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Frequently Asked Questions

1. How do companies participate in the UN Global Compact?

As a voluntary initiative, the UN Global Compact seeks wide participation from a diverse group of businesses. As a participant in the Global Compact, a company:

  • Sets in motion changes to business operations so that the Global Compact and its principles become part of strategy, culture and day-to-day operations;
  • Is expected to publicly advocate the Global Compact and its principles via communications vehicles such as press releases, speeches, etc; and
  • Is required to communicate with their stakeholders on an annual basis about progress in:
    1. Implementing the ten principles and
    2. Undertaking partnership projects in support of broad UN goals.

The Communication on Progress (COP) is an important demonstration of a participant’s commitment to the Global Compact and its principles. Failure to provide a COP will result in a non-communicating or inactive status for a participant – a necessary measure to protect the integrity of the initiative.

Companies have the added opportunity of participating in a number of Global Compact-sponsored initiatives and programs. More information on how to participate can be found here.

2. Who can join the Global Compact?

Participation in the Global Compact is open to any company that is serious about its commitment to work towards implementation of the Global Compact principles throughout its operations and sphere of influence, and to communicate on its progress.  Properly constituted (under prevailing national law) companies from any industry sector are eligible for participation, except those companies involved in the manufacture, sale etc. of anti-personnel landmines or cluster bombs, companies that are the subject of a UN sanction or that have been blacklisted by UN Procurement for ethical reasons.  Remaining in good standing requires communicating the company's progress in implementing the principles, respecting the Policy on the Use of the Global Compact Name and Logos, and a willingness to engage in dialogue under the integrity measures in the event that a matter is raised under those procedures. 

3. How can non-governmental organizations and other non-business participants get involved?

As equal partners and important stakeholders, civil society and other non-business organisations can participate through a number of Global Compact engagement mechanisms, including Policy Dialogues, Learning, Local Networks and Partnership Projects . In these areas, such organizations have a crucial role to play in helping to foster partnerships and produce substantive action. Non-business participants are also encouraged to commit their organization to the ten principles and to report on progress made within their organization.

4. Is the Global Compact legally binding?

No. The Global Compact is a purely voluntary initiative. It does not police or enforce the behavior or actions of companies. Rather, it is designed to stimulate change and to promote good corporate citizenship and encourage innovative solutions and partnerships.

5. Is the Global Compact a substitute for existing regulatory approaches? 

Absolutely not. The Global Compact views itself as complementing other voluntary initiatives and regulatory approaches by helping to establish the business case for human rights, labour standards, environmental stewardship and the fight against corruption. The Global Compact is a purely voluntary initiative designed to promote innovation in relation to good corporate citizenship. Many of the existing standards support the principles of the Global Compact and are therefore are quite consistent with its overall objectives.

6. Why should a company that has already established its own code of conduct participate in the Global Compact?

Corporate codes of conduct are extremely important and many companies have demonstrated leadership and positive change through their development and implementation. The Global Compact is not a code of conduct. Rather, it offers a policy framework for organizing and developing corporate sustainability strategies while offering a platform - based on universal principles - to encourage innovative initiatives and partnerships with civil society, governments and other stakeholders

7. Are there any financial obligations in becoming a Global Compact participant? 

The Global Compact is a voluntary initiative, not a formal membership organization. Upon joining the Global Compact, companies are asked to make a regular annual contribution to support the work of the Global Compact Office. This revenue is critical to the development of value-maximizing programmes, projects and resources for the benefit of all participating companies. These contributions are received, administered and distributed through the Foundation for the Global Compact – a non-profit 501(c)(3) – and are therefore tax deductible in many jurisdictions. Learn more at the Foundation for the Global Compact website.

8. I operate an organization with less than 10 employees. Can I still participate in the Global Compact?

Due to administrative constraints, organizations with less than ten direct employees (micro enterprises) will not be entered into the participant database. However, we encourage micro enterprises to stay informed about all Global Compact activities via this website and to engage with their Global Compact country network. Network information can be found in the Networks Around the World section of this website.

9. Can company subsidiaries join the Global Compact?

The Global Compact applies the leadership principle. If the CEO of a company's global parent (holding, group, etc.) embraces the Global Compact by sending a letter to the UN Secretary-General, the Global Compact will post only the name of the parent company on the global list assuming that all subsidiaries participate as well. Subsidiaries that wish to directly send a letter to the Secretary-General, to underline their commitment, will be listed as participants, and are invited to become active in the Global Compact country network of their host country.

10. What if my company chooses to no longer participate in the Global Compact?

The Global Compact is a voluntary initiative, and signatories are free to end their participation at any time. However, as the initial commitment to the Global Compact requires a letter from an organization's top executive, the same is expected in order to leave the initiative. The letter should be addressed to the UN Secretary-General and specify the organization's reasons for ending the commitment.

Please note: the Global Compact Office reserves the right to make the participation and departure letters public.

11. If there is no monitoring or enforcement, how does the Global Compact know that a company is truthfully portraying its actions? 

The Global Compact is not a performance or assessment tool. It does not provide a seal of approval, nor does it make judgments on performance.

Participants are expected to publish in their annual report or similar corporate report (e.g. sustainability report) a description of the ways in which they are supporting the Global Compact and its ten principles. This is known as the Communication on Progress. The Global Compact believes that this sort of openness and transparency encourages good practices by participants (see question 6 below).

12. Does the UN Global Compact have teeth?

Focused on learning, dialogue and partnerships, the UN Global Compact is more like a guide dog than a watch dog. However, the Global Compact has a mandatory disclosure framework - the Communication on Progress (COP). Business participants are required to communicate their progress to their own stakeholders on an annual basis and to post a copy on the Global Compact's website. Failing to communicate progress on an annual basis results in a downgrading of participant status from active to non communicating. Participants who do not communicate progress for two years in a row are de-listed and the Global Compact publishes their name. Non-communicating companies can become active participants by posting their COP. Companies that have been expelled need to reapply to join the Global Compact. Their application must be accompanied by their COP.  

13. Isn't there a danger of companies using UN logos and their affiliation with the UN and the Global Compact to "blue-wash" their operations that might actually be harming society? 

The Global Compact has developed its own logo, which is used frequently in official Compact documents and publications. The use of the Global Compact image is strictly regulated and the same restrictions apply to its use as the general United Nations logo. Those policies are contained in the UN Business Guidelines, which can be accessed at http://www.un.org/partners/business/otherpages/guide.htm .

In addition, following the recommendations made by the working group of the Secretary General's Advisory Council, the Global Compact adopted a set of integrity measures to safeguard the initiative and to avoid potential abuse. They also encourage companies to communicate at least annually to their stakeholders and the public at large on progress made in internalizing the principles within their own operations and activities. Global Compact participants are also expected to submit a short description and a web link to these communications to the Global Compact and/or Global Compact local network website. Participants that do not submit such a description within two years of signing on to the Global Compact will be removed from the list of participants until a submission has been made.

14. Can tobacco companies join the Global Compact?

The UN Global Compact Office supports the World Health Organization's efforts to raise awareness of the serious health effects of tobacco use. It thus actively discourages tobacco companies from participation in the initiative and does not accept funding from tobacco companies. It also does not permit tobacco companies to make presentations at any of its global events or to use the global brand in any other way to raise their profile. Since tobacco is a legal product whose use UN Member States have not yet outlawed, the Global Compact Office is not able to exclude tobacco companies from the initiative if they still wish to join. However, because the initiative is a learning and dialogue platform and does not endorse or offer a seal of approval for participating companies, it reinforces Government efforts to advance human rights, labour conditions, the environment and anti-corruption, including as these areas relate to the tobacco industry. Until Member States decide otherwise, tobacco companies should not be immune from the Global Compact's worldwide call to all companies to embrace, support and enact within their sphere of influence the set of core values in these areas. They should be expected to support and respect human rights, uphold labour standards, respect the environment and avoid corruption.

15. Should we report our progress on workplace related issues not addressed by the labour principles under "labour" or "human rights"?

Since the labour principles are also internationally proclaimed human rights, companies can choose whether to report on progress on working conditions and other labour issues under the heading of human rights or labour.

16. How does the UN Global Compact compare to the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises?

The UN Global Compact and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises are two of the foremost voluntary initiatives that promote corporate responsibility and sustainable business practices. The initiatives complement each other in the goal of creating a more responsible and accountable corporate sector, yet are also distinct and unique. They have complementary engagement and accountability mechanisms.  Together they define and enhance the relationship between businesses and international standards, in addition to providing a comprehensive model for responsible business practices today. Read more.

(Last update 21 January 2013)