United Nations Secretary-General Mr. Kofi Annan has praised the "unique contribution in a range of vital areas" made by ISO (International Organization for Standardization), highlighted the "strong relationship" between the two organizations and declared that the UN family "looks forward to working ever more closely" with ISO in the future.

Mr. Annan's remarks were included in his message to the ISO 27th General Assembly, 14-16 September 2004, in Geneva, Switzerland. The message was delivered on his behalf by Mr. Sergei Ordzhonikidze, Director-General, United Nations Office at Geneva, on 15 September, before delegates began tackling the working agenda.

The UN Secretary-General stated in his message: "ISO makes a unique contribution in a range of vital areas - health, safety, security, the environment, transport and information technology.

"ISO standards are crucial to sustainable development, as they are a key source of technological know-how, especially for developing countries and economies in transition. They are invaluable in helping countries develop their economies and build capacities to compete on global markets. Producers and consumers everywhere benefit from your efforts.

"We know that one of the most effective ways of building bridges between nations is to encourage people to work together towards mutually beneficial goals. It is heartening, therefore, that thousands of women and men of all political convictions, religious beliefs, and national as well as ethnic origins, collaborate within ISO to achieve consensus on standards that make a positive difference to our world.

"That collaboration also characterizes the relationship between ISO and the UN family - a relationship which I hope will grow even stronger in the future. We have a shared interest in the development and dissemination of standards that can help to improve the lives of people everywhere, and in building capacity for standardization activity in developing countries and economies in transition.

"Let me also commend ISO for broadening the scope of its work in the area of social and environmental performance. In this way, too, you are making an important contribution towards a more sustainable world. I welcome, in particular, ISO's recent decision to develop a standard on social responsibility - an initiative which dovetails well with the universal principles of the UN Global Compact on human rights, labour conditions, the environment and anti-corruption.

"Since the Compact's principles are derived from international instruments, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which already enjoy international consensus, they offer a strong foundation on which to build international standards on social responsibility.

"The United Nations family looks forward to working ever more closely with the International Organization for Standardization for many years to come. I thank you for your commitment to our common mission, and wish you a most productive 27th General Assembly."

Background for editors

  • ISO has a current portfolio of 14 600 voluntary International Standards developed to provide solutions in almost every area of technology and for most sectors of activity.
  • The UN perceives an important need for business and civil society to work together. ISO occupies a special position between the public and private sectors. Therefore, it serves as a bridging organization in which a consensus can be reached on solutions that meet the requirements of both business and government, as well as the broader needs of society.
  • Those members of the UN system that develop standards in a specific area, notably the WHO, ILO and UN/ECE have established close links with ISO, as has the WTO, whose fair trade objectives are advanced by ISO standards and guides. This illustrates the high degree of institutional recognition that ISO has achieved within the UN family.
  • The participants in the UN system are representatives of their governments, while ISO is a nongovernmental organization and its standards are voluntary. However, in areas such as the environment, health and safety, ISO's standards may be referenced in governmental regulations for which they provide the state-of-the-art technical basis.
  • In sectors that have traditionally been the responsibility of government - such as energy, water supply, transportation, telecommunications and postal services - deregulation is increasing. These sectors therefore require voluntary standards that ISO, with its extremely broad offering, is well placed to provide.
  • In both the UN and ISO, developing countries and transition economies are in the majority. For these, ISO standards represent an important source of technological know-how for developing their economy and raising their capability to export and compete on global markets. This know-how includes both product and manufacturing standards and also the good management practices provided by the ISO 9000 and ISO 14000 series of quality and environmental management standards.
  • Behind the governments that make up the UN system are the citizens whose welfare is the ultimate goal of our efforts. In the ISO system, consumers are crucial stakeholders since they are frequently the end users of the products and services for which standards are developed For over a quarter of a century, ISO has demonstrated its determination to make the voice of the consumer heard in international standardization.
  • The UN welcomes the trend for progressive organizations to strive for the "triple bottom line" of performance not only in the economic dimension, but also in environmental and social dimensions - such as corporate governance. ISO's work is increasing in scope to address service sectors, security, new technologies and good management practice to constitute a complete offering for organizations reaching out towards sustainable business.