In 1974, during the Cold War, when the United Nations (UN) was influenced by the Soviet Union, its satellites and Third World totalitarian regimes the attempt was made to control global business. The Commission on Transnational Corporations was created to formulate a ”code of conduct” for these corporations. The Swedish social democratic government was in the forefront to support the work of the Commission. The ”code of conduct” work was even led for a while (1976 – 1982) by a Swede, Sten Niklasson (b. 1939).

Fortunately for the global economy the nations represented in the Commission failed to agree for many, many years. It was not until the year before the Soviet empire began to collapse (1988) that a a code was presented in draft. It contained 72 lengthy paragraphs and the Commission wanted to assume the functions of an international institutional machinery to implement the code (the draft had a number of sections: first General, then Economic, Financial, and Social, and Treatment of Transnational Corporations, finally Inter-governmental Co-Operation and Implementation). After 20 years (1994) the commission still exists. But the failure to adopt the code led to the commission being transferred from the Economic and Social Council of the UN and buried in the Trade and Development Board.

Now the United Nations tried a new approach. In 1999 Kofi Annan at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, offered The Global Compact for business covering the fields of human rights, labor standards and environmental practice in nine principles. The response, however, from world business has been muted. Only one comment was published, from the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC). In this comment 1999 was pointed out that The Global Compact of the United Nations lacked a tenth or fourth set of principles, the economic responsibility incumbent upon every company to its customers, to its employees and to its shareholders. Without this principle no business could function.


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