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The Importance of Voluntarism

In 2009, the law firm of Latham & Watkins LLP began preparing a memorandum outlining the benefits of voluntary initiatives to the advancement of corporate responsibility. After months of drafting and development, the result is The Importance of Voluntarism, a concise but significant document which discusses how voluntary initiatives can create value not only for the corporations who participate in them, but for society as a whole. This discussion is predicated on the idea that voluntary initiatives are most effective when they play a complementary role in relation to regulation; such initiatives are, by definition, not legally binding.

The concepts found within this document have constituted the basis of consistent — though unspoken — themes that have underpinned the missions, advocacy and initiatives of the United Nations Global Compact since its founding in 2000. With The Importance of Voluntarism, these themes have finally been put into concrete terms.

In short, voluntary initiatives can advance the 21st century corporate sustainability agenda via benefits that fall under three overarching and significant categories:

  1. Voluntary initiatives instill a culture of corporate leadership and innovation in pursuit of responsible behavior — for example, by embedding related issues into decision-making and operations;
  2. Voluntary initiatives can move corporate responsibility from concept to fact — for example, by facilitating the emergence of stakeholder consensus or by helping identify material risks and opportunities and drive long-term success; and
  3. Voluntary initiatives can give voice to the people’s concerns, thus securing a positive place for business in society — for example, by helping companies build trust and confidence in communities and economies.


It is hoped that The Importance of Voluntarism will provide both current and potential participants, stakeholders and partners of the UN Global Compact with a clearer understanding of its dual mission to (i) mainstream the Ten Principles and (ii) to catalyze business actions in support of broader UN goals, such as the Millennium Development Goals. At the same time, readers should understand that while this document refers specifically to the UN Global Compact, the concepts contained within are also applicable to voluntary initiatives as a whole.


>> download The Importance of Voluntarism (pdf)

(Last updated: 27 October 2010)