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Annan urges Swiss business to help fight poverty

Kofi Annan (right), with the Swiss foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, addressed business leaders in Zurich


The United Nations secretary-general, Kofi Annan, has called on more Swiss companies to assume greater responsibility for the global community. He made the call in Zurich on Wednesday at the start of a three-day visit to Switzerland.

Annan said that despite increasing globalisation, "a large proportion of the world's population is still denied prosperity owing to hunger, illness, violence or a lack of education."

He said many leading Swiss companies had already responded to the Global Compact between the UN, the private sector and civil society, which he first proposed at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos in 1999.

He called on more Swiss companies to come forward to support the Global Compact, to get more involved in health issues and to "set about building the markets of the future."

"Switzerland, by virtue of its size and geographical position, has long understood the need to combine national independence with an active interest in the outside world. Its companies are global leaders in many important sectors. I am sure...that you will also take the lead in global citizenship," Annan told a gathering of 1600 business leaders.

At the same meeting, the Swiss foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, underlined the joint responsibility of politics and business: "Although politics and the business community have different roles to play and tasks to fulfil, they share the same world. There is only one world, and we must take care of it together."

Annan is also due to hold talks with government leaders, including this year's president, Moritz Leuenberger, on Thursday.

Swiss officials have not said what the agenda for their talks with Annan will be, just that they will concentrate on the "international political situation and Swiss-UN relations".

Annan's visit comes at a time when the country is gearing up for a vote next year on joining the UN. The Swiss people rejected membership in 1986 but it remains one of the current government's main goals.

Switzerland plays an active role in many UN bodies, but - apart from the Vatican - is the only state never to have joined the organisation.

Annan said he would not get involved in the debate while he was in Switzerland.

At the end of his visit, he will address the meeting of the UN Human Rights Commission currently underway in Geneva.

Other items on the programme include a visit to the Biel school of Engineering and Architecture.

Annan is no stranger to Switzerland. He spent two days with last year's president, Adolf Ogi, in the Bernese Oberland at the end of 2000, and earlier this year named Ogi as the UN special representative for sport and peace.

swissinfo with agencies


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