A time for business statesmanship

Foreword by DNV GL

In 15 years, visionary leaders have changed the way we look at business. From this foundation, imagine what we can achieve in the decades to come.

Dr. Henrik O. Madsen
President & CEO, DNV GL Group

Protecting human rights, preserving the environment, conducting ethical business: these principles are all considered essential to good business. But this has not always been the case. Many of today’s fundamental corporate principles reflect the foresight of leaders who, 15 years ago, dared to challenge ‘the business of business’.

On the brink of the new millennium, business leaders’ only aim was to maximise value for their shareholders; there was little obligation to look beyond the bottom line. Yet a realisation was building that global markets were not working as they should. There was widespread concern over corporate abuse, corruption, and the failure of governments to ensure a more equal distribution of the benefits of globalisation. This eroded trust in global business and was threatening the continued
openness of markets.

Then in 1999, former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan threw down a challenge to the global business world: “I call on you to embrace, support and enact a set of core
values in the areas of humn rights, labour standards, and environmental practices”.

At the time, this seemed nothing short of revolutionary. But 44 visionary business leaders were ready to heed the call. In the face of widespread criticism, they immediately responded and together with the UN developed a new set of corporate priorities. The United Nations Global Compact was born. The goal: to underpin the global market with a set of universal values, and to ensure that business practices everywhere contribute to development, human rights and peace.

We owe these leaders a debt of gratitude. The formation of the Global Compact marked a turning point in the fundamental understanding of how business can be a force for good.

As we celebrate the Global Compact’s 15th anniversary, DNV GL is humbled to have been invited by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to assess the impact of the initiative since its inception. It is a matter close to our hearts – for more than 150 years, DNV GL has worked to fulfil our vision of a global impact for a safe and sustainable future.

In this report, we examine how the global economy has developed over the years, and assess the central role the Global Compact has played in spearheading wide-reaching change. Our conclusion is that we have made great progress. And the
Global Compact has indeed had significant impact in many important areas. But we are not moving fast enough. In the final part of this report we set out pathways to speed up change.

In the next 15 years, business must continue to work together with the Global Compact, policy makers, scientists, labour organisations and civil society to scale up actions and achieve real transformative impact. The solutions are within reach, and the opportunities are enormous. If we do, we can not only achieve the Global Compact’s vision of a sustainable and inclusive global economy, we can also create a better, more stable and more prosperous future for all of humankind.

From my own career spanning 35 years in global business, I firmly believe  sustainable, principled business is more important than ever. This in itself is testament to the work of the Global Compact: it has played a pivotal role in teaching all of us in the global business community that infinite growth is not possible on a finite planet.

As business leaders today, I hope this report inspires you to follow in the footsteps of the Global Compact’s 44 founding partners. Let us join together to fight unsustainable world views. Let us have the courage to exercise business  statesmanship, take risks, invest in new technology and explore new business models. Let us work together now to radically accelerate the pace of change and ensure a safe and sustainable future for all.

Finally, I want to express my deep gratitude to all contributors to this work, and the Global Compact for their strong support and collaboration throughout this process.

Dr. Henrik O. Madsen
President & CEO DNV GL Group