The chief executive officers (CEOs) -- along with those heading Levi Strauss & Co., Läckeby Water Group, and Suez -- last week became the first six to sign a UN commitment to cut down on water use at their manufacturing plants. Under the UN programme, called the CEO Water Mandate, the executives pledged to take immediate action to address the emerging global water crisis. Together they launched a project designed to help companies better manage water use in their direct operations and throughout their supply chains. The executives announced their call to action at the 2007 Global Compact Leaders Summit meeting last week in Geneva, Switzerland. The UN has pinpointed the food and drink industry as some of the largest uses of water resources worldwide. "There is huge potential for the private sector to make a real, positive and lasting difference in protecting and preserving fresh-water resources," said Neville Isdell, Coca-Cola's chairman and CEO. The CEO Water Mandate asks companies to make progress in six areas: direct operations, supply chain and watershed management, collective action, public policy, community engagement, and transparency. More specifically, endorsers of The CEO Water Mandate pledge to set water-use targets, assist suppliers with water-efficiency practices and partner with governments, policy makers and community groups to address water shortages and sanitation. The CEO Water Mandate was developed in partnership with the UN Global Compact and Sweden's government. The project was launched in a bid to address the world's water crisis. The UN's Human Development Report 2006 said the crisis is deepening around the world. "It is increasingly clear that lack of access to clean water and sanitation in many parts of the world causes great suffering in humanitarian, social, environmental, and economic terms and seriously undermines development goals," the six CEOs said in a joint statement. "The private sector has an important stake in helping to address the water challenge faced by the world today." About one billion people lack clean water for drinking, and 2.6 billion lack sanitation, the UN estimates. "Water experts predict that the situation will worsen in many parts of the world in the coming decades as a result of factors including urbanisation and population growth, increasing food production, changing consumption patterns, industrialisation, pollution, and climate change," according to a UN statement. The CEO Water Mandate can be downloaded at: www.unglobalcompact.org/Issues/Environment/Water_sustainability/index.html.