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The Secretary-General - Address at ceremony of adherence to the Global Compact


Madrid, 9 April 2002

Thank you, Don Rafael [del Pino] for those very kind words.
Spain has much to share with the global community. You have gone through major changes in your recent history. Those changes show that when men and women of good will and determination work together, societies can renew themselves even after the most bitter conflicts, overcoming the past and charting a course for a better future. You have every reason to be proud of what you have achieved.

Today, business, civil society and labour are building on this tradition and it is a great honour to me that you have chosen the Global Compact as a means to renew your efforts for dialogue and social change.

As you know, I first proposed this Compact in January 1999. My objective was to give global markets a more human face, so that people all over the world, including the poorest, could share in the benefits of globalisation. The commitment you are making today will give that effort a new and much-needed impetus.

The nine principles are universal principles, long recognized by governments in every part of the world. By giving practical meaning to them within your own sphere of influence, you will help to improve the prospects of millions of workers in many different countries, and to show that respecting human rights, decent labour standards and the environment makes sound business sense.

I know some people see business as part of the problem. But I believe that, working with other actors – governments, NGOs, unions and the United Nations – business can and must be part of the solution. It can improve working conditions. It can protect the environment. Above all, it can improve the prospects of those who, at present, are excluded from markets altogether.

The Compact aims to give business that opportunity. By making the nine principles a part of business strategy and day-to-day practices, we can underpin markets with the social and environmental foundations they need to make them sustainable. And by aligning business activities more closely with the Millennium Development Goals – the agenda set by the world's political leaders for an onslaught on extreme poverty, ignorance and disease in the first fifteen years of the new century – we can give hope to all those who now live in despair, deprived of the chance improve their lot.

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So let me first applaud the business leaders here who have had the courage to step forward today, taking a stand on human and labour rights and the environment and asserting boldly that these things matter to business.

The Global Compact is not a regulatory regime. It does not substitute for other approaches that rely on monitoring and enforcement. It is designed to complement such approaches by giving business and other sectors of society space to try out new ideas, and to make a difference through voluntary action.

We at the United Nations are not in a position to monitor or assess your performance in different countries and different industries. So we will only list you as a participant in the Compact when you yourselves give us examples of concrete action that you have taken, to advance one or more of the nine principles in your own sphere of operations. Such examples are displayed, exchanged and compared on a website, which serves as a learning forum and also, in effect, as our roster of participants.

To help you demonstrate further leadership, we also offer two other mechanisms of engagement:
v a dialogue forum, where business, labour and civil society can explore some of the challenges of globalisation, with a view to finding solutions through cooperation;
v and a number of concrete project activities, which give business the opportunity, in partnership with others, to help advance some of the broad goals of the United Nations.

I am well aware that adhering to the Compact requires you to take some risks. After all, the business case for human and labour rights and the environment is not yet established fully, and those who help to make it – those who are at the forefront of change – are exposing themselves to heightened scrutiny. Labour and civil society will question your sincerity, while your competitors who remain silent get a free ride.

But please do not shy away from leadership. You must have confidence in your own ability to demonstrate to your competitors that doing the right thing makes good business sense, and to your civil society critics that real, positive change can be achieved incrementally, if we are really determined to do it together.

Secondly, let me say a word to the Spanish labour organisations, which I am delighted to see so strongly represented here. Labour unions are an integral part of industry and of civil society at the same time. Your experience and commitment to dialogue will be crucial in establishing the nine principles and making the Compact a success. You have much to contribute not only in Spain but all over the world, especially in countries where your fellow workers cannot make their voice heard or – even worse – are persecuted for trying to do so.

And thirdly, civil society organisations: you too have a crucial role to play. You have come together voluntarily to lobby for more social justice, development, human rights, and better protection of the environment. We should all listen to you, because you speak for the deprived and persecuted. You can act as the conscience of those who have the power and resources to bring about change – reminding them that inequality, social injustice and environmental degradation are not only morally wrong but a threat to humanity as a whole.

In the Compact, your critical voices and practical knowhow are indispensable. I hope you will not only challenge those who have accepted the Compact to live up to their pledge, but also those businesses that remain aloof – urging them to come off the fence and take a stand on the Compact's principles.

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The Compact can only succeed if all these different actors in society work together. And working with all of you is an important learning experience for us at the United Nations, too. I see the Compact as a chance for the UN to renew itself from within, and to gain greater relevance in the 21st Century by showing that it can work with non-state actors, as well as States, to achieve the broad goals on which its Member States have agreed.

That means that we, too, have to take risks – breaking free from yesterday's ideologies and bureaucratic impediments. Only by doing so can we earn the moral authority to mobilise people for real change in the world of the 21st century. If we avoided those risks, contenting ourselves with the fine words in intergovernmental declarations, we should condemn ourselves to being less and less relevant to the real lives of people around the world.

So let me once again thank Don Rafael, and the Foundation that bears his name, as well as Armando Duque and the Asociación Cultura pro Naciones Unidas, for their enthusiastic and generous support which has made this remarkable event possible, and thereby has helped put Spain at the forefront of a growing global movement. I very much hope that you will all remain engaged and maintain the momentum, working with the Global Compact Office at United Nations Headquarters.

If you do, I know that Spain will become a driving force in this historic undertaking. I count on you to achieve that, and I thank you again.