Virtual UN leadership summit: largest UN convening of global business leaders

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The UN Global Compact Leaders Summit will bring together thousands of leaders to decide how business can support countries and communities around the world to recover better, recover stronger, and recover together from three global crises – health, inequality, and climate.

Over 26 hours of continuous virtual programming — including more than 100 global, regional and local sessions — the Summit was the UN’s largest, most inclusive, and most sustainable convening of purpose-driven business leaders committed to tackling societal challenges and advancing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). More than 20,000 business and sustainability leaders from over 180 countries participated in their local time zones and languages.

Under the theme of “Recover Better, Recover Stronger, Recover Together,” the event marked the 20th anniversary of the UN Global Compact, providing a platform of platforms where leaders from business, civil society, Governments and the UN were challenged to reflect on the importance of collaboration and public-private partnerships, and increase their ambition to achieve the SDGs.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the Presidents of Botswana, Colombia, Costa Rica and Ethiopia joined the President of the UN General Assembly and UN Secretary-General alongside dozens of Chief Executive Officers and UN chiefs at the United Nations Global Compact Leaders Summit to address the private sector’s response to three unprecedented and interconnected global crises — health, inequality, and climate change.

“I am encouraged to see so many companies, of so many sizes and from so many sectors and countries, recognizing the urgent need for global unity and international cooperation. Our shared aim is to see businesses integrating the Ten Principles of the UN Global Compact into their core strategy and operations, taking strong steps to support the SDGs, and reporting publicly on progress,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres in his opening remarks from UN Headquarters in New York.

The Leaders Summit marked the transition to new leadership for the UN Global Compact, with Sanda Ojiambo of Kenya taking over from Denmark’s Lise Kingo as Executive Director.

Reflecting on five years of leadership as the UN business chief, Ms. Kingo said “The Ten Principles and the SDGs must inform every decision and action — big and small, in every part of the business. All the way into the supply chain. We need many more businesses to adopt this approach, so it becomes the new normal.”

The president of the UN general assembly also said that “Despite the disruptions caused by COVID-19, it is clear that we will recover, as we are resilient people. However, we can recover better by using this opportunity to build a more inclusive, sustainable and resilient future. Businesses are key to achieving this” said Tijjani Muhammad BandePresident of the UN General Assembly

“While the COVID-19 pandemic has created an unprecedented global crisis, let us not forget that climate change and growing inequalities continue to shake the very foundations of business and of humanity. Now more than ever, business can and should play a central role in societal transformation,” said Ms. Ojiambo in her concluding remarks.

Other speakers at the event included: Her Excellency Amina Mohammed, UN Deputy Secretary-General; Mark Carney, UN Special Envoy on Climate Action and Climate Finance; Al Gore, Founder and Chairman of The Climate Reality Project; Ban Ki-moon, former UN Secretary-General and Deputy Chair of The Elders; Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights; Alicia Bárcena, Executive Secretary, ECLAC; Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union; Roberto Marques, Chief Executive Officer of Natura & Co; Sandra Wu Wen-Hsiu, Chairperson and CEO of Kokusai Kogyo; Julie Sweet, CEO of Accenture; Helena Helmersson, CEO of H&M Group; Ilian Mihov, Dean of INSEAD; and Fiona Reynolds, CEO of PRI, amongst others.