Ethical Performance
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Compact under the cosh from its own inspectors

May 2011

The United Nations Global Compact has delivered ‘unclear results’ and exposed the UN to reputational damage in its first ten years, according to two of the UN’s external inspectors.

A report prepared by Papa Louis Fall and Mohamed Mounir Zahran of the UN’s influential Joint Inspection Unit (JIU), which evaluates the effectiveness of various UN initiatives, says the compact has suffered from a ‘blurred focus and impact’.

In particular, the absence of adequate entry criteria for compact participants and the lack of an effective monitoring system to measure their compliance with the compact’s ten principles have opened the UN up to criticism and have therefore created ‘reputational risk’ for the body.

The inspectors say the reporting and self-evaluation mechanisms required of participants ‘do not provide adequate safeguards’ and they complain that without more transparent handling of complaints against signatories, the initiative lacks the ‘teeth’ needed and demanded by many.

The report evaluated the risks associated with the use of the UN brand by companies that may benefit from the partnership without proving their conformity with UN core values.

It says that while the compact has succeeded in expanding its constituency and outreach activities, ‘the entry process is not selective enough nor is it conducive to quality participation’. A lack of specific targets and an imbalance in the number, type and regional representation of participants was also identified.

The JIU also notes that the Compact Office’s set-up ‘is more flexible than usual [for a UN initiative] regarding its staffing and financing’ – and says member states should give better guidance to the UN secretary-general on ‘delineating the functions of the office, so as to prevent a situation whereby external actors may divert attention from agreed strategic goals to promote interests that may damage the reputation of the organization’. It says the governance structure is ‘costly, cumbersome and ineffective’.

The Compact Office has hit back strongly at the report, saying it is based on outdated information, and is ‘deeply flawed’ and ‘inaccurate’.

‘We are greatly disappointed with this report,’ said Georg Kell, executive director of the Compact. ‘Despite our repeated efforts to set the record straight, the unit has released a document that not only contains egregious errors, but fails utterly to comprehend the critical role that the private sector must play in helping the UN work toward common causes. We urge the unit to correct this report.’

The office says that on two separate occasions prior to the release of the report last month, it provided ‘comprehensive feedback, including corrections’, on drafts of the report, but these were not taken up in the final version.

It is especially upset that the inspectors appear to ‘fail to acknowledge’ that stricter reporting requirements have recently led to the expulsion of more than 2000 companies from the initiative.

United Nations | Global | Reporting

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