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Accountability in Focus at Summit

August 30, 2002

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JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) _ Accounting scandals in the United States underscore the need for world leaders to ensure corporate accountability in their countries, international trade unions and other groups said Friday.

John Evans, a spokesman for the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, said governments need to devise an international framework to require corporations live up to their responsibilities regarding the disclosure of information, human rights, labor standards and ethics.

``In a country like the United States, the weaknesses of corporate governance have now been revealed,″ Evans said at a gathering of civil society groups running parallel to the World Summit. ``We can’t say this is just an issue for national governments.″

Business leaders at the summit acknowledge there have been failures, including scandals at Enron Corp., WorldCom Inc. and other big U.S. companies. But they say those should be addressed at a national level.

``At the end of the day, the vast majority of business is responsible, and business works,″ said Steve Lenon, managing director of the South African power company Eskom.

Major industrialized countries oppose including mandatory provisions on corporate responsibility in the summit’s action plan.

U.S. negotiators say any initiatives to promote responsibility and accountability should be voluntary. But trade unions and other groups say that isn’t enough.

Voluntary codes have existed for years, said John Sayer, a consultant for the British-based humanitarian group Oxfam International. ``It is quite clear that has not worked,″ he said. ``We need governments involved.″

The European Union has proposed stronger language calling for governments to ``actively″ promote corporate responsibility through the ``full and effective implementation″ of existing intergovernmental and national initiatives as well as other measures.

But EU negotiators are reluctant to set up a new structure to monitor compliance because the standards of corporate responsibility vary from country to country.

The Group of 77 developing countries is willing to set up a new mechanism, but only to monitor the public-private partnerships that are being advanced at the gathering as a way to get businesses _ and their money _ involved in fighting poverty and preserving the environment.

Trade unions say that is just one part of corporate accountability.

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