“Can you represent [my organization] in this conference Monday morning?” my colleague requests. “All of senior management is tied up!”.  I glance at the invitation in her hand and – already having a fairly tight agenda – am tempted to make up some excuse.  It’s Friday afternoon and I’m not too keen to start rearranging Monday.
“It’s on ‘Advancing Public Private Partnerships in Response to Global Disasters’.”  The invite lands in front of me, I skim a few lines and quickly agree wholeheartedly to go.  My eyes caught the following:  “Keynote: President William J Clinton; UN Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery”.  “By invitation only.”

The conference is co-sponsored by Hank McKinnell, Chairman and CEO, Pfizer Inc and Chair of Business Roundtable and Jan Egeland, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator.

Business Roundtable is an association of chief executive officers of leading U.S. corporations with a combined workforce of more than 10 million employees in the United States. The Roundtable is committed to advocating public policies that ensure vigorous economic growth, a dynamic global economy, and the well-trained and productive U.S. workforce essential for future competitiveness. Business Roundtable believes that its potential for effectiveness is based on the fact that it draws on CEOs directly and personally, and presents government with reasoned alternatives and positive suggestions.

(You can read more on them following the link above).
Jan Egeland is head of UN OCHA

I will not go into the various presentations given.  The Business Roundtable site has a very good summary.
Some 80 corporate participants and some 40-50 from a number of NGOs and UN offices.

Which brings me to my question to the community: On which terms should the UN and the big international humanitarian organizations engage with the private sector?
Obviously, any organization or corporation may engage in humanitarian work – whether the motivation is purely philantropic, or interspersed with some element of seeking positive publicity.  However, it must also be recognized that a major obstacle to effective and efficient aid is the extreme proliferation of well-intended (and even not-so-well intended) actors that may result in confusion such as duplication of efforts or failure to recognize needs.  A well-coordinated logistics plan will also significantly reduce the costs of bringing resources to affected areas.
In a disaster area, it will be the host government which is in charge of the relief efforts – whether it is a fact, or only nominally so.  It is also well accepted in the international humanitarian community that OCHA is the coordinator for international aid to the host government, whether from NGOs or UN agencies.  But how does the private sector fit in here?  At the conference, I heard willingness on the part of the corporate representatives to accept such coordination, even welcoming it.
Do the UN and NGOs such as CARE, Red Cross or Save the Children risk that participating corporations are seen as ‘sponsors’ of the ‘official’ aid (even if they actually implement their own independent, but now coordinated project)?

The UN has already set some standards with regards to ‘responsible corporate citizenship’ in its Global Compact.  The Global Compact has defined The Ten Principles based on Human Rights, Labor Rights, Environment and Anti-Corruption:

The Ten Principles  
The Global Compact’s ten principles in the areas of human rights, labour, the environment and anti-corruption enjoy universal consensus and are derived from:

    * The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
    * The International Labour Organization’s Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work
    * The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development
    * The United Nations Convention Against Corruption

The Global Compact asks companies to embrace, support and enact, within their sphere of influence, a set of core values in the areas of human rights, labour standards, the environment, and anti-corruption:

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.

Labour 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 labour;
    * Principle 5: the effective abolition of child labour; and
    * Principle 6: the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.


    * Principle 7: Businesses should support a precautionary approach to environmental challenges;
    * Principle 8: undertake initiatives to promote greater environmental responsibility; and
    * Principle 9: encourage the development and diffusion of environmentally friendly technologies


    * Principle 10: Businesses should work against all forms of corruption, including extortion and bribery.

Pretty high standards, I would say.  Are there even any global corporations that could actually pass all those hurdles?

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