Opening Remarks at the Regional Employers' Meeting on the Global Compact

by Mr Yasuyuki Nodera, Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific

Statement | Bangkok | 27 November 2001

Ladies and gentlemen,

Good morning and a very warm welcome to you all. I thank all of you for taking time out of your busy schedules to be here today. I know that many of you have had long journeys, too, and I thank you all for your commitment to this very important cause. I would like to again thank Mr. Wilton of the International Organization of Employers for his words this morning. It is also a pleasure to welcome our employer constituents, as well as representatives of the other United Nations agencies that are key players in the Global Compact – Mr. Kell from the Secretary General’s Office; and colleagues from UNEP and UNHCHR. Welcome.

The Global Compact is, I believe, one of the most forward-looking and promising initiatives within the United Nations system today. It is now almost three years since the United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan unveiled the Global Compact, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, in January 1999. The Secretary-General called on enterprises to embrace and to implement nine principles, in the areas of environment, labour and human rights. Today, the Compact is a well-established fact. It has become a learning network, powered mostly by the activities of participants in business and civil society.

The ILO has been a strong supporter of the Compact from the outset. ILO Director-General Juan Somavia was among the speakers at a high-level meeting that helped shape the Compact’s activities last year. He pointed to areas with significant potential for cooperation and dialogue – including the elimination of child labour, social dialogue, and international labour standards and practices addressing the four key labour principles in the Compact. Since then, the ILO has been working hard on Global Compact initiatives. A Business and Social Initiatives Database has been established, and linked to the Global Compact website. And at the regional and country level, the ILO has been working with its constituents to further the aims of the Compact. Today’s meeting continues this process, together with the survey results that will be reviewed during the course of our proceedings here.

The Global Compact is building bridges between the United Nations and vitally important players in the world of work. Those links have been part of the ILO’s structure since its foundation, in 1919. Ours is the only United Nations Organization with representation from employers and workers. Tripartism - and the rich diversity of experience and knowledge that it brings - has always been the ILO’s great strength. In today’s globalizing world, the private sector is playing a more important role than ever before. A report prepared for the UN General Assembly in August cites some interesting figures. We see that global private sector investment is growing. Between 1991 and 2000, foreign direct investment in developing countries grew from $43.97 billion to $240.17 billion. By contrast, official flows declined, from $56.68 billion to $53.06 billion. We see that more companies are operating globally. In 1990, there were 37,000 transnational corporations. Today, there are more than 60,000. And these companies have some 800,000 foreign affiliates, and millions of suppliers and distributors operate along their value chains. Foreign exchange flows have soared to more than $1.5 trillion daily, up from $13 billion in 1973.

These figures are part of the globalization story – the extraordinary growth in trade and exchange that we saw in the closing years of the century. And yet, this story has a darker side. Inequality has risen. We see more countries joining the UN Least Developed category. The ILO estimates that worldwide, some one billion people are either unemployed, underemployed, or "working poor", living on less than $1 a day. Some groups, such as youth, are particularly vulnerable. There are currently 60 million unemployed youth. Ten-year estimates show that this figure could rise to 1.2 billion. It is a situation which warrants extraordinary concern. It is sometimes tempting to blame globalization. And yet globalization – and the revolution in information and communication technology that has helped make it possible – has brought benefits to many. We do not want to turn the clock back. Instead, we want globalization’s benefits to reach more people. The urgency of this task was underlined at the ILO’s first Global Employment Forum, held this month in Geneva. The UN Secretary-General Mr. Annan told delegates that the only way to reach the UN’s Millennium goals, was to ensure that globalization worked for all. The Employment Forum brought together 700 of the world’s political and economic leaders to focus on that challenge. Among them was Nobel Economics Laureate Joseph Stiglitz, who called on the international community to push for decent work. Development, he said, meant more than accumulating capital, and allocating resources efficiently. Development was the transformation of society. And equitable, sustainable and democratic development requires basic labour rights, including the freedom of association and collective bargaining.

This is the message that is at the heart of the ILO’s Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. And these are the fundamental labour principles that are part of the Global Compact. These principles offer a social floor for the global economy. They ensure that there is a fundamental level of decency at work. Your commitment to these principles, through the ILO, and through your support for the Global Compact, is heartening. In Asia and the Pacific, we have already seen strong demonstrations of support for the Global Compact. In Singapore in October last year, employers’ representatives from almost every country in the region endorsed the Compact and called on their members to help pursue its goals. Since then, we have seen a significant number of country level gatherings and initiatives. There are too many to list here – but the Global Compact website offers an excellent guide. Here, I would also like to mention the importance of the case studies that form part of the process. These underline the Compact’s promotional approach, recognizing the contribution that enterprises already make, and pointing the way for others. As you will hear this afternoon, the ILO is currently involved in work on case studies from this region.

Once again, I think you for your presence here today, and for the commitment that you have demonstrated to our shared goals. Because our goals truly are shared. I believe that the preparatory process for next year’s World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg will make those links even more apparent. I wish you well with your endeavours over the coming two days, and look forward to continuing cooperation.

Thank you.