The political conditions of the twenty-first century provide a context in which the original partnership between multilateral institutions and corporations finds a stronger rationale than ever. Key to this recovered alliance is an understanding of the differences and comparative advantages of both actors, and the acknowledgement that their respective interests do not negate the fundamental motivations of each party. Corporations are profit-making entities, and the current UN outreach to the private sector does not question the fact. Indeed, it assumes that the continued prosperity of global corporations is an unmatched opportunity for development. It is precisely to sustain global economic expansion that the UN secretary-general challenged business leaders to adopt his Global Compact in January 1999. Multilateral organizations are by definition political creatures. Their membership is constituted by nation-states, which continue to wield ultimate decision-making power. At the same time, these states have lost the capacity to rule single-handedly on an array of issues critical to the future relevance of the multilateral system. The United Nations therefore needs to find acceptable ways to engage nonstate global actors—civil society and the private sector—in its activities and programs. In this new political equation, global corporations are a key variable.
KeywordsDepression Europe Petroleum Transportation Income
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