Ban-Ki Moon opened, followed by a number of panellists and it were the usual, well meaning speeches by many leaders in business, and civil society. Moon announced the goal of raising the membership from currently 8,000 to 20,000 by 2020. Bloomberg ventured to step out of his role as Mayor and into that of a concerned citizen by pointing to two of the major challenges for future sustainability: 1bn deaths due to tobacco consumption over the next decade, and a similar level of road fatalities, given the current trends in automotive growth. These were quite daunting, but nevertheless refreshing new angles on the issues.
Maybe i am hanging out too much on conferences that my ears are by now a bit teflonized for much of the sustainability rhetoric. But reflecting back on this opening session, I feel quite good about the UNGC. It has certainly changed the game for many of the companies involved, most of them – which I did not know – are in fact SMEs.
So the ten year old gives us some reason for pride and satisfaction. But you keep wondering if the bigger worry in fact are not those little friends of our laureate who he hangs out with. In other words, the biggest worry still are those companies who haven't even signed up (or the 1,300 which had to be expelled). I think this aspect highlights the magnitude of the underlying issue and in fact one reason why what has been achieved by the GC is undeniably a success.
I liked Philip Jennings, the General Secretary of the gobal federation of trade unions (UNI Global Union). He highlighted the persistent plight of the trade union movement and the apparent tensions between a company publishing all sort of niceties on employees in their CSR report while at the same time busting their unionized workers. Point well made.
The agenda for the future was probably best put by John Ruggie (Harvard University) in the afternoon plenary, posing that the era of 'declaratory CSR is over' and companies now have to 'know and show' concrete progress. He argued that sustainability, as suggested in the new Blueprint for Corporate Sustainability Leadership is not a 'technocratic fix' but rather an active engagement with stakeholders in concrete situations. This new Blueprint is probably becoming a rather influential tool in the future, the Director General of the Norwegian Oil Fund pointed out: they will use it as a guideline in talking to companies and aligning their investment decisions on it. It seems to be a step closer to what many businesses are calling for: a more level playing field.