The United Nations Global Compact was first proposed by the then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in an address to the World Economic Forum on January 31, 1999. The Global Compact's operational phase was launched at the UN headquarters in New York on 26 July 2000. Mr. Annan urged the business leaders to join an international initiative -- the Global Compact -- that would bring companies together with UN agencies, labour and civil society to support the ten principles in the areas of human rights, labour standard, environment and anti-corruption. Through the power of collective action, the Global Compact seeks to advance responsible corporate citizenship so that businesses 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 realise Kofi Annan's vision: a more sustainable and inclusive global economy.
In July 2007 the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) Leaders Summit in Geneva, Switzerland, brought together approximately 1,000 senior corporate figures, top government officials and heads of non-profit groups to discuss on corporate citizenship and responsible business.
Today, hundreds of companies from all regions of the world, international labour and civil society organisations are engaged in the Global Compact. The Global Compact is a direct initiative of the Secretary-General; its staff and operations are lean and flexible. This ever-increasing understanding is reflected in the growth of the Global Compact, which today stands as the largest corporate citizenship and sustainability initiative in the world - with over 7700 corporate participants and stakeholders from over 130 countries, and it is ever growing. Georg Kell, the Executive Director of the Global Compact, says, "Reinforcing the notion that in times of economic downturn and crisis there is an increased search for ethics and sustainability."
The Global Compact is a voluntary corporate citizenship initiative with two objectives: Mainstreaming the ten principles in business activities around the world; and to catalyse actions in support of broader UN goals, including the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
The Global Compact is not a regulatory instrument -- it does not police, enforce or measure the behaviour or actions of companies. Rather, the Global Compact relies on public accountability, transparency and the enlightened self-interest of companies, labour and civil society to initiate and share substantive action in pursuing the principles upon which the Global Compact is based.
"The Global Compact is a network. At its core are the Global Compact Office and four UN agencies: Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, United Nations Environment Programme, International Labour Organisation and the United Nations Development Programme. The Global Compact involves all the relevant social actors: governments, who defined the principles on which the initiative is based; companies, whose actions it seeks to influence; labour, in whose hands the concrete process of global production takes place; civil society organisations, representing the wider community of stakeholders; and The United Nations, the world's only truly global political forum, as an authoritative convener and facilitator."Local Networks in over 80 countries perform increasingly important roles in rooting the UN Global Compact within different national and cultural contexts. As self-governed multi-stakeholder bodies led by business, they support companies in their efforts in implementing the Global Compact (both local firms and subsidiaries of foreign corporations), while also creating opportunities for further engagement and collective action. They also play a key role in facilitating participants' Communications on Progress (COP) and safeguarding the overall integrity and brand of the Global Compact.
The Global Compact Local Network was launched in Bangladesh in 2009 jointly by UNDP Bangladesh, CSR Centre and Bangladesh Enterprise Institute (BEI). BEI has been acting as the focal point for the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) in Bangladesh since 2003. In this capacity, BEI has been coordinating the activities related to the UNGC of Bangladeshi signatories to the Compact, such as liaising with signatories when their Communications on Progress (COP) are due and representing the Bangladeshi network at the annual conferences of the Global Compact Local Networks. The CSR Centre came on board the effort to take forward the principles of the UNGC and increase penetration of these ideals in the fabric of the Bangladeshi business community in September 2007. Since then, the Centre itself has also represented Bangladeshi interests at Global Compact forums and conferences throughout the world. Together, these two organisations comprise the principal promoters of the UNGC and its principles in Bangladesh.
(The writer is President of the Bangladesh Enterprise Institute (BEI) and Chairman of the CSR Centre Trust)
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