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The Global Compact: Challenges in Agenda Setting


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Title: The Global Compact: Challenges in Agenda Setting

The Global Compact Challenges in
Agenda Setting
  • What is the Global Compact?
  • How did the agenda setting come about?
  • Who supported the UNGC, and why?
  • What challenges did the Compact overcome?
  • What issues does it still face?

The Global Compact Overview
  • Voluntary policy initiative companies commit to
    be more responsible
  • Broad principles, not strict rules
  • Proposed by Kofi Annan at the World Economic
    Forum on Jan 31 1999
  • Adopted by General Assembly on July 26, 2000
  • Currently in force with over 7,000 companies
  • No enforcement mechanism relies on companies to
    comply with the UNGC principles

The Global Compact Principles
  • Human Rights
  • Principle 1 Businesses should support and
    respect the protection of internationally
    proclaimed human rights and
  • Principle 2 make sure that they are not
    complicit in human rights abuses.  
  • Labor Standards
  • Principle 3 Businesses should uphold the freedom
    of association and the effective recognition of
    the right to collective bargaining
  • Principle 4 the elimination of all forms of
    forced and compulsory labor
  • Principle 5 the effective abolition of child
    labor and
  • Principle 6 the elimination of discrimination in
    respect of employment and occupation.   
  • Environment
  • Principle 7 Businesses should support a
    precautionary approach to environmental
  • Principle 8 undertake initiatives to promote
    greater environmental responsibility and
  • Principle 9 encourage the development and
    diffusion of environmentally friendly
  • Anti-Corruption
  • Principle 10 Businesses should work against
    corruption in all its forms, including extortion
    and bribery. 

Source (Adapted from the UN Global Compact
Agenda Setting Key Players
  • UNGC is an excellent case study of agenda setting
    in a controversial, high-stakes setting
  • Broad coalitions in favor of the Compact
  • Issue Framing A small step in the right
  • Corporations
  • The United Nations
  • Some international NGOs
  • Local NGO networks
  • Groups challenging the Compact
  • Issue Framing The Global Compact is meaningless
    corporate eyewash backed by the UN.
  • Most NGOs
  • Some state governments

Agenda Setting UNGC Supporters
  • The United Nations supported the UNGC because of
  • Real commitment to human rights and sustainable,
    responsible business practices. The UN has no
    enforcement power, and having a voluntary
    commitment could win buy-in from the private
    sector but avoiding a End Corporate Immunity
  • A way to recognize the limits on their own power
    and the changing role of the state in global
    power arrangementsespecially in states where
    human rights abuses are a problem.
  • Opportunity to let the UN influence the corporate
    agenda, impossible to achieve with an adversarial
    framing. The UN was able to push for particular
    items to be on the UNGC, as Kofi Annan did with
    Corruption as the tenth principle.
  • Presence of a norm-creation effect, and some
    pressure for companies to comply with the
    principles, because non-compliances causes
    companies to lose face
  • Increased political and financial support from
  • "The United Nations once dealt only with
    Governments. By now we know that peace and
    prosperity cannot be achieved without
    partnerships involving Governments, international
    organizations, the business community and civil
    society. In today's world, we depend on each
  • Kofi Annan, December 2000

Agenda Setting UNGC Supporters
  • The Corporate Community supported the UNGC
    because it is
  • Voluntary, and has no enforcement, so can make a
    company look good for relatively little effort.
    There are no binding standards.
  • An opportunity access to the human rights and UN
    agenda as they pertain to corporate behavior, and
    so they have some control over what standards are
    set, and how the UN treats them in its
    resolutions, statements, etc.
  • A way to partner with the UN, offering
    corporations the same access as NGOs, which
    levels the interaction and advocacy networks.
  • A way to gain public support and build the moral
    of their customers and staff. This is a way for
    companies to make a commitment to human rights
    and social responsibility and still look like the
    good guys, rather than getting punished in some
    court process or looking as though they caved to
    NGO pressure.
  • A framework in which to improve their
    performance it limits and defines what their
    responsibilities are as compared to those of the
    state and other actors.

Agenda Setting UNGC Supporters
  • Some of the NGOs supported the UNGC because
  • The Global Compact is a good way to pressure
    companies into human rights commitment, however
  • Joining the UNGC gives NGOs a point of access to
    companies and their social responsibility
  • Additionally, working with corporations and
    advising them on how to follow the Compact gives
    NGOs an opportunity to expand their programming
    and reputation.
  • Greater opportunity for UN support when most NGOs
    opposed the Compact in the first place

Agenda Setting UNGC Supporters
  • Some of the local NGO networks supported the UNGC
  • These networks are often bodies that help frame
    the Compact in local contexts and help
    corporations carry out work on the ground.
  • The UNGC was a chance for local groups to have a
    say in what corporations are doing and to grow as
    they gain reputation and work from
  • UNGCs local adaptations allow local networks to
    advocate for solutions that are important in
    their own contexts.

Agenda Setting UNGC Opponents
  • Many major NGOs opposed the UNGC because
  • The Compact was too vague to be useful it
    allowed corporations to look good while doing
    nothing for development
  • The UNGC was seen as corporations taking the UN
    and twisting its institutions to their own goals
  • The agenda was not sufficiently comprehensive to
    actually give meaning to the 10 principles
  • Firstly why the Secretary-General has "not at any
    stage of developing this covenant consulted with
    the many public interest groups involved in
    campaigns against corporate power abuse around
    the world?" But secondly, "why business should
    not simply be forced to follow mandatory
    international standards for corporate behaviour"?
    Has the UN been bought off in some unstated way?
    Is that a secret clause of the Compact? Who would
    be able to provide a trustworthy answer?
  • The Corporate Europe Observer (October 1999, 5)

Challenges facing the UNGC
  • Then Problems in developing the Compact
  • Involving the right people in agenda setting
  • Giving the Global Compact teeth
  • Winning legitimacy from core actors (NGOs)
  • Now Ongoing problems
  • Vagueness of the compact
  • Attrition / non-compliance
  • Pressure from China

Involving the right people
  • United Nations tried to incorporate all the
    relevant actors
  • Getting major corporations to provide input
  • Involving NGOs substantially more difficult
  • Few major corporate watchdogs actually involved
  • Relatively little input from state governments
  • But there isnt a formal legal partnership
    between the UN and corporations
  • Companies pledge to uphold vague values

Giving the Global Compact teeth
  • Major tension between attracting businesses and
    making the Compact mean something
  • Companies wanted Compact to focus on general
    principles of good business
  • Provision for local interpretation of principles
  • Civil society hoped Compact would have specific,
    strict rules for companies and monitoring
  • Companies win 10 general principles, with no
    formal monitoring mechanism

Establishing legitimacy
  • Problems widespread criticisms of the process by
    commentators and civil society
  • Concern lack of involvement by key stakeholders
  • Lack of specific requirements for businesses
  • Compact seen as too weak
  • Solutions attempts by Compact supporters to
    involve NGOs and state governments
  • Some NGOs co-opted to gain support
  • Issue Framing treating Compact as useful
    incremental step

Ongoing Challenges of the Compact
  • Vagueness of the compact
  • Principles dont have any binding power on
  • Local interpretations allow companies
    considerable flexibility in following the Compact
  • Other companies dont sign agreement at all
  • Attrition / non-compliance
  • 1,000 companies (16) delisted from Compact since
  • Pressure from China
  • More difficult economic environment for companies
    to comply with heightened labor standards,
    anti-corruption measures, etc.