Tribute: Kofi Annan's contribution to the business & human rights movement

Author: Georg Kell, (Founding Director of UN Global Compact) Forbes, Published on: 23 August 2018

"In Memory Of Kofi Annan: Father Of The Modern Corporate Sustainability Movement"

A great son of Africa and a true global leader has passed away. Kofi Annan, United Nations secretary general from 1997 to 2006 and co-recipient, with the UN, of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001, is being mourned and remembered with great affection all over the world...

In the sunny afternoon of January 29, 1999, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Kofi Annan spoke  to hundreds of business executives: “I propose that you, the business leaders…and we the United Nations initiate a Global Compact of shared values and principles, which will give a human face to the global market.” Every word of this speech sank into the minds of those present. And with this “speech act,” Kofi Annan planted the seeds for the modern corporate sustainability movement. The call was heard all over the world...Numerous business leaders, such as Sir Mark Moody Stuart, stepped forward and dedicated years to translate Kofi Annan’s call into the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative, the United Nations Global Compact.

Kofi Annan’s call to action is as relevant today as it was two decades ago: “The spread of markets outpaces the ability of societies and their political systems to adjust to them, let alone to guide the course they take. History teaches us that such an imbalance between the economic, social and political realm can never be sustained for very long. The global economy will be fragile and vulnerable to the backlash from all the “isms” of our time: protectionism, populism, nationalism, ethnic chauvinism, fanaticism and terrorism.” Thousands of companies around the world who have embraced the ten universal principles of the UN Global Compact in the areas of human rights, labor, the environment and anti-corruption have the opportunity to carry Kofi Annan’s legacy forward now....

He then joined them  against the advice of some of his aides  to launch the UN-backed Principles for Responsible Investing (PRI)at the New York Stock Exchange in April 2006. And with the appointment of John Ruggie, Kofi Annan paved the way for the UN Guiding Principles on Human Rights, now the gold standard in this critical area.

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