The Global Compact at Work

By Ed Cohen | Spring 2011

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At a major conference held March 20-22, 2011, at the University of Notre Dame, representatives of 11 well-known companies talked about initiatives their firms had undertaken as part of a commitment to the United Nations Global Compact.

Here are some of the stories they told:


A first-ever collaboration between Coke and Greenpeace aims to end the use of hydro-fluorocarbons (HFCs) in the cooling systems of Coke’s innumerable retail beverage coolers worldwide. Sustainable agriculture projects of the company include a partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the NGO TechnoServe. The project’s goal: to double the incomes of 50,000 small fruit farmers in Uganda and Kenya. A similar project in Haiti, called Haiti Hope, aims to teach mango growers better production methods so they can sell to Coke brands such as Odwalla fruit drinks, he said. Coca-Cola is one of the world’s largest buyers of fruit for ingredients in its beverages. Ten cents from every bottle sold of Odwalla Mango Tango goes to support Haiti Hope.


Two years ago Alcoa opened a bauxite (aluminum ore) mine in Juruti, Brazil, in the middle of the Amazon rainforest. The area is home to about 47,000 people, most living in small communities along the river and surviving on subsistence agriculture and fishing. Per-capita income amounts to about $23 a month. To spur economic development, Alcoa formed a community council and seeded a microdevelopment fund. It built schools, a hospital and a government office, dug deepwater wells, and sponsored business-training programs – all with an eye toward turning the facility over to capable local citizens as soon as possible. The mine is expected to operate for 80 years.


In 2009 the company donated PhotoDNA software to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The software helps authorities index the worst images that depict sexual crimes against children by each image’s unique “DNA” or digital signature. Online service providers and others can use that DNA to better prevent the images from circulating.


Of the 144 Nestlé factories in developing countries that are rurally located, 70 percent have a Nestlé-built water treatment plant, 58 percent contribute to local educational facilities, 58 percent offer formal apprenticeship training, 33 percent offer literacy and numeracy programs, 32 percent provide clean drinking water to local communities, and 41 percent invest in other local infrastructure. An eco-friendly coffee-processing facility in Ethiopia that was financed by Nestlé uses 96 percent less water than the previous processing method.


The Japanese chemical company has developed a malaria-fighting bed net with insecticide incorporated into the fibers. That allows it to remain effective against the mosquito that spreads the disease for years longer than conventional nets. About 250 million people are infected with malaria every year, and about 1 million die from the disease. Ninety-percent of the cases occur in Africa, and a majority of the fatalities occur among children younger than 5. The disease also has a devastating economic impact because it prevents adults from working and children from attending school. Sumitomo has not only donated hundreds of thousands of the nets, but it produces many of them in Tanzania in East Africa, providing jobs to about 7,000 people.


The software company best known for Norton Antivirus recently partnered with the San Francisco Department on the Status of Women, Calvert Investments and the nonprofit Verite to develop an online tool ( that companies can use to assess their progress on gender-equality issues.

Levi Strauss

In 2006 the jeans company recommitted to making sure that all employees at its locations around the world have equal access to HIV/AIDS prevention information, treatment and care. That required providing “gap” insurance plans in areas where the local national health plan or existing employee insurance plans did not cover AIDS. In the highest-prevalence country in which Levi’s operates, South Africa, the company created a marketing plan for its jeans that includes a message promoting HIV testing. The program has yielded higher sales as well as higher testing rates.


For more than a decade the global pharmaceuticals company and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have worked with the government of Botswana to create and operate a comprehensive national program on HIV/AIDS treatment and education. In 2002, when the program began, 25 percent of the country’s adult population was infected. Today about 90 percent of those needing treatment receive it, compared to less than 5 percent when the program began. More than 90 percent of pregnant HIV-infected women are enrolled in treatment for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission, bringing down that transmission rate from more than 20 percent to less than 4 percent. The Botswana program is credited with saving more than 50,000 lives by cutting the mortality rate among adults in half.


Each year the global pharmaceutical company publically reports on the results of a living-wage initiative. The program is designed to identify any company employee with an income below the local living wage. In 2005 the company identified 93 cases, which dropped each successive year to 0 cases in 2009.

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Created in 2000, the United Nations Global Compact consists of 10 principles aimed at promoting human rights and labor rights, enhancing care for the environment and encouraging anticorruption measures. Initially endorsed by just a few dozen companies, its signatories now number more than 6,000 businesses and 1,400 non-government organizations in 135 countries.

The Notre Dame conference, The U.N. Millennium Development Goals, The Global Compact, and The Common Good, was convened by the U.N. Global Compact Office, the Mendoza College Center for Ethics and Religious Values in Business and the U.N. Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME).

It was presented in conjunction with the Notre Dame Forum on the Global Marketplace and the Common Good, a yearlong series of speakers, presentations, discussions and other activities intended to examine the role of ethics, morals and values in the rebuilding and reshaping of the global economy. The company presentations and reflections of more than 12 academics at the conference will be published in a forthcoming book.