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Can Business Help Build International Harmony?

Mr. Georg Kell, UN Global Compact Executive Director, to brief journalists on a Global Corporate Sustainability Report and the forthcoming Global Compact Leaders Summit, to be held in New York on 19-20 September. [UN Photo/JC McIlwaine]

Mr. Georg Kell, UN Global Compact Executive Director, to brief journalists on a Global Corporate Sustainability Report and the forthcoming Global Compact Leaders Summit, to be held in New York on 19-20 September. [UN Photo/JC McIlwaine]

The United Nations Global Compact Says, “Yes, Indeed!”

By John Paluszek

Is “Business For Peace” a non-sequitur? Not at all, especially  for all who participated in the United Nations Global Compact’s “Business For Peace” launch event during the Compact’s mid-September “2013 Leaders Summit” in New York City.

The two-day Summit — with some 1,500 registrants and  high-level plenary sessions,  special event programs and an “action fair” examining and advancing virtually every aspect of global sustainability – was a testimony to the Compact’s current impressive trajectory and velocity. The Compact now comprises some 8,000 companies around he world, all committed to operate in concert with its ten principles in environment, social and governance; some 4,500 non-governmental organizations (NGOs), civil society groups, academic institutions and governments are also affiliated.

There have, of course, been many individual company and coalition programs addressing peace.  However, the “Business For Peace” platform (B4P) is a powerful new engine elevating and strengthening business ability to support infrastructure development and job training; foster entrepreneurship and job creation; and promote cultural and interfaith understanding and tolerance.

In capsule, the “Business for Peace” platform will help business do what it does best: generate stability, improve the  standard of living and quality of life, and invest in market development.

Sir Mark Moody-Stuart, former Chairman of Royal/Dutch Shell and now Vice Chairman of the U.N. Global Compact, captured the B4P potential quite well: “Joining…will help companies in troubled zones to better identify and manage risks, engage in dialogue, establish local priorities and conciliate groups, and benefit from experiences on other parts of the globe.”

Arguably, local involvement is critically important in all of this. The Global Compact provides structure for such private-public partnerships via its 101 local networks spanning 140 countries. The Leaders Summit presented business-for-peace advances in Compact local networks in countries ranging from Colombia, Germany, Iraq and Pakistan to Sri Lanka, Sudan, Turkey and the United Kingdom. The Pakistan network, with 140 company members, has a midterm goal of 300 company members.

If you are surprised and impressed by some of the countries on that list, reflect for a moment on this written by Vali Nasr, Dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies:

“… there is a vital but unseen rising force in the Islamic world – a new business-minded middle class – that is building a vibrant new Muslim economy … their distinct blending of Islam and capitalism is the key to bringing lasting reform and to defeating fundamentalism … They are the people the West  can and must do business with.”

Support for the challenges ahead

Directly or indirectly, “Business for Peace” is associated with several other well-resourced Global Compact programs. Among them:

  • Anti-Corruption Collective Action Project – a partnership with five Global Compact Local Networks in Brazil, Egypt, India, Niger and South Africa “to promote ethical business practices and transparency in each of those countries.”
  • Digital “Matchmaking Hubs” that help develop partnerships between companies, civil society and local development programs.  One, presented at the Summit, is now in place for implementation across several development issues.  Too, the UNGC Water Mandate, having addressed the critical issue of the global water crisis for some time, has already generated several successful case histories. “Hands on” tools like these, using the latest information technology, are attracting companies with business models that integrate “good business” and humanitarian objectives.

In an even broader context, these and other Global Compact  programs are becoming conduits for a more substantive and impactful business role in the United Nations Post 2015 Sustainable Development Goals — in effect, the successors of the soon-to-be completed fifteen-year U.N. Millennium Development Goals.

There were, however, also a few influential Global Compact voices at the Summit offering sobering counsel as to the remaining challenges in improving economic and social stability, quality of life and standard of living on the planet.

  • Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, noted that growing concerns over environmental crises and the persistence of absolute poverty have set the bar higher for what corporate sustainability actors are being asked – and are still struggling — to achieve.
  • Accenture, presenting its survey, “CEO Study on Sustainability 2013,” included this finding: “Sustainability is firmly on the CEO agenda, but CEOs express a sense of frustrated ambition … struggling to quantify and capture the business value of sustainability” [a Summit discussion of integrated reporting addressed this “struggle”].
  • The  Global Compact, itself, provided a specific cautionary note in its own “Global Corporate Sustainability Report 2013”:  Supply chains are a major obstacle to implement sustainability policies. Even though the majority of companies [in this survey] have established sustainability expectations for their suppliers, they have the challenge of tracking their compliance and help suppliers reach their goals in this matter.

All of that said, the prevailing gestalt and the energy generated at the “Business For Peace” launch and the entire two-day Leaders Summit seemed prepared to confront these obstacles — and appeared ready to accept even the seminal challenge presented by a seasoned diplomat to all partners for peace a few decades ago:

“Let us all work to make the world so economically-interdependent that war will go out of style.”


John Paluszek is senior counsel at Ketchum and producer of “Business In Society” video programs.