Remember the former UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, who resigned last year amid allegations that he’d made rude advances toward female staffers in his Geneva office? Lubbers has since kept a low profile. But for those who might be wondering what he’s up to (why would you? — there are so many better ways to spend time) — he’s just popped up on the list of speakers for a conference to be held November 10 at the European Parliament in Brussels.
The subject? Why, ethics, of course! To be precise, (who comes up with this stuff?): “Corporate Culture and Spirituality: Business and Ethics — Complementary or Contradictory.”
What position Lubbers will take — whether he is in the complementary or contradictory camp — is not yet clear. The press release, in language that might just as well have been lifted straight out of your average UN office wastebasket, says: “This conference primarily addresses the role of an ethics based approach to sustainable corporate success and leadership performance.”
The conference blurb describes Lubbers only by way of his pre-UN incarnation, as the former prime minister of the Netherlands. But it would be a pity if the conferees decide to avoid the subject of the UN altogether — ethics there being such rich grounds for discussion. Along with the Lubbers scandal, the Oil-for-Food scandal, the peacekeeper rape scandals, the procurement bribery scandals and what-not, the UN is where Kofi Annan after many questions and much pressure from the press finally agreed to file with the UN’s new “Ethics Office” a UN financial “disclosure” form which Annan has refused to actually disclose to the public.
For those who might have forgotten the Lubbers scandal, a quick reprise. In early 2004, a female member of Lubbers’s staff at the UNHCR’s Geneva headquarters officially lodged a complaint of sexual harassment. The UN held an internal investigation which in June, 2004 reported confidentially to Kofi Annan that investigators had found “a pattern of sexual harassment by Mr. Lubbers,” and recommended that “appropriate action be taken against Mr. Lubbers for misconduct and abuse of authority.” For eight months, Kofi Annan sat serenely on these secret findings, doing nothing to address the problem or the recommendations of his own internal auditors. Finally in February, 2005, the report leaked to the press. In the ensuing broo-ha-ha, for reasons described by Annan’s office as being solely to put an end to the “continuing controversy,” Lubbers resigned.
UN office habits to the side, I have thought for some time that Annan should have fired Lubbers on grounds of UNHCR policy — for the enormous dereliction of the UNHCR’s doing or even saying next to nothing to help hundreds of thousands of desperate, famished North Korean refugees trying to flee into China. But of couse that is Annan’s policy too, based on the view that it is more important for the UN to avoid offending the despots who run China than to go to bat for the most abandoned refugee population on earth. The “ethics” of this approach would be a terrific subject for debate at this Nov. 10 European Parliament conference, but I guess it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun as folks like Ruud Lubbers lecturing corporate leaders on “values” and “leadership performance.”