British Prime Minister Gordon Brown was to play host to the heads of some of the world’s largest corporations yesterday to encourage big business to fight global poverty.
The “Business Call to Action” will bring together more than 80 chief executives of multinationals, and several — including Coca-Cola, Diageo, Microsoft, Sumitomo Chemical, Thomson Reuters and Vodafone — will present anti-poverty programs they have already undertaken.
“Over the next five years, the initiatives are expected to save almost half a million lives, create thousands of jobs, and benefit millions of poor people across Africa and Asia,” the UK Department for International Development said in a statement.
The anti-poverty charity War on Want criticized the meeting as a “cynical public relations exercise” and accused some firms taking part, including Wal-Mart and Coca-Cola, of having a poor record on workers’ rights in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
“Instead of holding these companies to account ... Gordon Brown has allowed them to portray themselves as allies in the fight against poverty,” John Hilary, War on Want’s executive director, said in a statement.
“The prime minister should be working to address the poverty and human rights problems caused by business, not giving the companies a free ride.”
The meeting, co-hosted by the head of the UN Development Program, Kemal Dervis, is part of a push to meet the Millennium Development Goals — eight measures the international community agreed to take in 2000, with the aim of reducing global poverty by 2015.
“This year must be a year of action if we are to tackle the development emergency we face,” Brown said in a statement. “Without an extraordinary effort, we will fail.”
He said it was vital to enlist the support and expertise of global business “to develop new and innovative ways to spread growth, prosperity and opportunity in poor countries”.
The UNDP’s Dervis said the private sector was “one of the greatest untapped resources” in the fight against poverty.
“Businesses are engines of growth and sustainable development,” he said. “Creative approaches and partnerships are essential in catalyzing vibrant new markets that can contribute to advancing inclusive growth and development.”
The UN has expressed concern that many of the targets are off-track at the half-way point of the program. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has convened a meeting on Millennium Development Goals (MDG) in September to give fresh impetus to the process.
“Today’s event is about enlisting the support and expertise of global business to develop new and innovative ways to spread growth, prosperity and opportunity in poor countries around the world,” Brown added. “This morning more than a dozen global companies are announcing new initiatives which use their unique business skills to solve problems on the ground and to transform people’s lives.”
As finance minister Brown and former prime minister Tony Blair pushed debt relief and aid for the world’s poorest nations up the global agenda, particularly at the G8 meeting in Gleneagles, Scotland, in 2005.
On his first visit to the UN as prime minister last July, Brown called on governments, businesses, non-governmental organizations and faith groups to come together in a global “coalition for justice” to meet MDG targets.