GSO Commentary — “Corporate Social Responsibility and the Doha Round: Are There Win-Win Opportunities for the Private Sector and Developing Countries?

The Geneva Social Observatory and the Quaker United Nations Office were pleased to host a roundtable on “Corporate Social Responsibility and the Doha Round:  Are There Win-Win Opportunities for the Private Sector and Developing Countries?” at the WTO Public Forum in Geneva on 25 September 2006.  The following questions were raised: Are the trading interests of multinational enterprises and developing country governments diametrically opposed or is it possible to discern a positive relationship leading to economic growth and development?  In looking for a win-win scenario, what are the circumstances that need to be met for a positive relationship to be achieved?

The roundtable brought representatives from multinationals and trade associations together with trade negotiators from developing and least developed countries to debate these issues.  We were pleased to include the following members on the panel: Auret van Heerden, Fair Labor Association; Bernard Luten, Unilever; Christopher Roberts, European Services Forum; Joy Kategekwa from the South Centre; Peter Neidecker, Hewlett Packard; Rabson Wanjala, Permanent Mission of Kenya to the UN; Stefanie Meredith, IFPMA; and Shaista Sohail, Pakistan Mission to the WTO.

The roundtable was intended to promote dialogue on the interaction between private sector interests in the liberalization of trade and developing country interests in economic growth and development including the perspective of civil society.  The objectives of the dialogue were to facilitate a better understanding of the particular needs of developing countries for sustainable growth, as well as an enhanced awareness of the value of a development perspective in the private sector.  Even as these needs and this enhanced awareness were being addressed, the discussion showed that there are some companies that act responsibly but that there needs to be a higher level of coherence with regard to policy on the interactions between the private sector and developing countries.  This was especially the case regarding technology transfer, health, Mode 4 under the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), agreements on policy coherence and legal workers, etc. There is a need for further cross-cutting dialogue and for all parties to find ways to speak the same language, and further steps should be taken to encourage a mutually beneficial outcome for the Doha Round through linkages between CSR and development.

A summary report of the roundtable is included in the WTO’s report of the proceedings.