Baby Milk Action, a campaign group that monitors the baby food industry against United Nations marketing standards, says it has received a letter (dated 9 July 2014) from the Executive Director of the UN Global Compact, Mr Georg Kell, that confirms its view that the corporate accountability initiative is ‘worse than useless and lacking in integrity’.
The Global Compact website claims it is ‘voluntary yet accountable’ and publishes Integrity Measures under which cases of corporations violating the Global Compact Principles or bringing it into disrepute can be registered. Baby Milk Action has been pursuing cases against Nestlé for five years, but says this has been a futile exercise as the actions set out in the Integrity Measures are not being taken, while Nestlé’s misleading reports continue to be posted on the Global Compact website. At the same time, Nestlé sponsors UN Global Compact events, a self-evident conflict of interests. Baby Milk Action wrote to Mr Kell as Executive Director with its concerns on 2 July 2014.
The reply from Mr Kell to Baby Milk Action suggests the role of the Global Compact Office (GCO) under the Integrity Measures is solely to encourage dialogue. Yet, the text clearly stipulates that the Global Compact Office can encourage corporations to take action to end violations of the Global Compact Principles and, if they do not act, the corporation can be removed from the list of participants and publicly named and shamed.
Baby Milk Action had already asked the GCO why the actions set out in the Integrity Measures are not being taken, quoting the text that is being ignored. As the GCO said it would not provide a ‘point-by-point’ response, Baby Milk Action asked Mr Kell to do so, but he too has failed to provide the clarifications requested.
Last month the US and EU lobbied unsuccessfully against the UN Human Rights Council adopting a resolution to prepare a treaty for legally-binding instruments to hold corporations to account for human rights abuses. The Global Compact approach is often presented as an alternative to legally-binding instruments, so its failure to act on reports of abuses should be widely reported, says Baby Milk Action.
The GCO has informed Baby Milk Action that no company has ever been delisted due to a complaint being registered under the Integrity Measures. Companies have been delisted for failing to provide Communications on Progress, but as these are posted to the Global Compact website even if proven to be misleading, as in the case of Nestlé, they only serve a public relations purpose, says Baby Milk Action.
Global Compact used in attempts to derail legally-binding measures
Mike Brady, Campaigns Coordinator at Baby Milk Action, said:
‘The Global Compact is being used to try to derail legally-binding measures, while our experience shows it is worse than useless and lacking in integrity. It gives corporations kudos by posting their reports on its website with no form of checking. We have provided documentary evidence that Nestlé’s reports are misleading, which brings the initiative into disrepute. We have shown Nestlé is responsible for egregious violations of the Global Compact Principles. Both of these facts are grounds for removing Nestlé from the list of participants and drawing attention to this on the website.
‘We asked Mr Kell, Executive Director, for an explanation for the inaction and whether he supported it, as his staff have refused to explain their failure to act. His letter does not respond to the specific points we have raised and shows that the refusal to act comes from the very top.
‘It is misleading for the UN Global Compact to describe itself as “voluntary yet accountable” and to publish Integrity Measures that it refuses to apply.
‘There is a self-evident conflict of interest in the Global Compact accepting sponsorship for its events from companies such as Nestlé.’
Global Compact Integrity Measures shown to be meaningless
Baby Milk Action’s open letter to Mr Kell on 2 July 2014 explains the failure of the Global Compact Office (GCO) to take the action set out in the Integrity Measures and its refusal to explain its failure to act.
Mr Kell also indicated no action would be taken on the violations reported, saying, ‘there is nothing further that we can do in relation to this matter.’
Baby Milk Action explained to Mr Kell in its letter of 2 July 2014 that it had been pursuing complaints against Nestlé with the Global Compact Office (GCO) for five years and quoted the Integrity Measures [in the bold text below]:
‘Under the Integrity Measures the GCO could provide advice and guidance to Nestlé on “actions to remedy the situation that is the subject matter of the allegation in order to align the actions of the company with its commitments to the Global Compact principles”.’
Mr Kell ignored the provisions of the Integrity Measures, stating,
‘The role of the UN Global Compact under the Integrity Measures is to encourage a dialogue between the party raising an issue and the participant in question. In this regard, you already have a direct line of communication with Nestle and they have reiterated their willingness to continue dialogue with you.’
Baby Milk Action has been engaged in ‘dialogue’ with Nestlé since long before the creation of the UN Global Compact and the involvement of the GCO has served no useful purpose: Baby Milk Action has copied the GCO in on its correspondence to Nestlé and the GCO’s sole action has been to copy these letters to Nestlé a second time.
Baby Milk Action explained this in its letter to Mr Kell, again quoting the Integrity Measures [in the bold text below]:
‘We are in on-going communication with Nestlé and have demonstrated to the GCO that executives refuse to end practices that violate the Global Compact Principles. The GCO should surely proceed to “review of the nature of the matter submitted and the responses by the participating company” and then “remove that company from the list of participants and to so indicate on the Global Compact website” as set out in the Integrity Measures.’
No explanation of why Integrity Measures are not being applied
Baby Milk Action wrote to the GCO on 29 August 2011 quoting five provisions in the Integrity Measures and asked for clarification as to why the stipulated action was not being taken. Baby Milk Action explained to Mr Kell in its letter of 2 July 2014 that these points had still not been answered: ‘The GCO’s response on 10 November 2011 merely stated: “Regarding the letter addressed to the UN Global Compact, we do not plan to provide a point by point response”.’
Baby Milk Action asked Mr Kell to provide clarifications on the provisions, but instead his letter simply states, ‘many times we have outlined the scope of the initiative’s Integrity Measures, including what these measures can and cannot do. The UN Global Compact is not a compliance-based body, nor does it have the mandate to judge companies or the merits of concerns raised.’
Mr Kell’s letter to Baby Milk Action in full
9 July 2014
Dear Mr. Brady,
I refer to your public letter dated 2 July 2014. Over the course of the past five years, my office has repeatedly explained to you the nature of the UN Global Compact as a voluntary initiative focused on learning, dialogue and collective action for corporate sustainability. As well, many times we have outlined the scope of the initiative’s Integrity Measures, including what these measures can and cannot do. The UN Global Compact is not a compliance-based body, nor does it have the mandate to judge companies or the merits of concerns raised.
The role of the UN Global Compact under the Integrity Measures is to encourage a dialogue between the party raising an issue and the participant in question. In this regard, you already have a direct line of communication with Nestle and they have reiterated their willingness to continue dialogue with you.
In our most recent communication to you, we informed you that unless you have new issues to raise there is nothing further that we can do in relation to this matter.
We stand by that communication.
Global Compact Office