Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks at the International Organization of Employers centenary summit: “Achieving a Multilateralism Reset: Business Contribution”, in New York on 2 September:
Let me begin by congratulating the International Organization of Employers on its centenary.
It is indeed a very old but an extremely representative business organizations in the world. The International Organization of Employers has made significant contributions to global policymaking for economic and social progress, job creation, and a mutually beneficial business environment.
I welcome your decision to focus this Centenary Summit on multilateralism.
The International Organization of Employers was among the first business organizations to engage directly with the multilateral system and has been an important pillar of the International Labour Organization (ILO) since its earliest days. Today, the International Organization of Employers actively supports the global vision for sustainable development.
At a time when multilateralism is under severe strains, it is especially important that the International Organization of Employers carries the commitment that it always has into its second century. This is also a timely opportunity to address the global employers and business leaders at what is arguably the most challenging period in generations.
The COVID-19 pandemic has taken away hundreds of thousands of lives, infected millions and affected billions — with little sign of retreat. And it has revealed fundamental global fragilities — fragilities that extend far beyond health systems. Fragilities affect all our global institutions and multilateral efforts. We see it in the failed response to the climate crisis, in the rising inequalities or in the lawlessness in cyberspace.
These structural fault lines in our systems, policies and institutions are being exposed at a time when many, and particularly the most disadvantaged, were already growing anxious about their future. Today, our primary task is to defeat the pandemic and rebuild lives, livelihoods, businesses, and economies. We must reject the notion that there is a trade-off between the health of people and the health of the economy.
But we must not simply return to where we were before. We need to work together to build a better future, to protect workers and small businesses, to promote gender equality and create opportunities for youth; we need to share development gains more equitably, ensure that all people have an opportunity to fulfil their potential and that economies thrive.
While there is still a long way to go in the fight against COVID-19, many countries have been able to contain the spread of the virus. That was made possible in part because of the cooperation of Governments, businesses, trade unions and many others. The pandemic has reminded us of both the power and imperative of global cooperation. In the short term, Governments, companies, and populations are understandably looking for solutions that will lead to a swift recovery.
However — looking beyond, but starting now — we need to build economies and societies that are more inclusive and sustainable, in line with the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, where our challenge is clear: To limit global temperature increase to 1.5 °C, and having global emissions halved by 2030 and carbon neutrality reached in 2050.
The private sector is essential to all these efforts So, what can businesses do?
First, continue to engage with the multilateral system, through representative organizations, to create a conducive global environment for decent work, investment, and sustainability. In the last few decades, multilateralism was vital in creating a world with open borders for trade, security and prosperity. Today, as this is under threat, the private sector can play a pivotal role in showing that the world can be a better, more prosperous and fairer place through international cooperation and a rules-based global economy.
Second, engage with the United Nations at the national level to help ensure that multilateralism works on the ground. United Nations reform will lead to more direct engagement with non-State actors at the national level, including the private sector. Local and regional cooperation is a precondition for multilateralism to work globally.
Third, businesses and employers’ organizations must actively participate in national and global public-private dialogue and initiatives — and there must be space for them to do so. The Sustainable Development Goals and the 2030 Agenda cannot succeed without the full engagement of the private sector.
The Business and Sustainable Development Commission found that companies could unlock $12 trillion in market opportunities by 2030 and create 380 million jobs by integrating the Sustainable Development Goals in their business strategies. Initiatives such as the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the United Nations Global Compact, the ILO Tripartite Declaration of Principles concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy are instrumental platforms to promote responsible business conduct.
Fourth, do what you do best: invest in businesses, jobs and people, especially now when hundreds of millions of people have lost their livelihoods. You must continue to bring out the best of innovation and creativity in the service of people, help to build trust in business by doing the right thing, at the workplace, in the communities and globally.
Today, growing inequalities between and within countries, boosted by the pandemic, are fuelling ethnic nationalism and protectionism. Combined with the anxieties about advancing drivers of change, this creates significant uncertainty about the future.
To build a better future, we need a global multilateral system that answers the real anxieties of people with practical responses. That requires a more inclusive multilateralism.
Governments today are far from the only players in terms of politics and power. The business community, trade unions, local authorities, cities and regional governments and so many others must assume more and more leadership roles in today’s world. And they are doing it.
The private sector, and employers’ organizations and those they represent have a real capacity to make a meaningful difference and ensure a more effective multilateralism. But they must be given the space to do so. Each and every one of you is key to making it happen. Thank you for your commitment, and it is indeed an enormous pleasure to be here, celebrating your centenary.