Building an International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation

The UN Global Compact

As a result of those conversations at Davos, Kofi Annan issued a call for a “Global Compact of shared values and principles” on human rights, labour standards, environmental practices and anti-corruption.


In the run-up to the Annual Meeting, which had as its theme “Responsible Globality”, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Klaus Schwab were in discussions about how to rally participants to support a global effort to highlight the social responsibility of business.

This was the genesis of the UN Global Compact, “a leadership initiative endorsed by chief executives” that serves as “a policy platform and a practical framework for companies that are committed to sustainability and responsible business practices. It is a voluntary initiative that relies on public accountability, transparency and disclosure, to complement regulation and to provide a space for innovation.” Ten universally accepted principles are the bedrock of the Global Compact. Since its official launch in 2000, it has attracted more than 12,000 business and non-business participants in over 145 countries.1

South African President Nelson Mandela returned to Davos to bid farewell before leaving office. Frédéric Sicre, then a managing director of the World Economic Forum, remembers the moments before the emotional appearance of Madiba, as Mandela is fondly known among his people, who had asked to borrow Sicre’s mobile phone to make a call back home:

“What followed was unbelievable: this man was literally minutes away from walking onto a stage to address the most powerful business gathering in the world as well as the global community through the wires and media – yet he found the time to call home and speak to five of his grandchildren to make sure they had done their homework that day! He spoke to each for about 30 seconds, his smile beaming, obviously transported far away from the speakers’ room we were sitting in to the grandkids he loved so much.
One grandchild, from what I could gather, had not done his or her homework. Mandela’s smile disappeared; he became very concerned, very serious – quite stern to tell the truth. He expressed his disappointment to the child with a patriarchal voice, calm yet strong, establishing the ultimate importance of education and learning and knowledge. The young interlocutor on the other side was given a summons to be ready in two days to meet with grandfather with homework for the week to come and a timetable to achieve it. The door to the stage opened, a voice said ‘time’, Madiba returned my phone to me. The giant of a man got up and walked out the door to thunderous applause – I didn’t know if I had been in the presence of a legend, an angel or both!”

At Davos, the Forum brought together a group of young leaders from South Africa, the Balkans, the Middle East and Northern Ireland – regions that had achieved political breakthroughs in the transition to peace from conflict – and launched the Transition to Peace Initiative, developing a framework for peace building that integrated the lessons each region had learned from their reconciliation efforts. One participant, Zlatko Lagumdzija, who would become prime minister of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2001, later acknowledged on several occasions how important this initiative had been in helping his country to achieve peace.

The violinist and conductor, Yehudi Menuhin, took a special interest in the Transition to Peace Initiative. On 12 March 1999, barely a month after participating in the Annual Meeting, he passed away. Lord Menuhin had been a mentor to Klaus Schwab and active supporter of the integration of a strong cultural dimension into the World Economic Forum, with which he had a cherished friendship.

  1. United Nations Global Compact, March 2014