More than 1800 companies joined the UN Global Compact in 2011, a 54% increase over 2010 growth figures, but an annual survey showed that while signatories are building environmental and social factors into strategies and policies, there are wide gaps in translating that into operational action.
The UN Global Compact, a corporate responsibility initiative with more than 7,000 corporate signatories from 135 countries, released the results of its 2011 implementation survey. The survey was completed by more than 1300 signatories, and 49% of signatories reported that their sustainability commitments are developed or evaluated at the management board level. Of the four areas covered under the Global Compact’s principles, companies are taking action on the environment and on labour standards at the highest rates. Anti-corruption efforts have increased steadily for two consecutive years, but human rights action continues to lag behind.
The survey found that a minority of the largest or publicly traded companies around he world have a specific human rights codes, and that those most likely to have explicit human rights codes are those that joined the Global Compact earliest – 43% of those companies with human rights codes joined between 2000-2002 have human rights codes, while only 23% of those that joined between 2009-2011 have human rights codes.
“Approximately one-third have a complaint mechanism process (34%) or assess employee performance (31%), with far less utilizing operational guidance notes (22%) or impact assessments (12%),” the UN Global Compact said in the report summarising the survey.
However, implementation rate for human rights policies are consistent with past years – 69% for overall corporate codes and 27% for specific human rights codes. On labour rights, the majority of signatories are implementing policies linked to the global compact labour principles.
Anti-corruption policies increased in 2011- explicit anti-corruption policies increased 4%, supplier policies increased 4% and limiting gift values 3%.
“Company size has a marked effect on policy rates in all areas – for example limiting gift values (24% SMEs versus 77% largest companies) and explicit anti-corruption code (33% SMEs versus 75% largest companies),” the report said. “Publicly-traded companies are more likely to have policies in place – doing so at twice the rate of private companies related to suppliers, charitable and political donations, and having a specialized unit
On the environmental side, sustainable consumption represented the most common environmental policy implemented in 2011, with an overall rate of 68%, with performance targets an indicators at 64% and cleaner/safer production at 63%
“The only significant decline was observed for emissions trading/CDM projects, which has fallen 14% for the largest companies in the past two years,” the report said. “A minority are taking steps around water footprinting and eco-design – even among the largest companies. A majority are taking steps to fully integrate waste management, resource efficiency and water issues, yet issues such as biodiversity and climate change are not equally considered.”
Advancing corporate sustainability will get an airing at this month’s UN Conference on Sustainable Development, also known as Rio+20. The Global Compact will host the Rio+20 Corporate Sustainability Forum.