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UN group, businesses, to meet at ND

Adam Llorens | Thursday, March 10, 2011

Government representatives and top business executives will meet on campus with the United Nations Global Compact Foundation next week to discuss their goals to end extreme poverty around the world.

The Mendoza College of Business will host the conference from March 20 to 22. The United Nations Global Compact began in 2000 and established 10 principles for the betterment of humanity.

Business professor Fr. Oliver Williams is one of the directors of this conference.

“The United Nations founded the compact in 2000,” Williams said. “The compact is made of 10 principles for companies to abide by and incorporate into their daily practice.”

Companies join the Global Compact and promise to protect human rights, labor rights, environmental issues and anti-corruption practices. The Development Goals specifically outline 10 goals to significantly relieve poverty by 2015.

To sign onto the Compact, the president of a company must write a letter to the Secretary General of the United Nations indicating an interest in joining and promising to write a report each year indicating how the company is progressing in implementing the Principles, Williams said.

The company must address the specific goals, which include abolishing of child labor, eliminating discrimination and using environmentally friendly technology.

“If globalization in the world’s economy is going to continue, it must be done in a fair manner,” Williams said.

The problem that the U.N. was noticing was that many businesses based in multinational countries were producing the majority of their products in developing nations.

After they drafted the compact, Williams wrote to the organization to offer his help in spreading awareness about the cause. The United Nations responded and asked Williams to host a conference at Notre Dame for both United Nations and business leaders.

“In 2002, we hosted the first conference here with a number of companies attending,” Williams said. “Since the first conference, over 6,000 businesses have signed onto the compact.”

Four years ago, the United Nations contacted Williams again and asked if he would be on the board of directors for the UN Global Compact Foundation. Williams and his colleagues have since funded the development of the compact in third world countries.

“Companies need to practice better ethical standards, and consumers need to be aware of where their company makes its products and process by which they do so,” Williams said. “This is one of the major points which will be touched upon at this conference.”

A number of prominent companies will visit campus at the upcoming conference, including Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Nestlé and Levi Strauss.

In addition to raising awareness of company malpractice such as sweat shops, the conference will look at businesses’ role as humanitarians who are able to use some of their power to jumpstart impoverished nations.

The United Nations’ decision to hold the conference at Notre Dame is another cause for hope, Williams said.

“Notre Dame strives to teach both the hearts and minds of students so they will be able to use their talents to help others,” Williams said. “The United Nations finds our values congruent with their own.”

The Mendoza College of Business has already implemented some of the values and deals to be discussed at the conference in its educational program.

“We require all of our undergraduate and MBA students to take an ethics course, which takes a closer look at some of the complicated problems going on in the business world,” Williams said. “We believe the purpose of business is to produce both financial and human value.”