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Differentiation Programme

The Global Compact Differentiation Programme categorizes business participants based on their level of disclosure on progress made in integrating the Global Compact principles and contributing to broader UN goals. 

GC Levels

Business participants’ Communications On Progress (COP) are classified in one of three categories, based on a self-assessment of the COP’s content::

  • The Learner Platform is for companies who submitted a timely COP but did not meet all minimum COP content requirements. Companies in this category will be given a one-time, 12-month “Learner” grace period from the date of submission of their COP to submit a new COP that meets all minimum requirements. The Global Compact office provides companies in the Learner Platform with support and assistance.
  • The GC Active level is for business participants that fulfill all minimum COP content requirements, which includes addressing all Global Compact issue areas and communicating directly with stakeholders. At this level, the goal of the programme is to recognize companies that fulfill their commitment to implement all ten principles and publicly disclose their progress.
  • The GC Advanced level is for companies that strive to be top performers and declare that they have adopted and report on a range of best practices in sustainability governance and management, based on the Blueprint for Corporate Sustainability Leadership and the UN Global Compact Management Model and other core United Nations and Global Compact documents (e.g. the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the Anti-Corruption Reporting Guidance.

Two Dimensions

Differentiation levels are applied annually based on the most recent COP submitted and on the degree to which this COP demonstrates progress along two critical dimensions:

  • Global Compact implementation. Companies are expected to make continuous progress in their implementation of all Global Compact principles, and, ultimately, to achieve best practices described in the Blueprint for Corporate Sustainability Leadership.
  • Transparency and disclosure. Companies are expected to communicate directly with their stakeholders and to be transparent about the policies and processes they have put in place to manage sustainability risk and opportunities. Companies are also expected to progress towards the use of standard reporting guidelines (e.g. the Global Reporting Initiative reporting framework), verification, and, ultimately, towards integrated financial and sustainability reporting.

Global Compact Differentiation and the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)

The GRI Sustainability Reporting Guidelines (“GRI Guidelines”) are relevant for both levels of the differentiation programme.

  • At the GC Active Level, the Global Compact recommends the use of the GRI Guidelines to help participants communicate their progress directly to stakeholders.
  • At the GC Advanced level, the Global Compact and GRI are currently exploring synergies between the differentiation programme and both the GRI G3.1 and the forthcoming G4 Guidelines, to maximize the complementarities of both frameworks.
In an effort to further demonstrate the synergies between the two frameworks and guide companies on how the two frameworks can be used together, the Global Compact and GRI are working on a new version of “Making the Connection” scheduled to be released in 2013.

Objectives of the Programme

The Programme provides companies at all stages of sustainability performance and disclosure with the opportunity to pursue a process of continuous improvement. It also aims to facilitate a more thorough assessment of sustainability performance and disclosure by stakeholders, while recognizing each company’s unique operational context such as size, industry and geography.

The Differentiation Programme reinforces the Global Compact’s objective of changing business practices through transparency, dialogue and stakeholder vetting. The Global Compact does not itself assess the performance of companies. Instead, the goal is to develop a public platform that enables stakeholders to make more informed choices as investors, employees and/or consumers, ultimately ensuring that companies live up to their commitment to the Global Compact.

As part of the Programme, the Global Compact Office will work with its non-business participants and other stakeholders to engage with companies to create a robust COP vetting process.

Through specific activities at both levels, the Differentiation Programme aims to achieve the following goals:

  • Drive continuous improvement at all levels of sustainability performance and disclosure.
  • Create a learning platform by promoting best practices relevant for every level while showcasing companies’ achievement.
  • Provide relevant tools and resources for business participants at every level of performance.
  • Give business participants recognition for progress made in context of their size, region and industry sector.
  • Provide stakeholders with a platform to independently assess companies’ progress and enable a robust stakeholder vetting process.

Review and Updating Process

The UN Global Compact Differentiation Programme was launched on 25 Feb 2011, followed by updates in 2012 and 2013. Both the initial programme and subsequent updates entail extensive consultation with key stakeholders and system testing by participants. The Global Compact Office appreciates the work of all those who help to improve this programme. Effective 1 March 2013, the GC Advanced criteria were refined to allow all business participants to aspire to a single set of criteria that is more closely aligned with the Blueprint for Corporate Sustainability Leadership. Changes include:

  • Modification of wording of some existing criteria to more explicitly be aligned with the Blueprint on Corporate Sustainability Leadership
  • Cross-reference of the criteria on “Robust Human Rights Management Policies and Procedures” to specific elements of the Human Rights COP Reporting Guidance
  • Removal of Blueprint Dimension 3, “Engaging with the UN Global Compact” from the GC Advanced criteria. This information will be collected in the Global Compact participant profile.
  • Placement of former Criterion 24 on external verification of the COP as part of the introductory questions at the beginning of the COP self-assessment
  • Inclusion of an introductory question on Business and Peace, along with 3 follow-up questions for companies that have operations in high-risk and/or conflict-affected areas
  • New options for companies to: explain the reason(s) for omission of a given criterion from their COP; indicate future plans to fulfill a given criterion that have not yet been implemented; highlight other emerging or established best practices not found in the COP self-assessment

Please click here for an updated version of criteria.


COP Team
UN Global Compact

(Last updated: 28 February 2013)