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Global Business Leaders Pledge to Be Socially Responsible

  • Lisa Schlein

Business leaders say they will abide by a code of conduct related to human rights, working conditions, the environment and anti-corruption. About 1,000 political, business and civic leaders are attending a two-day summit at the United Nations in Geneva. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA, this will be the largest-ever meeting for the U.N. Global Compact.

The U.N. Global Compact was formed in 2000 in response to major anti-globalization protests at a World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle. The voluntary initiative brings together companies, the United Nations and civil society groups to promote human rights, improve labor and environmental standards and fight corruption.

More than 4,000 companies and other stakeholders have joined this international ethical movement. U.N .Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says businesses are recognizing that societies must be healthy for markets to prosper.

"Unfortunately, in too many parts of the world, this is not the case.," he said. "Through the global compact, business has an opportunity to help ensure that globalization delivers the benefits to the widest number of people including the poor."

CEO of the Brazilian oil-company, Petrobras, Jose Sergio Gabrielli de Azevedo says his company takes its social responsibility seriously. He says Petrobras, one of the largest oil companies in the world, is committed to change its practices.

"We know that our operations are very difficult and very challenging for this climate change. But we have a long commitment and a long track record for production of bio fuels and trying to substitute fossil fuels for bio fuels," he said.

Scientists believe the emission of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels is mainly responsible for the greenhouse gases that can lead to climate change.

In the past 12 months, Coca-Cola and Microsoft have signed on. Coca-Cola Chairman and CEO Neville Isdell says his company is reviewing its policies and practices to ensure it is fully aligned with the principles espoused by the Compact.

He says Coca-Cola recently issued a formal policy of workplace rights and a statement of human rights.

"We are scaling up our commitments with real actions. One of those is working to replace every drop of water that we use, not only in the manufacture of our products, but also that from our products themselves. And working to grow our business without in any way growing our carbon footprint," said Isdell.

The World Bank estimates up to five percent of the global Gross Domestic Product is lost to corruption. That is equal to $2.5 trillion. Humanitarian organizations say that is quite enough to remove millions of people from abject poverty.

Anti-poverty activists are urging the United Nations to set binding rules on corporate responsibility. They say voluntary compliance is not enough. They say members of the Global Compact who breach the rules should be held to account.

The United Nations says every participant must disclose its performance. And, those that fail to do so in two years will be kicked off its roster. And it says that would put those companies' credibility at stake.

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