End the Global Compact: The UN Should Belong to the People

The following Open Letter, signed by over 25 organisations from around the world, speaks out against UN Under-Secretary General Nitin Desai's recent endorsement of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and their self-proclaimed commitment to sustainable development. The letter argues against this unrealistic assessment of the ICC and affiliated corporate lobby groups and highlights their dark record of obstructive lobbying in negotiations on multilateral environmental agreements and continued resistance to an effective UN corporate accountability mechanism.   

Mr. Desai received the letter before the start of Prep-com 3 (New York, March 25th - April 5th), a key preparatory meeting for the World Summit on Sustainable Development (Rio+10, Johannesburg, August 2002). The letter is the part of the ongoing campaign by the 'Alliance for a Corporate-Free UN' (of which CEO is an active member) to stop the corporate co-optation of the UN. Don't hesitate to contact us if you want to join the 'Alliance for a Corporate-Free UN' and its activities: <ceo@xs4all.nl>

To: Nitin Desai: United Nations Secretary-General of the Johannesburg Summit and Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs United Nations Plaza, Room: DC2-2320 New York, New York 10017, USA  

Dear Under-Secretary General Desai,    

The undersigned organisations are supporters of a strong United Nations. We believe in a United Nations which holds commercial interests subservient to human rights, labour and environmental principles, which avoids excessive and undue corporate influence, which holds corporations accountable in a legal framework and which maintains the integrity of international social and environmental agreements.     

We are concerned, in particular, with the influence of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and Business Action for Sustainable Development (BASD) on the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) process. In your speech at the World Economic Forum in January, you described the ICC and the WBCSD as having "embraced the issue" of sustainable development. We think this conclusion is premature and gives these groups an undeserved seal of approval.     

We would like to call your attention to the risk of assuming that certain corporate lobby groups are truly committed to sustainable development, when in fact they have failed to 'walk the talk.' We believe that such assumptions give the incorrect impression that entrenched, unsustainable patterns of production and consumption led by global business are well on the way to resolution. These assumptions send out the message that big business has proven itself as an ally and partner and that there is no need for further action by the world's governments to prevent corporations from damaging the environment and sustainable development.     

Particularly in the case of the ICC, there is a disturbing gap between their self-proclaimed commitment and the reality of a consistent record of lobbying to block, postpone or weaken progress in international negotiations on issues of crucial importance to sustainable development. Examples include the Basel Convention on trade in toxic waste, the Kyoto Protocol and the Convention on Biodiversity. We enclose a July 2001 report ("High Time for UN to Break 'Partnership' with the ICC"), which documents how the ICC with its obstructive lobbying has violated key principles of the Global Compact, which the ICC joined from the start.      

While it is obviously important to encourage business to abandon unsustainable practices, it is counter-productive to congratulate corporate lobby groups on their commitment before they have taken the minimum necessary steps towards contributing to sustainable development. One such step is obviously to break with irresponsible lobbying practices, which hinder the development of effective international treaties to bring business practices in line with sustainable development. The UN has a key role to play in making it clear to international business that obstructing progress in international negotiations must be put to an end.     

The credibility of the ICC`s claimed commitment to sustainable development is furthermore seriously undermined by its opposition to binding corporate accountability mechanisms. The ICC continues to promote an unbalanced and unsustainable economic model of global market deregulation in which corporate rights are carved in stone while corporate responsibilities remain voluntary. This approach has proven entirely insufficient in the decade since the Rio summit.

The ICC, in its role as an early-stage co-designer of the Global Compact, has also seriously weakened that initiative by insisting on keeping it free of monitoring and enforcement. We remind you that the ICC arrogantly abandoned the Voluntary Initiatives Project of the Commission for Sustainable Development (CSD) in order to escape the inconvenient conclusions that were likely to have come out of this assessment.     

The proposal to start negotiations on a UN corporate accountability convention has surfaced as a key demand from civil society for the Johannesburg Summit. If the ICC and its member corporations had a genuine, long-term commitment to sustainable development, surely they would not oppose measures to make responsible conduct obligatory for all international business. We believe that such support is a litmus test for corporate lobby groups like the ICC, the WBCSD and their new offspring Business Action for Sustainable Development (BASD). As long as these groups continue to campaign against effective international mechanisms to ensure corporate accountability, they cannot be said to have embraced sustainable development in anything but words.     

We hope you will use every opportunity to raise this key issue in the preparations for the Johannesburg Summit. Only if real progress is made in addressing the current corporate accountability vacuum, can Rio+10 can become the success we all hope for.     

Yours sincerely,   

Philipp Mimkes, Coalition against BAYER-dangers, Germany

Kenny Bruno, CorpWatch, United States

Olivier Hoedeman, Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO)

Ward Morehouse, Council on International and Public Affairs, US

Katie Redford, co-Director, EarthRights International, Thailand/US

Annabell Waititu, Environment Liaison Centre international (ELCI)

Matt Phillips, Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland

Bobby Peek, GroundWork, South Africa

Allison Linnecar, IBFAN/GIFA John

Cavanagh, Institute for Policy Studies

Roberto Bissio, Instituto del Tercer Mundo, Uruguay

Yash Tandon, International South Group Network (ISGN)

Jane Dennett-Thorpe, Inzet, The Netherlands

Paul de Clerck, Milieudefensie (Friends of the Earth), The


Syed Naeem Bukhari, Executive Director, NOOR Pakistan

David C. Korten, People-Centered Development Forum

Michael Dorsey, Director, Sierra Club National Board, United States

Chee Yoke Ling, Third World Network, Malaysia

Susan George & Fiona Dove, Transnational Institute, The Netherlands

Emmy Hafield, Executive Director, WAHLI (Friends of the Earth),


Alliance for Democracy, USA

A SEED Europe

Christian Aid, United Kingdom

The CornerHouse, United Kingdom

DAWN (Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era)

Friends of the Earth Sweden

Grassroots Globalization Network, US

The Greens/EFA Group in the European Parliament (45 Members of the

European Parliament, from 12 EU member countries)

The Corporate Europe Observatory briefing "High Time for UN to Break 'Partnership' with the ICC" can be found at: http://www.xs4all.nl/~ceo/un/icc.html 

More background on UN-corporate partnerships: http://www.corpwatch.org/un