Promoting responsible practices in business
By Arouna Roshanian, UNDP Iraq
Last weekend history was made in Iraq- the United Nations Development Programme took the lead together with the Secretariat of the Iraqi Council of Ministers to launch the UN Global Compact Iraq Local Network from the Hall of Parliament in the Iraqi capital Baghdad.
Nearly 300 participants were with us to mark this event. People came from all over Iraq: Basrah, Babyl, Anbar, Baghdad and Kurdistan.
With us in the room were Iraqi business people, officials from the Government in Baghdad and Kurdistan, members of the civil society and the media. They came from the most remote areas some travelling for many hours just to be part of this day! They had many questions on their minds but one aim in their hearts: They wanted to bring a positive change to Iraq making it a better place to live in, overcoming long harsh decades of wars, violence, sanctions and internal conflict. They wanted to promote responsible business in Iraq and increase partnerships hand in hand with the Iraqi institutions.
The event was opened by the Chief of Staff of the Prime Minister's Office, Mr. Hamid Khalaf Ahmed, representing Iraq Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, who described the event as " instrumental for Iraq to move the wheel of private sector forward in the role it can play for societal development". He ensured the Government's support such an initiative and said on behalf of the Prime Minister: "The Iraq Local Network is a basis for partnerships between local and foreign businesses to work together with the Government of Iraq in accordance with the four principles of human rights, labour standarsd, environmental sustainability and transparency in business operations ".
Dr. Ali Allak, Secretary General of Council of Ministries the key government counterpart for the establishment of the UN Global Compact Iraq Network said the Compact and the Local Network is a "tool to solve the problems created by the lack of commitment to social standards" while Dr. Thamir Ghadban, Chairman of Prime Minister Advisory Board and of the Task Force for Economic Reforms, highlighted the need of institution building in the country and emphasized the role the United Nations is playing in helping Iraq private sector to be part of the global dialogue on partnerships and sustainability.
Dr. Mahmoud Othman, representative of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) conveyed the engagement of his region in promoting corporate social responsibility and said that the launch of this initiative is very timely as it comes to improve the integrity in the business sector and will contirbute to the confidence between private and public sector.
Concluding the first session and on behalf of the United Nations in Iraq, Ms. Christine McNab, UN Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary General and Resident/ Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq expressed UNDP's Iraq availability and willing to continue its support to the Secretariat and Iraqi members "Today's event is yet another step that puts Iraq and its private sector on the global business agenda as a key partner in the region and around the world" she added.
And beyond the formal opening the meeting went into a series of substantial discussions on the economic situation in Iraq providing a platform to exchange knowledge and explore opportunities for the private sector. Dr. Thamir Ghadban and Dr. Kamal Field, Chairman of the Iraqi Institute of Economic Reforms (IIER), shared insights about Iraqi economic and legislative situation and current reforms towards a free market economy, which will need a solid and responsible private sector that global markets can trust. Dr. Field’s research pinned down that good governance and education are key pillars in Iraq's development, proposing a larger role for private sector and private-public. Dr. Simona Marinescu, Director of UNDP Iraq Private Sector Programme, presented an in depth analysis of the Global Compact principles and the benefits it will have for Iraq saying " The Local Network can raise business standards and improve Iraq's image internationally".
The momentum generated by these interventions reached a peaked the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding by the Global Compact's members in Iraq, represented by Mr. Hameed Hilli, Chairman of the Iraq Centre for Business Community Development and nominated Representative of the Iraq Global Compact Network, and the Executive Director of the United Nations Global Compact worldwide, Mr. Georg Kell.
" It is the duty of the private sector to participate in a country’s economic and social development, in partnership with the government. We should all work as one team to identify appropriate practices in compliance with the principles of the UN Global Compact. Through the Iraq Local Network I hope we will be able to provide an example that shows that Iraq is capable of great accomplishments" said Mr. Hameed Hilli.
A video-message from the Global Compact's Office in New York was delivered to congratulate Iraq for such a significant achievement.
Concrete examples of Iraqi business engagement in Corporate Social Responsibility were shared in a the panel discussion that followed. Mr. Ayad Abbas, an Iraqi regional expert in Corporate Social Responsibility who gave an overview on activities in the region to promote the Global Compact principles among Iraqi business communities in the Arab Region including in Jordan and UAE, to engage them in responsible reconstruction of domestic economy. Dr. Eaman Al-Gobory, Senior Advisor at Taha Group, provide live examples of community development projects undertaken by Taha Group a member of the UNGC in Iraq, in the areas of health and staff development. Mr. Mohammad Al Assam, CEO of Dewan Architects & Engineering, another member of the UNGC member in UAE provided an example on the sustainability approach in ensuring business models are compliant to environment and transparency principles. Shell Iraq Petroleum Stakeholders Manager, Mr. Christos Mylonas, brought in the perspective of an international oil company operating in Iraq and UNGC member worldwide, as engaged in community development on the ground through partnerships with local NGOs and UN.
The role of NGOs was further explored by Mr. Tiziano Blasi, head of the NGO Un Ponte Per and Board member of the NGO Coordination Committee for Iraq (NCCI), sharing civil society’s perception on the interrelation between profit and non-profit sector through CSR models, in particular with the UNGC Local Network as a forum where NGOs can play a pivotal role in partnering, monitoring and raising awareness about business societal activities.
On behalf of UNDP and the Global Compact Secretariat in Iraq I spoke about the benefits and responsibilities of the Local Network giving providing success stories from other countries from around the world.
As next steps and while it was agreed not to charge fees at this stage, participating members offered specific contributions such as hosting next meetings, creating a website for the Iraq GC network, producing communication material such as network newsletter and informative brochures.
The event concluded with remarks by the co-hosts, UNDP Iraq - represented by Dr. Simona Marinescu - and COMSEC - represented by Ms. Thaira Al-Kaflawi, Senior Manager and UNGC focal point - welcoming the action plan suggested for the Iraq Global Compact Network and expressing support by the United Nations and the Government to the Network and its Representative aiming to put in place an efficient and sustainable structure for private sector to become a leading agent in Iraq’s long journey to become and better country where its people are able to enjoy a life of welfare and a prosperous future.