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Let's Make Up: Recommitting to the UN Global Compact

Published: Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Breaking up is hard to do. Making up can be even harder. It requires vulnerability, honesty and a willingness to admit mistakes. A year ago I wrote about the large number of companies being expelled from the UN Global Compact and the potential impact it had on a company's stakeholders. I encouraged those remaining to hold to their commitments to the Global Compact's 10 Sustainability Principles rather than be expelled and send a mixed message to stakeholders about their intentions.

The UN Global Compact recently announced it had expelled even more companies bringing the total to 3,123. What's maddening about those increasing numbers is that maintaining membership in the Global Compact is easy. Companies are not asked to be perfect on all measures. They aren't even required to report on all ten principles. Instead, the Global Compact encourages continuous improvement and a focus on quality over quantity.

For the Love of...

Amidst those dismal numbers, however, there is a shining light. Expulsion from the Global Compact doesn't necessarily mean that companies are doing poorly, only that they have neglected to submit a progress report (although the fact that they aren't being transparent can lead to some unfortunate inferences). And companies that have been expelled from the Global Compact can apply to be reinstated. In the past 2 years, 171 companies have done just that.

Some were readmitted to the Global Compact within days of their expulsion, others after several months had passed. But by re-engaging, all have shown a commitment to and a recognition of the importance of the Global Compact's Sustainability Principles. See a list of the companies here.

Embracing Values

A commitment to the UN Global Compact means that companies agree to "embrace, support and enact, within their sphere of influence, a set of core values in the areas of human rights, labour standards, the environment and anti-corruption." The principles state that:

1. Businesses should support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights; and

2. Make sure that they are not complicit in human rights abuses.

3. Businesses should uphold the freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining;

4. The elimination of all forms of forced and compulsory labour;

5. The effective abolition of child labour; and

6. The elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.

7. Businesses should support a precautionary approach to environmental challenges;

8. Undertake initiatives to promote greater environmental responsibility; and

9. Encourage the development and diffusion of environmentally-friendly technologies.

10. Businesses should work against corruption in all its forms, including extortion and bribery.

These aren't outrageous requests. They are reasonable measures that every company should be taking to show respect for their stakeholders.

Sharing the Love

Kudos to all of the companies who have had the courage to re-commit to the Global Compact. (Ditto to those who have never faltered in their commitment). For those who have struggled to report on their progress, perhaps it's time to consider getting reinstated. As some companies have shown, it's not so difficult to do.

Photo via Flickr user Fractal Ken