Published on Wednesday, July 26, 2000 in the Independent / UK
UN Offers Firms 'Logo For Human Rights' Deal To Companies Giants
by Katherine Butler
The United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan, has been accused of offering Nike, Royal Dutch Shell and other global corporations the right to use the UN emblem and logo to help them rebrand their image.
Chief executives of 50 corporate giants have been invited by Mr Annan to the UN headquarters in New York today to sign up to a voluntary "partnership" scheme aimed at persuading them to end Third World sweatshops and corporate environmental abuses.
The list of companies invited includes the global giants Nike, Shell, and mining company Rio Tinto, all accused in the past of human rights violations.
The scheme in theory commits them to upholding nine human rights principles including the rights of workers to unionise, the elimination of child labour and the development of environmentally friendly technologies.
But the plan, which the UN is calling "the global compact", has provoked the fury of a coalition of aid and environmental agencies and leading development academics. They claim it will allow companies accused of human rights violations to win UN endorsement and use the UN emblem to give their corporate activities a branding makeover, while doing nothing of substance to clean up conditions in their factories and industrial sites.
"It allows companies like Nike ... to wrap themselves in the UN flag without any binding committment to change," said Joshua Karliner, executive director of the San Francisco-based corporate monitoring group Trac (Transnational Resource and Action). "This will enhance the Nike brand name and could be a powerful marketing tool."
The scheme will require companies to post on a UN website regular information about the steps they are taking to end sweatshop conditions and environmental degradation. But they will be under no obligation to observe a code of conduct or set minimum standards.
A letter to the secretarygeneral signed by 20 nongovernmental agencies including Greenpeace said the initiative implied that UN official policy was to supportcorporate-driven globalisation.
The voluntary nature of the initiative, without any monitoring or enforcement procedures, would allow corporations to "wrap themselves in the flag of the United Nations in order to 'bluewash' their public image while at the same time avoiding significant changes to their behaviour", the letter said. "Without monitoring, the public will be no better able to assess the behaviour as opposed to the rhetoric of corporations."
John Ruggie, chief adviserto Mr Annan, said the initiative reflected concern in the United Nations at the unfettered growth of globalisation.
He said labour organisations such as the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, human rights groups including Amnesty International, and environmental groups such as the World Wide Fund, which have agreed to take part, would not allow corporations to "hoodwink" the public. "It's about making the world a better place," Mr Ruggie said.
Copyright 2000 Independent/UK
Also see Corporate Watch's July 25, 2000 Press Release: