate social responsibility in legally-binding loan agreements incorporating respect for human rights and environmental standards. These would exist between transnational corporations and the private banks financing them that have a "lower reputational risk tolerance."

The Contrarian: Are NGOs Playing Both Sides of the Human Rights Abuse Debate? (July 18, 2006)

The author of this Ethical Corporation piece argues that NGOs should not blame multinational firms for human rights violations but instead seek accountability from states. However, such an argument overlooks how big companies sometimes push governments for "favorable deals" that further corporate interests. NGOs demand that UN Special Representative on Business and Human Rights John Ruggie call for "universally recognized standards and effective accountability mechanisms" in his final report.

UN Global Compact: Financial Markets the Next Big Target (June 2006)

The UN Global Compact calls on participating corporations to embrace corporate social responsibility through its ten principles on human rights, labor standards, the environment and fighting corruption. In this interview, Executive Head Georg Kell tells Ethical Corporation
that the Compact's next campaign focuses on transforming capital markets by developing tools to better prepare organizations "to manage risks and opportunities" in investment. Critics will likely challenge the legitimacy of this initiative, as core funding will come from Compact participants.

Big Business In Reform School, But Is It Sticking? (May 8, 2006)

Instead of "trumpeting" the limited success stories of responsible corporate behavior the UN should keep better tabs on corporate responsibility. The sourcing of companies' products and services from abroad makes it increasingly difficult to regulate corporate activity on a national level. Activists also argue that the UN must pay more attention to environmental issues, such as the right to water, and prevent corporations profiting from these resources. (Inter Press Service)

Global Business and Human Rights (April 5, 2006)

Since national governments regulate human rights standards, multinational corporations often abuse human rights and labor in countries with weak legislation. While some corporations adhere to a reasonable labor standard, others may claim to do so just as a public relations stunt intended to further corporate profits. The author calls for binding international standards to create and enforce labor standards throughout the world. (Business and Human Rights Resource Center)


The Myth of CSR (November 11, 2005)

Transnational corporations represent the most powerful actors on globalization's scene. Social responsibilities should accompany their economic power. This article argues that initiatives like the United Nations "Global Compact," based on a "voluntary" approach, are not able to guarantee decent human and labor rights standards. Instead, mandatory rules on companies could address this challenge. (onPhilanthropy)

Volcker: UN Scandal Exposes Corruption (October 29, 2005)

The final report of the investigation into the Oil-For-Food program found that over 2,200 corporations worldwide had a role in the scandal. A number of these corporations, which paid bribes and kickbacks to Saddam Hussein's regime, are also members of the UN Global Compact. When signing the Global Compact, businesses pledge to "work against corruption in all its forms, including extortion and bribery." (Associated Press)

The UN Can Help Business Help Itself (August 18, 2005)

Without standards of accountability, the Global Compact is "mere window dressing" for corporate social responsibility, writes Thorsten Benner of the Global Public Policy Institute. Although Secretary General Kofi Annan continues to ensure that the UN "remains open for business," corporations should be involved in international law only under strict oversight. (International Herald Tribune)

UN Global Compact Participants Report Progress So Far (July 19, 2005)

The UN Global Compact Office has announced the first results of a policy requiring corporate participants to annually report their progress in implementing the Compact's Ten Principles. Although over 60% of committed companies failed to produce the Communication on Progress report, this landmark measure will hopefully be more than a public relations tool and actually raise the bar on corporate transparency and accountability. (GreenBiz)

Corporate Social Responsibility as Business Strategy (January 1, 2005)

According to this article, the business sector has systematically invoked voluntary codes of conduct such as the UN Global Compact "to quell widespread public concern" with unregulated corporate activity. By virtue of being non-binding and business-driven, such codes make it difficult to curb destructive corporate behavior. Therefore, the author warns, advocates for social and economic justice as well as the United Nations itself should cast a cautious rather than optimistic eye on corporate efforts at accountability. (Center for Global, International and Regional Studies)
Archived Articles

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