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Feedback from UN Global Compact Leaders Summit 2010

The third UN Global Compact Leaders Summit brought more than 1,000 global leaders together in New-York on June 24th-25th. Various stakeholders such as company executives, UN officials, academics, union organizations, investors, civil society and business schools have exchanged around the main priorities, “that are central to corporate leadership today, and essential for the transformation to sustainable markets and the achievement of societal goals”. These priorities are divided into 3 main sessions (Setting the Sustainability Agenda, Leading the Change and Achieving Development) in order to achieve an ambitious goal: “Building a new era of sustainability”, where “environmental, social and governance issues are deeply integrated into business”.

“Accelerating the practice of corporate sustainability and responsibility is an urgent task in these complex times, when crises - from financial market breakdowns to environmental degradation – are increasingly global and connected. […] To bring about a new era of sustainability, businesses everywhere must put long-term considerations, comprehensive risk management and ethics at the top of the corporate agenda”. {{LNK|UN Global Compact Leaders Summit 2010|}}

The key message highlighted by UN officials during the Leaders Summit was the urgent need of companies’ deeper involvement in Sustainable Development issues. The UN Global Compact, which today connects more than 1,300 organizations, targets the objective of 20,000 signatories for 2020.

Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary General, advices 4 priorities for global companies to transform their goodwill principles into real and concrete actions: the leadership or the art of “inspiring others into a race-to-the-top”, the need to heed the lessons from the financial crisis and forwake short-term profits, the support to the {{LNK|UN Millennium Development Goals|}} and the adoption of new tools and strategies for the coming new era. John Ruggie, UN Representative for Human Rights, explained: “Global Leaders must prove that their actions match with their verbal engagements”.

Last December, in an interview to the New -York Times {{LNK|“Businessmen, the Planet needs you!”|}}, George Kell, executive head of the UN Global Compact, first mentioned that: “Much more could be done through consumer movements and initiatives that identify companies that are making real progress in managing their environmental footprints and those that are not”. But even he if called upon companies’ straight engagement, he also recognized that some of them have made significant progresses: “Indeed, in recent months, scores of business leaders and some important investors have pursued what amounts to a global road show to demonstrate the many initiatives and actions they are undertaking to combat climate change, despite the slowness of many governments to act”.

In fact, in the study “A New Era of Sustainability” launched by the UN Global Compact and the consulting group Accenture on the Global Compact’s companies’ CEOs, things seem to have radically changed since the last Leaders Summit, 3 years ago. As for today:

• 93% of CEOs believe that sustainability issues will be critical to the future success of their business.
• 72% of CEOs cite “brand, trust and reputation” as one of the top three factors driving them to take action on sustainability issues. Revenue growth and cost reduction is second with 44%.
• 58% of CEOs identify consumers as the most important stakeholder group that will impact the way they manage societal expectations. Employees were second with 45%.
• 96% of CEOs believe that sustainability issues should be fully integrated into the strategy and operations of a company (up from 72% in 2007).

Companies tend to place the blame on governments for slow actions and even adopted the {{LNK|“New-York Declaration by Business”|}} at Leaders Summit closing session in order to strengthen their engagements towards Global Compact but also to “ call on governments to cultivate enabling environments for entrepreneurship and innovation and to set clear regulatory signals, especially on climate change”.

As highlighted during this closing session, 21st Century’s issues cannot be resolved without the engagement of all stakeholders. But the {{LNK|Harvard Business Review also warns| }}: “Speakers at the Leaders Summit claimed [companies] were the best positionned to tackle the world’s ills. […] Businesses owns the key assets needed to solve global problems: technology and global organizations. They also have better management and superior decisions horizons than governements. But […] while business’ proactive attitude toward solving problems is needed, realism about what they can do is essential”.

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