Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary-general died in Switzerland on August 18 at the age of 80. He became the first black African secretary-general in 1997, and four years later he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Born in Kumasi, Ghana, the son of a provincial governor and grandson of two tribal chiefs, Annon had a regal bearing, that was both elegant and dignified. Annan will be remembered as one of the world’s most celebrated diplomats. The breadth of his career was considerable spanning his work at the UN and a host of positions in academia. This included being chancellor of the University of Ghana, a fellow at New York’s Columbia University, and a professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore.
Annan was a leading advocate for climate action. In 2009 an organization led by Annan called the Global Humanitarian Forum, released a study that concluded global warming is causing 300,000 deaths and $125 billion in economic losses annually. The study also predicted that we are running out of time to address the threats we face.
Annan championed peacekeeping and fought poverty, he was a powerful advocate of human rights and development. He helped to make the UN more open and accountable and he set up a formal response to human rights atrocities.
He learned from his failed leadership as a senior UN official during the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 and the massacre in Srebrenica a year later. After becoming secretary-general he drew on these experiences to create a doctrine called the “Responsibility to Protect”.
Annon was the secretary-general from 1997 – 2006 and during this time he led the UN in opposing the war with Iraq in 2003. He is responsible for integrating social issues into the UN’s agenda overseeing the creation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). He was active in raising funds to fight diseases like AIDS and he set up the first UN counter-terrorism strategy. In 2005 he created the Peacebuilding Commission and the Human Rights Council. He also set up an internal U.N. ethics office
He was involved in the independence of East Timor from Indonesia in 1999 and he helped secure a truce between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006. He also mediated the settlement of a dispute between Cameroon and Nigeria.
After leaving the UN in 2007, he created a foundation that promoted peace, development, and human rights. He also championed fair elections and he succeeded in brokering peace in Kenya after 1000 people were killed in election violence. He joined the Elders, an organization created by Nelson Mandala, and succeeding Desmond Tutu as its chairman. In 2012 he was named UN Arab League’s special envoy to Syria in 2012.
Annon spoke out about the refugee crisis, he promoted good government and advocated for anti-corruption measures. He was also a supporter of sustainability in agriculture and the corporate world.
The Global Compact may prove to be one of his most enduring legacies, it is arguably his most impactful initiative. The Global Compact defines itself as a “call to companies to align strategies and operations with universal principles on human rights, labor, environment, and anti-corruption, and take actions that advance societal goals.” They inspire, guide, and support companies to act responsibly.
On the environmental front, they address risks and leverage opportunities while urging businesses to see how their fates are tied to the planet. On the social front, they manage the impacts and opportunities affecting employees, workers in the value chain, customers, and communities. On the governance side of things, they support economic development leading to good governance and stability.
The Global Compact is also focused on sustainable development. To achieve this goal they leverage financial markets improving investments by proactively managing sustainability risks.
They are also stalwart advocates of principled supply chain practices that deliver strong sustainability performance.
To achieve their sustainability goals the Global Compact calls on companies to integrate 10 Principles into corporate values, strategies, policies, and procedures. The ultimate goal is to establish a culture of integrity that supports the three tenants of sustainability (people, planet, and profit).
Principle 1: Businesses should support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights;
Principle 2: make sure that they are not complicit in human rights abuses.
Principle 3: Businesses should uphold the freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining;
Principle 4: the elimination of all forms of forced and compulsory labor;
Principle 5: the effective abolition of child labor; and
Principle 6: the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.
Principle 7: Businesses should support a precautionary approach to environmental challenges;
Principle 8: undertake initiatives to promote greater environmental responsibility; and
Principle 9: encourage the development and diffusion of environmentally friendly technologies.
Principle 10: Businesses should work against corruption in all its forms, including extortion and bribery.
The vision of the UN Global Compact is to create a sustainable and inclusive global economy that delivers lasting benefits to people, communities, and markets. The Global Compact gets involved in helping businesses to reduce their carbon footprints in many ways including the Science-Based Targets Initiative.
The Global Compact is the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative and it has spawned corporate action that has helped to usher sustainability into the mainstream.