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Overview of the UN Global Compact

The UN Global Compact is a strategic policy initiative for businesses that are committed to aligning their operations and strategies with ten universally accepted principles in the areas of human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption. By doing so, business, as a primary driver of globalization, can help ensure that markets, commerce, technology and finance advance in ways that benefit economies and societies everywhere.

As social, political and economic challenges (and opportunities) — whether occurring at home or in other regions — affect business more than ever before, many companies recognize the need to collaborate and partner with governments, civil society, labour and the United Nations.

This ever-increasing understanding is reflected in the Global Compact's rapid growth. With over 12,000 corporate participants and other stakeholders from over 145 countries, it is the largest voluntary corporate responsibility initiative in the world.

Endorsed by chief executives, the Global Compact is a practical framework for the development, implementation, and disclosure of sustainability policies and practices, offering participants a wide spectrum of workstreams, management tools and resources — all designed to help advance sustainable business models and markets. (See How to Participate.)

The UN Global Compact works toward the vision of a sustainable and inclusive global economy which delivers lasting benefits to people, communities, and markets.

To help realize this vision, the initiative seeks to:

  1. Mainstream the Global Compact’s Ten Principles in business strategy and operations around the world; and
  2. Catalyze business action in support of UN goals and issues, with emphasis on collaboration and collective action.

With these objectives in mind, the Global Compact has shaped an initiative that provides collaborative solutions to the most fundamental challenges facing both business and society. The initiative seeks to combine the best properties of the UN, such as moral authority and convening power, with the private sector’s solution-finding strengths, and the expertise and capacities of a range of key stakeholders. The Global Compact is global and local; private and public; voluntary yet accountable.

The benefits of engagement include the following:  

  • Adopting an established and globally recognized policy framework for the development, implementation, and disclosure of environmental, social, and governance policies and practices.
  • Sharing best and emerging practices to advance practical solutions and strategies to common challenges.
  • Advancing sustainability solutions in partnership with a range of stakeholders, including UN agencies, governments, civil society, labour, and other non-business interests.
  • Linking business units and subsidiaries across the value chain with the Global Compact's Local Networks around the world — many of these in developing and emerging markets.
  • Accessing the United Nations' extensive knowledge of and experience with sustainability and development issues.
  • Utilizing UN Global Compact management tools and resources, and the opportunity to engage in specialized workstreams in the environmental, social and governance realms.

A more detailed analysis of the benefits of participation in the Global Compact can be found in The Importance of Voluntarism — which also focuses on the importance of the Global Compact as a complement rather than substitute for regulatory regimes

Finally, the Global Compact incorporates a transparency and accountability policy known as the Communication on Progress (COP). The annual posting of a COP is an important demonstration of a participant's commitment to the UN Global Compact and its principles. Participating companies are required to follow this policy, as a commitment to transparency and disclosure is critical to the success of the initiative. Failure to communicate will result in a change in participant status and possible expulsion.

In summary, the Global Compact exists to assist the private sector in the management of increasingly complex risks and opportunities in the environmental, social and governance realms, seeking to embed markets and societies with universal principles and values for the benefit of all.

Key Documents

UN Global Compact Brochure
After the Signature – An Introduction to the Global Compact
2011 Global Compact Implementation Survey: Annual Review of Business Policies and Actions to Advance Sustainability
Global Compact Annual Review – 2010 
Global Compact Annual Review – Anniversary Edition 
The Importance of Voluntarism

Core UN Agencies

Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
United Nations Environment Programme
International Labour Organization
United Nations Development Programme
United Nations Industrial Development Organization
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime
United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women

(Last update 22 April 2013)