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THE SECRETARY-GENERAL -- REMARKS AT LUNCHEON WITH BUSINESS LEADERS HOSTED BY THE JAPAN BUSINESS FEDERATION Tokyo, 23 February 2004

2004.02.24

Ladies and gentlemen,
I am delighted and honoured to meet with a gathering of such prominent Japanese business leaders. This is a highly valuable opportunity for us to exchange views and experiences with all of you.

I’m sure I speak for all of us in saying that last year was a particularly difficult one, and perhaps the most difficult event was the war in Iraq and associated developments.

Those events have raised a number of wider questions about the nature of the challenges we face, and about the ability of the multilateral system to deal with them.

I believe they have underlined the pressing need to make the United Nations the most effective instrument it can be in meeting threats to global security in the 21st century. Whether in combatting international terrorism, countering the threat of weapons mass destruction, alleviating poverty and hunger, stopping the spread of infectious diseases, preventing genocide, or rebuilding states after war, as we are now doing in Iraq, we urgently need to find practical ways and more effective ways to move forward.

This means we have to re-evaluate our existing capacities, as well as building new capacities to meet the threats and challenges ahead.

And that is why, in November of last year, I appointed a High-Level Panel to examine the threats and the challenges we face, evaluate our existing policies, processes and institutions, and make bold recommendations for change, primarily in the area of peace and security.

I know that last year we were all consumed by Iraq, and not just political leaders. I have never come across so many business people talking about geopolitics and discussing the impact on the business cycle. This year we must make every effort to rebalance the international agenda, and focus not just on terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, but also on ways to protect millions of our fellow men and women from poverty, hunger and deadly disease. We must understand that a threat to some is a threat to all, and needs to be addressed accordingly.

To put it frankly, for most of the world’s people, the most immediate and real issues are those that directly affect what they hope to achieve for themselves and their families. Issues that relate to building a decent life, with access to education and health care, enough food and clean drinking water, in a healthy environment. Issues that are identified in the Millennium Development Goals, which were adopted by all the world’s governments in 2000 as a blueprint for building a better world in 21st century.

The events of 2003 distracted the world’s leaders from dealing with those issues. This year, I really hope we will rebuild the momentum needed to translate the Millennium Development Goals into reality, and focus on issues of economic and social development.

In that agenda, business has a crucial role to play. It is now five years ago that I proposed a Global Compact, calling on business leaders to embrace universal principles in the areas of human rights, labour and the environment.

I proposed the Compact at that time because I was concerned that unless global markets were embedded in shared values and responsible practices, the global economy would be fragile, and vulnerable to backlash. I should add that this proposal was made before Seattle and the anti-globalization demonstrations around the world.

That was why I urged businesses and business leaders to work with the United Nations to build and fortify social pillars. I called on business leaders to join the Global Compact as a vehicle for exercising enlightened self-interest, and to help achieve more stable and inclusive markets.

I am happy to report that today, the Global Compact includes more than 1,200 companies operating in over 70 countries — including Japan.

It is very exciting to see the Compact blossom in this country as well. Japanese companies, already established leaders in the world economy in a wide range of industries and sectors, are demonstrating ever stronger leadership in the field of corporate citizenship.

Around the world, Japanese companies are known for their innovation and for producing goods of superb quality. By combining this with a deep commitment to universal values, Japanese companies are well placed to enjoy the wider benefits of what some are calling “responsible competitiveness”.

And I am happy that the Global Compact is providing a platform to help achieve this.

The fundamental mission of the Global Compact remains the same as the one I proposed five years ago:

First, to create a global ethical framework by embracing universal principles- in the areas of human rights, labour standards and the environment - that have been long recognized by Governments everywhere, but not yet universally implemented;

Secong, to show how business can be part of the solution to the range of challenges facing society today;

Third, to identify and focus on practical projects and initiatives;

And fourth, to learn how to work together with all other actors in society.

For Japan, with its large number of transnational companies, a stable and inclusive global economy is clearly of great importance.

In January 2001, Kikkoman became the first Japanese company to join the Global Compact. Today, we have14 companies participating. That is very encouraging. But I believe we can do much better.

Today, I call on all Japanese companies and business groups to support the Global Compact by committing themselves explicitly to its principles. As we prepare for a major Compact summit meeting in New York this summer, I very much hope that more Japanese companies will step forward, too. Regarding the Summit, we have invited the chairmen and chief executive officers who are participating in the Compact to come together, look at what has been achieved in five years, and consider where we can improve the Compact.

I know I can count on the Japan Business Federation, with its great influence, to encourage all its members to sign up and participate.

Many Japanese companies are already using the Global Reporting Initiative. This should provide further impetus, since the Global Compact and the Global Reporting initiative work hand in hand — the Compact as a value-based platform for responsible corporate citizenship, and the Global Reporting Initiative as a model for public accountability.

I believe that through the active engagement of Japanese companies and other stakeholders, I am optimistic that the Global Compact will provide a useful platform to advance corporate citizenship and help produce a more sustainable and inclusive world economy, so that globalization’s benefits can be shared by everyone, including the world’s poor.

Finally, let me say a word about the Global Compact Network Japan, created in December 2003, will be instrumental in driving our partnership forward. The Network will develop an approach specifically designed to meet the needs of Japanese business leaders, and strengthen partnerships with business organizations and other corporate-responsibility groups in Japan and around the world.

I believe that by sharing of experiences, the Network will advance the principles of the Global Compact, while ensuring that it is translated appropriately into the Japanese business community’s special value system and culture.

Thank you very much.

国連創設75周年
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