The United Nations corporate responsibility scheme fails the integrity test

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No action taken over “patron sponsor” Nestlé for violating Principles

The United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) is a voluntary initiative that is supposed to improve the behaviour of companies that sign up to it. However, more than two years after Baby Milk Action registered complaints that Nestlé is systematically breaking its commitments to the UNGC Principles, the UN Global Compact Office (GCO) has still to take the action called for under so-called Integrity Measures, stressing that its role is to “promote dialogue”.

 We are not alone in our concerns about the UNGC. In 2010, the UN’s Joint Inspection Unit found serious failings when it carried out an evaluation of the GCO. The GCO rejected the report as flawed (see below).

Having copied the GCO into our ongoing correspondence with Nestlé for over two years, we asked the GCO to take other action called for in the Integrity Measures, which state:

“The Global Compact Office would be available to provide guidance and assistance, as necessary and appropriate, to the participating company concerned, in taking actions to remedy the situation that is the subject matter of the allegation in order to align the actions of the company with its commitments to the Global Compact principles.”

The GCO responded saying that it can ONLY “facilitate adherence to the principles of the Global Compact through openness and enhanced communication.” (ie forward our letters to Nestlé onto Nestlé a second time.) That is all. However, the Integrity Measures allow it to do much more:

“The Global Compact Office may, in its sole discretion, take one or more of the following  steps, as appropriate... Refer the matter to one or more of the UN entities that are the guardians of the Global Compact principles for advice, assistance or action”.

 Nestlé disputes interpretation of the UN Resolutions and as the GCO says it is not qualified to evaluate Nestlé’s comments or its reports posted on the GCO site - it should consult UN legal experts - but will not do so.

The Integrity Measures call for a review which can lead to the company being excluded from the initiative if dialogue does not resolve the issue.

Pressed on why it will not conduct this review, the GCO responded to Baby Milk Action, “As you well know, the Global Compact Office is not an adjudicatory body.”

We asked the GCO to clarify why it was not taking the actions set out in the Integrity Measures - and it responded, “we do not plan to provide a point-by-point response.”

We have sent our list of questions of the UN Secretary General asking for assistance (we asked the GCO to pass our letter to its Board through its usual channels, but it refused to do so).

Update 29 March 2012: Baby Milk Action has released the letter sent to the UN Secretary General - click here.

The GCO has told us in previous correspondence that not a single company has been excluded from the Global Compact following a complaint by a civil society organisation under the Integrity Measures.


Conflicts of interest - follow the money

Nestlé was one of three patron sponsors listed on the title page for the UN Global Compact Leaders Summit in New York in 2010. 


Meetings with Nestlé executives - where the Global Compact Office could help 

 Baby Milk Action meets with Nestlé executive at fora such as the EU Platform for Action and the company’s shareholder AGM. We are in ongoing correspondence regarding violations of the baby food marketing requirements - communicating in writing ensures accuracy and a documentary record. We have proposed meeting directly with executives under a four-point plan that could ultimately lead to the end of the boycott. For this meeting to take place, we first require Nestlé to state that it accepts the validity of the International Code and Resolutions adopted by the World Health Assembly and that it needs to make changes to its marketing practices. It refuses to do so, instead suggesting a meeting with no clear purpose. In the past, Nestlé has misrepresented such meetings by falsely claiming that it is “working in partnership” with its critics.

Nestlé most recently rejected the four-point plan in a letter dated 15 December 2011. Executives claim that the marketing requirements have been interpreted incorrectly. To make progress, we have proposed that Nestlé and Baby Milk Action meet before a panel of independent experts to resolve disagreements over interpretation. Nestlé refuses to even set out its terms and conditions for taking part in such a meeting (which would include how it can be reported to third parties).

The GCO has ignored our request for it to encourage Nestlé to engage with these proposals. Instead it is pressuring us to meet Nestlé without first agreeing the purpose of the meeting.

• We understand that Nestlé is attempting to arrange meetings about its baby milk marketing activities with what it terms “stakeholders”. We ask that anyone receiving an invitation encourage Nestlé first to contact Baby Milk Action to engage with the above proposals. If Nestlé is not prepared to do so, its intentions should be questioned.


Summary of the main findings of the UN’s Joint Inspection Unit:

  • The GCO has no clear mandate and lacks a long term strategy and clear targets. There are no clear entry criteria and no screening of members.
  • There is a lack of transparency and effective monitoring system.The reporting mechanism consists in a self-assessment exercise that fails to provide effective monitoring or verification of the principles.
  • The GC has drawn reputational risks for the UN organizations involved in it because of the risks associated with the use of the UN brand by companies who do not have to prove conformity with UN core values.
  • The Inspectors recommend that Member States should be involved and that the UN General Assembly needs to guide the Secretary General in better delineating a clear mandate for the GCO, “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 United Nations”.
  • “The Secretary-General, in his capacity as Chairman of the Global Compact Board, should submit to the consideration of the Board concrete measures to reinforce accountability in the implementation of the Integrity Measures, including (a) closer scrutiny of [company reports] by local networks and civil society... (d) more proactive and transparent handling of complaints.”  

The Role and Functioning of the Global Compact: JIU/REP/2010/9):


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