Civil Society

Civil society organizations (CSOs) are an important and integral part of the UN Global Compact and its goal of embedding economies with universal principles and values. Civil society organizations contribute much needed perspectives and expertise that can complement those of other participants and stakeholders.

Participating civil society organizations offer their knowledge in shaping special initiatives and workstreams; in the development of tools and research; in assisting business participants in the practical implementing the principles; in furthering partnership projects; and by helping to hold business accountable with respect to their commitments to the UN Global Compact and its ten principles. Currently almost 400 civil society organizations are involved at some level. In addition, four members of the UN Global Compact Board are representatives of civil society.

How Civil Society Organizations Can Participate

Global Compact participants pledge to support the ten principles within their organizations and sphere of influence. The following outlines six ways in which CSOs can engage and participate.

1. Engage with Global Compact Local Networks

As an initiative, the UN Global Compact has established more than 80 Local Networks throughout the world. These autonomous, business-led networks are designed as multi-stakeholder "chapters" to advance the UN Global Compact at the local level, through the implementation of the ten principles and partnership projects. CSOs are encouraged to contact the focal points of the relevant Local Network(s) to explore participation. The focal points and their contact information can be found under Local Networks.

2. Join and/or Propose Partnership Projects on Corporate Sustainability

One of the two goals of the UN Global Compact is to catalyze partnership projects in support of broad development objectives, including the Millennium Development Goals. Therefore, CSOs are encouraged to forge partnership projects with business participants and other supporting stakeholders of the UN Global Compact, including UN agencies and programs. Several important guides and partnership resources have been developed in this respect. These can be accessed under Partnerships for Development. This section also outlines the various types of partnerships and includes important links to the activities of the UN Development Programme and upcoming meetings and events related to the topic of partnerships.

3. Engage companies in Global Compact-related issues

In addition, CSOs are encouraged to invite companies within their Country Network(s) to join partnership projects (existing/new/proposed), and to offer their organizations as potential partners to business on specific projects.

4. Join and/or Support special initiatives and workstreams

The UN Global Compact has a number of topical initiatives and specialized workstreams that may be of interest to CSOs. These cover a spectrum of issues including: climate change, water, human rights, transparency and anti-corruption, responsible investment, zones of conflict, and management education. Opportunities may exist for enhanced civil society engagement in these initiatives and workstreams, and CSOs are encouraged to offer their participation and support. Information on these areas and related contact data can be found under Issues. In some cases, opportunity for greater CSO engagement may depend on the status of a given initiative and its current capacities.

5. Provide commentary to companies on Communications on Progress

As part of their commitment to the UN Global Compact, chief executive officers and their companies pledge to communicate annually on the ways in which they are implementing the ten principles and to provide links to these public disclosures on the UN Global Compact website. CSOs and other stakeholders are encouraged to analyze and review these Communications on Progress (COPs) and provide feedback directly to companies in the spirit of continuous improvement. Reviewing these public documents may also give CSOs key information on specific corporate activities and programs where greater CSO involvement may be needed.

6. Participate in Global Compact global and local events

As a registered stakeholder in the UN Global Compact, a supporting CSO will receive regular communications on global, regional and local events. CSOs are encourage, where possible and feasible, to participate in these activities — bringing their unique perspectives, expertise, and capacities. 

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How are civil society organizations defined for the purposes of the UN Global Compact?

Civil society organizations (CSOs) are non-governmental and non-profit entities that seek to bring about positive social and environmental change. These include advocacy groups as well as organizations operating at the field level. Civil society organizations can be “multi-national” and international in nature, or small grass-roots groups. The definition of civil society organizations used by the Global Compact does not include the private sector, academia, labour, or municipalities. The engagement platforms for these other actors in the Global Compact can be found under the relevant sections of this website.

2. Can a civil society organization seek funding from Global Compact participants – for example, from business or the United Nations?

The UN Global Compact is not a funding platform or mechanism. It does not ask business participants or other stakeholders to fund another organization. Rather, the focus is on the implementation of the ten principles through engagement and collective action. CSOs are, however, encouraged to pursue partnership projects with participating companies and stakeholders.

3. How can organizations convey comments/complaints/recommendations to the Global Compact?

The Integrity Measures provide guidance in this area. Participants can also send comments and recommendations to the Senior Civil Society Coordinator, Ms. Olajobi Makinwa, ( ).

4. Are Global Compact participants accused of “violations” of any of the ten principles expelled from the initiative?

Excluding a participant from the initiative is a last resort option. The focus of the Global Compact and its Integrity Measures are to promote continuous improvement. If a company repeatedly fails to communicate on progress, misuses the name or logo of the Global Compact, or refuses to engage in dialogue under the Integrity Measures, it can be listed as non-communicating and removed from the Global Compact website. In serious cases, a company can be de-listed. For more information, see the Integrity Measures and Communication on Progress .


Olajobi Makinwa
Senior Civil Society Coordinator
UN Global Compact

(Last updated 27 October 2010)