back to co-globalize | corporations | rat haus | Index | Search | tree

( ASCII text format )

The following is mirrored from its source at: Originally, this was the entry point to Corporate Watch's feature. Today's incarnation is called: Alliance for a Corporate-Free UN.

Corporatization of the United Nations
Kofi Annan's Corporate Gambit
first written in 1999

The UN is at a crossroads. As it enters the 21st century the world body is struggling to deal with some of the most powerful players on the world stage: global corporations.

Earlier this year, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan called on big business leaders to build a "global compact" appealing to companies to voluntarily consult with the UN on how to abide by universal labor, environmental and human rights principles. In turn, he pledged that the UN would support global free trade. While the Secretary General's challenge represents an important step in pressing transnational corporations to be more accountable, it is also a partnership fraught with peril.

Until recently, transnational corporations with tarnished records on human rights, the environment and development were objects of scrutiny at the United Nations. Yet now, in a series of misguided adventures documented in this section, the UN seems to be scrambling for corporations' support, regardless of their social and environmental impact.

Many international human rights, labor unions and environmental groups are concerned that by attaching themselves to the United Nations, corporations may be able to "greenwash" their poor environmental and human rights images.

The United Nations is one of the last bastions with the moral authority and political potential to subordinate socially and ecologically blind market forces to human and environmental rights. The UN could take the high road by promoting corporate accountability to universal human rights, environment and labor values.

This is the trail being blazed by a sub-group of the UN Human Rights Commission, which recently resolved to look into the impacts of transnational corporations and global trade deals. Unfortunately, the US is calling for the elimination of this sub-commission.

Similarly, UN brokered international agreements such as the Kyoto Protocol, Montreal Protocol and Biosafety Protocol have the potential to reign in unaccountable global corporations. This is why, as this section documents, the corporate lobby at these international negotiations is growing.

At the same time, the US government continues to refuse to pay the roughly US$1.6 billion debt it owes the UN, perhaps leading the world body to seek political and economic support from corporations.

But if the UN continues to take the low road in its collaborative relationships with transnational corporations and their industry associations, it could well become increasingly reluctant to criticize entities which are central players in many of the human rights, environmental and development dramas unfolding every day across the globe. This will not bring a "a human face to the global market," as the Secretary General has called for, but will instead mask a harsh reality.

Some Bad Examples

  • The Business-Humanitarian Forum: The UN High Commissioner on Refugees is co-chairing this new organization with UNOCAL, a company with one of the worst human rights and environment records in the world. An international coalition of groups, including Corporate Watch's parent organization TRAC, is calling for UNHCR to resign from this collaboration.

  • A Perilous Partnership: The United Nations Development Programme's Flirtation with Corporate Collaboration, by Joshua Karliner, John Cavanagh, PhyllisbBennis and Ward Morehouse, CorpWatch, IPS and CIPA, March 16, 1999

  • TRAC, Corporate Watch's parent organization, along with more than 100 organizations from around the world are campaigning for an end to UNDP's outreach to corporations with some of the worst human rights, environment and labor records.

  • Government-Corporate Collusion at the United Nations: Development economist and author David Korten provides a stunning account of a United Nations power lunch in "The United Nations and the Corporate Agenda" (1997). The players? The UN Secretary General, various heads of state, the infamous Larry "let's dump a load of toxic waste on the Third World" Summers, and the CEOs of 10 large transnational corporations. The subject? How to foster greater corporate participation in the UN.

  • The United Nations Global Compact
    "Through the power of collective action, the Global Compact seeks to advance responsible corporate citizenship so that business can be part of the solution to the challenges of globalisation. In this way, the private sector -- in partnership with other social actors -- can help realize the Secretary-General's vision: a more sustainable and inclusive global economy.

  • "A Compact for the New Century," a speech by Kofi Annan, the World Economic Forum, Davos, 31 January 1999.

  • The Global Compact - The UN's New Deal with `Global Corporate Citizens', Corporate Europe Observer, Issue 5, October 1999. A critique of the Global Compact by Corporate Watch's European Affiliate.

UN Treaties/Agreements

An examination of the corporate influence in these key international accords -- agreements which have the potential to subordinate corporations to environmental values, globally.

  1. The Climate Convention

  2. The Montreal Protocol for the Protection of the Ozone Layer

  3. The UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) - Earth Summit, 1992

See Also:  
Susan George's speech, On Overthrowing the Permanent Government given on 26 November 1999 in Seattle including her explication concerning "several of the U.N. agencies that are now making alliances with these corporations."

back to co-globalize | corporations | rat haus | Index | Search | tree