12 June 2007

The Achievements of the UN Global Compact

For my Global Politics Masters course I wrote this paper:

The United Nations Global Compact is the world’s largest corporate citizenship initiative and started as an experiment when Kofi Annan challenged business leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos in 1999. After decades of suspicion between the UN and the private sector this marked a historic change in the UN’s attitude towards business. In the face of globalization challenges, world poverty and inequalities, the Secretary-General called for a global compact between the private sector, civil society, governments and the UN to give globalization a human face. High expectations were raised and this essay will answer the question of what the Global Compact’s achievements have been so far.

At first, the Global Compact is introduced by exploring the attitude change of the UN with respect to the private sector away from hostility towards a compact, followed by describing its multiple stakeholders as well as the Global Compact’s ten principles which form the core of the initiative to foster more responsible business practices. After this brief introduction, I will argue in favour for four achievements of the Global Compact and compare them to various different expectations:
  1. The Global Compact contributed to the attitude change of the UN towards the private sector and became a central position between these two actors.
  2. The governance structure of the Global Compact accommodates differing stakeholders’ views that seemed to be incompatible, and with its pragmatic and unbureaucratic approach is an innovation within the UN as well as compared to other international institutions.
  3. The Global Compact developed itself from a small scale experiment into a global network of networks fostering learning and dialogue among over 4000 participants with continued strong participant growth.
  4. The initiative has had a positive impact on corporate policies and therefore contributed to more responsible business practices as well as to more public accountability of corporations.
Despite many very welcoming comments about the establishment of the Global Compact, there were also strong critics of the initiative whose critiques will be used as reference points to put the achievements of the Global Compact in perspective. It will be shown that a lot has been achieved, yet in comparison to the persistent globalization challenges much more remains to be done. Therefore, the achievements provide a solid foundation for a compact greater in reach as well as impact in the future.

Read the full PDF paper.