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Book: Development at Risk: Rethinking UN-Business Partnerships

11 Feb 2004

  • Author(s): Ann Zammit

Partnerships between the UN and business have proliferated in recent years, and cover a wide range of activities and types of relationship and are now advocated as a crucial means of helping developing countries achieve the UN Millennium Development Goals. Starting with an overview of the factors contributing to closer relations between business and the UN, the study examines a range of issues that affect the extent to which these partnerships are likely to contribute to development. It suggests that there are various grounds for concluding that close relations between the UN and business will do little to promote development. Apart from systemic factors that limit the extent of improvement in labour and environmental standards through the Global Compact (the UN’s flagship partnership), the study points to more serious problems posed by other types of partnership between the UN and business which are often ignored. While partnerships may achieve their specified economic or social goals, they may well have other outcomes that serve the interests of the business partner more than the developing countries involved. Indeed, these outcomes may actually hinder development.

Moreover, the author argues that UN partnerships with TNCs are dysfunctional in that any improvements gained through partnerships cannot compensate for the impediments to development posed by the current global economic regime that is central to the interests of TNCs and promoted by them with great vigour, including through so-called partnerships with the UN.

At the same time, partnerships between the UN and TNCs subject the UN to two important risks. First there is the risk of damage to its reputation by working with large corporations whose behaviour is often questionable, if not illegal, and with little guarantee that the development gains will be achieved. Second, the UN’s integrity is put at risk by virtue of the fact that partnerships offer opportunities for business interests to promote their own policy agendas explicitly within the UN. Indeed in certain important ways, the apparent harmony between the UN and business appears to have been achieved on business’s terms.

The study urges that a thorough evaluation of UN-business partnerships is needed, including consideration of these crucial wider issues. It concludes by outlining a radically different approach to partnership, which, in the author’s view, would reconcile the interests of TNCs with those of developing countries and contribute to enhancing the credibility of the UN.

Preface, Thandika Mkandawire
Foreword, Boutros Boutros-Ghali
UN-Business Partnerships—What Is at Stake?
The Nature of the Development Challenge
UN-Business Partnerships: An All Purpose Development Tool?
The Global Compact
Corporate Social Responsibility: A Systemic Issue
Corporate Social Responsibility and Developing Countries
TNCs as Partners in Development: Fact or Fiction?
Public-Private Partnerships: A Holy Alliance?
A New Development Strategy and True Test of Corporate Responsibility

Ann Zammit is a consultant with UNRISD and other international organizations. She has been a university lecturer and researcher in the United Kingdom and in Chile. She has also been a development journalist and helped establish the International Broadcasting Trust, a non-profit film production company.

Development at Risk: Rethinking UN-Business Partnerships is available free of charge from UNRISD and the South Centre, 17 Ch. du Champ-d’Anier, POB 228, 1211 Geneva 19, Switzerland, Tel : ++41 22 791 8050, Fax : ++41 22 798 8531