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It is ‘Moral Imperative’ for Business to Play its Part in Reaching MDGs

Asha-Rose Migiro

Following is the text of UN Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro’s opening remarks to the ministerial session of the United Nations Global Compact Leaders Summit, held in New York in June 2010:

“When the United Nations first embarked on the Global Compact 10 years ago, it was designed to be a small, experimental initiative to advance universal values and engage business to support the principles of the United Nations. Forty-seven companies were present at its launch.

It is still an experiment – a platform for learning. It is still underpinned by universally accepted principles, as it always will be. The difference today is size and scope.

The Global Compact is now the largest corporate citizenship and sustainability initiative in the world. It has 8,000 corporate participants and stakeholders from more than 130 countries. And the issues at its heart – the environment, social justice, good governance – are increasingly seen as factors in the long-term viability and success of companies.

Through public reports filed as part of their participation in the Compact, thousands of businesses are communicating with the global public and with each other about their progress on these issues. More and more institutional investors are putting these considerations at the center of investment analysis and decision-making – driving further change.

Companies are cooperating with non-governmental organizations and civil society at an unprecedented level. CEOs [Chief Executive Officers] are starting to call collectively for global action on climate change and on corruption. And – most relevant for our meeting here today – Governments are playing an increasingly important role in promoting responsible business practices. Public-Private Partnerships are showing ever greater promise and power.

We have an enormous opportunity on our hands. The question now is: where do we go from here? Today, at a time when we are still coping with the most worrisome economic and financial upheaval in decades, our immediate area of focus must be the Millennium Development Goals.

Five years from the agreed target date of 2015, we stand at a crossroads. Many countries have achieved remarkable progress. Some of the poorest countries are doing best on lifting people out of poverty and improving health and education. But others are struggling. And like the financial and economic crisis, food insecurity, climate change, and natural disasters threaten to reverse hard-won gains.

That is why the Secretary-General is convening a summit on the Millennium Development Goals in September, here in New York. We must galvanize, and we must mobilize.

Business – like Governments, non-governmental organizations, civil society and international organizations – must do its part, both at the Summit and beyond. It is a moral imperative and a practical necessity. The global economy cannot flourish as it should, without achieving the Millennium Development Goals – without healthy citizens, without green growth, without decent work for all.

Business is already playing a role in pushing for the Millennium Development Goals, from partnering with the World Food Programme to provide high-nutrient products for humanitarian aid, to supporting the creation of libraries, instituting employee training programmes aimed specifically at women, and developing a diagnostic tool that health workers in the field can operate from a simple cell phone. We must scale up these and other proven projects, as we race to meet the 2015 deadline.

Governments have a key role to play here. Recognizing that voluntary approaches are not a substitute but rather a complement to regulation, Governments can provide incentives and be a partner to promote and scale up private sector engagement.

I know many of the Governments represented here today will also be represented at a high level at September’s Millennium Development Goals Summit. I hope that creating a regulatory environment in which public-private partnerships can flourish will be at the top of the government agenda.

I also encourage you, in the run-up to the Summit, including at the G-8 and G-20 meetings later this week, to use your considerable power to enable business to play its part in meeting the Millennium Development Goals. And I hope Governments will continue to support the Global Compact as a valuable platform for United Nations-business engagement.

Together, we can continue to advance the goals of the United Nations and build a safer, better world for all. The Secretary-General and I wish you all a rewarding, enriching experience at this leaders’ summit, and we look forward to deepening our ties in the period ahead.

 – Asha-Rose Migiro
UN Deputy Secretary-General
Global Compact Summit, New York
24th June 2010