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2010-08 - What if we are failing? - towards a post-crisis Compact for systemic change

2010-08 - What if we are failing? - towards a post-crisis Compact for systemic change

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Essay by Dr. Jem Bendell on the the Global Compact. © Greenleaf Publishing Ltd 2010.
Essay by Dr. Jem Bendell on the the Global Compact. © Greenleaf Publishing Ltd 2010.

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Published by: Global Compact Critics on Jun 19, 2010
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The Journal of Corporate Citizenship38August 20101470-5001www.greenleaf-publishing.com/jcc 
 © 2010 Greenleaf Publishing Limited
Summer 2010
Turning Point
 Asia-Pacic Centre for Sustainable Enterprise,Grifth Business School, Australia
has the un global compact (ungc)
 failed? This question deserves as muchattention as the search for evidence of suc-cess, if we are to be rigorous in our evalu-ation. The celebrations in New York tomark the tenth anniversary of its foundingwere justied and important. However, assomeone who held great hopes for this ini-tiative when I discussed it with its found-ers over ten years ago (Bendell 2000a), Ibelieve we need to think as freely, criticallyand ambitiously as we did back then if weare to ensure it evolves to meet the chal-lenges of our time.Success or failure depends on what oneseeks to achieve. There are multiple aimsfor the UN, its member organisations, thecorporate participants, and the individualsinvolved, but the stated objectives of theUNGC are:Mainstream the UNGC principles in
business activities around the worldCatalyse actions in support of broader
UN goals, including the MillenniumDevelopment Goals (MDGs)
The UNGC has become the largest andmost international of voluntary responsi-ble business and nance initiatives, withover 5,000 members. It is normal forpeople involved in innovative and well-intentioned activities to gather informa-tion to demonstrate the worth of what isbeing done and recruit more people to thecause. Yet growth should not be confusedwith success. And growth brings with itthe need for more critical introspection.In this essay I argue that experience of the Western nancial crisis makes it evenmore imperative that economic govern-ance issues, hitherto peripheral to thefocus of the Compact, must now becomecentral to its future.
All details of the UN Global Compact for thisarticle were taken fromwww.unglobalcompact.org, 1 June 2009.
Good people are good because they’ve come to wisdom through failure
William Saroyan, 1908–1981
Summer 2010
what if we are failing?
Considering the rst goal, we remainfar from the Compact’s principles on theenvironment, labour, rights and corrup-tion becoming mainstream in the opera-tions of any business sector, in any nation.Global indicators on the state of the envi-ronment, labour practices, human rightsand corruption are heading in the wrongdirection. Statistics about increasing car-bon emissions, rates of deforestation andforced labour, for instance, are also statis-tics about the effects of irresponsible orunsustainable enterprises.
Considering the second goal of theCompact, it is sad to note that poverty stillpersists. Apart from a few successes, in-cluding Rwanda, Mozambique and Bang-ladesh, progress towards the MillenniumDevelopment Goals is slow, or even inthe wrong direction.
At the current rate,sub-Saharan Africa will probably not meetthe sanitation portion of the MDGs until2105 (Naidoo 2007). Beyond the MDGs,the role of the UN in other world affairshas been shaken in the past decade. Onsecurity issues, controversy surroundedthe invasion and occupation of Iraq. Oneconomic issues, the UN continued to besidelined, as the Group of 8 powerful na-tions has been augmented by a Group of 20 powerful nations in the shaping of glo-bal economic policy. These governmentsact in the interests of some, if not all, of their companies, so it appears that theprivate sector is not effectively demandingthat their governments prioritise the UNsystem for addressing global economicissues.This downbeat summary reminds usthat the overarching objectives of the UNGlobal Compact, to mainstream the prin-ciples and galvanise business to support
For a selection of data on these issues, seeWorld Watch Institute 2009 and UNICEF2009.
Ofcial data collected by the UN Departmentof Economic and Social Affairs shows someprogress in reducing overall numbers of peo-ple living in extreme poverty, yet many of theindicators are not improving (see UNDESA2008). Data discussed at a meeting in Manilaled participants to announce that the MDGswould not be met (see Lee-Brago 2009).
UN goals, currently appear unmet. Clearlythese are aspirational goals, and it wouldbe impossible to reach them in one decadealone. If we consider them unachievable,we could recall Sir Winston Churchill’scomment that ‘success is the ability to gofrom one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm’. Yet, let us for a moment be-lieve that these goals are indeed achievable.For if we do that we can assess how currentactivities are likely to achieve those goals,or what else could be done. That invitesus to reect on and discuss our strategiesfor creating the scale of change embodiedin the goals. For instance, is the strategyfor the Compact to do much more of thesame, with 5,000 companies growing to5 million companies? On current rates of recruitment the Compact would have thatmany members in 10,000 years. But evenif the rate of membership increases expo-nentially, that would not necessarily trans-late into achievement of the goals. Otherchange-strategies are required, ones thataddress the systemic reasons why enter-prise and nance does not always embodythe goals of the UNGC.I became a supporter of the conceptof the Compact when in 1998 I heardabout it from the then head of the UNSecretary-General’s Ofce, Georg Kell,while he was studying the way NGOs wereinuencing business, something I had be-come a specialist in. This conversation ledKell to write the foreword to my secondbook, in 2000, on the topic of collabora-tion for sustainable development (Bendell2000b). Yet by 2003 I had become awareof growing criticism from across the UNsystem and civil society, that the Compactwas privileging certain business interests.At that point I believed the Compact wasplaying a useful role, but that it needed toaddress the global issues that the UN isuniquely placed to address, particularlythe way some companies affect the abilityof member states to govern in the interestsof their people. In a paper on the topic, Irecommended new work programmes onhow Compact members inuence or con-duct nancial speculation, tax manage-ment and evasion, corruption, corporate

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