- The Washington Times - Monday, July 9, 2007

Washington Times correspondent John Zarocostas interviewed Georg Kell, executive director of the U.N. Global Compact, in Geneva on the outcome of the summit Thursday and Friday attended by more than 1,000 corporate executives, politicians and civil society groups from 116 nations.

Question: What was achieved at the summit, and what’s ahead?

Answer: The summit, held every three years, is to reinforce the mission of the compact itself, which is about making global markets both more stable and inclusive by underpinning them with environmental, social, human rights and governance pillars, so there’s greater benefits, greater support for openness and a greater positive effect both in terms of perception and reactions.

The summit meeting itself had two overreaching objectives. One was to give a push to the United Nations to renew itself. You need to understand, the global compact is a public-private partnership which tries to take the best of the U.N. and combine it with the best of the private sector. And, of course, we would like to modernize the U.N. by exposing it to business, to efficiency criteria and to pragmatism, above all.

The other objective was with the many chief executive officers here and many other stakeholders to cultivate a spirit of cooperation and pragmatic [problem-solving] that is inspired by principles. The global compact is a principle-based framework for change, where CEOs … make it a moral compass. A principle-based approach needs leadership, needs conviction, but above all, it needs the business case behind it. This is where the second big objective of the summit was: to establish more firmly the business case for engagement and responsibility.

Q: One of the critiques made by civil advocacy groups is that even though you have these 10 principles, they are rather weak because they are voluntary and that something needs to be done on the accountability side.

A: I totally disagree with this criticism. I know we have been criticized and continue to be criticized for something we never pretended to be. …

We made it very clear from the very beginning that the global compact is voluntary. But voluntary is not a substitute for what governments do or don’t do. It complements, it adds value, it emphasizes the positive impact. On some occasions, in countries where you have a breakdown of public policy frameworks, it even can help to fill the void because you have a lot of countries where you have conflicts or you have systemic corruption. In such countries, it’s very good, if investors who have major operations there, uphold high standards within their own operations.

Q: Going forward, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said corporations need to be on the lookout and to make sure their subsidiaries and suppliers around the globe are keeping to the same standards they profess in the boardrooms at headquarters. Do you agree?

A: This is a very important call to action, and it’s part of the outcome declaration. There is a huge gap — studies have shown that. … These are huge corporations in part, operating in many different languages with different cultural contexts, and it takes time.