The UN Global Compact asks companies to commit to ten universal sustainability principles and to support broader UN and societal goals such as the Sustainable Development Goals.


The Ten Principles are derived from:

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The International Labour Organisation's Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work

The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development

The United Nations Convention Against Corruption

Respecting human rights (‘do no harm’) means, as elaborated by the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: not causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts through a business’ own activities and addressing any impacts that occur; and

seeking to prevent or mitigate against adverse human rights impacts that are directly linked to a business’ operations, products or services by their business relationships, even if the business has not contributed to those impacts.

Supporting human rights refers to voluntary actions that advance and promote human rights. This could include actions through core business activities, strategic social investment and philanthropy, advocacy and public policy engagement, partnerships and collective action (although supporting human rights cannot substitute for respecting human rights). In practice, respecting and supporting human rights are often closely interlinked.

Principle 2 refers to being implicated in a human rights abuse that another business, government, individual or group is causing. The risk of complicity in human rights abuses is particularly high in areas of weak governance or where human rights abuses are widespread; however, the risk exists in every country for every sector.

Freedom of association refers to the right of all workers and all employers to freely and voluntarily establish and join organisations of their own choice. These organisations have the right to freely carry out their activities – including the promotion and defence of their occupational interests – without interference. Collective bargaining refers to a voluntary process or activity through which employees and workers discuss and negotiate their relations, including terms and conditions at work. (International Labour Organisation (ILO))The UN Global Compact does not require companies to change their industrial relations frameworks, and expresses no view on whether any particular national law meets international standards. The International Organisation of Employers (IOE) developed an Employers’ Guide to the UN Global Compact which elaborates further on what the Labour Principles mean for businesses.

Forced and compulsory labour includes slavery, bonded labour or debt bondage, physical abduction or kidnapping, physical confinement in a work location, the work or service of prisoners if hired to or placed at the disposal of companies or others involuntarily and without supervision of public authorities, work required to punish opinion or expression of views, exploitative practices such as forced overtime, withholding, the lodging of deposits (financial or personal documents, e.g. passports) for employment, and non-payment of wages and induced indebtedness.

‘Child labour’ is a form of exploitation that is a violation of a human right. While the term ‘child’ refers to all girls and boys under 18 years, not all under-18s must be removed from work. International standards distinguish what constitutes acceptable or unacceptable work for children at different ages and stages of their development.

Minimum Age for Admission to Employment or Work (ILO):

Developed countries Developing countries
Light Work 13 year 12 year
Regular Work 15 year 14 year
Hazardous Work 18 year 18 year

ILO Convention No. 182 requires governments to give priority to eliminating the worst forms of child labour undertaken by all under-18s (slavery, prostitution, pornography, illicit activities and work likely to harm the health, safety or morals of the child). The ILO provides further guidance around child labour here.

Discrimination in employment and occupation refers to treating people differently or less favourably because of characteristics unrelated to merit or the inherent requirements of the job (e.g. race, colour, sex, religion, political opinion, national extraction, social origin, age, disability, HIV/AIDS status, trade union membership and sexual orientation). Discrimination can arise in a range of situations, such as recruitment, remuneration, hours of work, security of tenure, job assignments, performance assessment and promotion, maternity protection, training and opportunities and OH&S matters.

Principle 15 of the Rio Declaration defined the precautionary approach as follows: “Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation”.
In short, where there is a threat of serious or irreversible damage to health or the environment, even if the threat is not fully understood or established, prevention is better than cure. Businesses should support cost-effective measures to protect the environment and not use scientific uncertainties as an excuse to postpones actions to address environmental challenges.

Agenda 21, the UN action plan developed at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, explained the business and industry in sustainable development as follows:

“Business and industry should increase self-regulation, guided by appropriate codes, charters and initiatives integrated into all elements of business planning and decision-making, and fostering openness and dialogue with employees and the public.”

Corporate environmental responsibility is now recognised as a core business issue. In addition to risk management outcomes, taking an environmentally responsible approach supports the long-term viability of businesses in an increasingly resource-constrained world, and can also spur innovation. Stakeholders – including customers, investors, governments, employees and NGOs – also expect businesses to minimise their environmental impact, and where possible have a net positive impact.

Environmentally friendly technologies include those that protect the environment, reduce pollution, use all resources more sustainably, recycle more waste and product and/or manage waste more effectively than those they replace. They may be specific devices or entire processes or systems

Principle 10 commits UN Global Compact participants not only to avoid bribery, extortion and other forms of corruption, but also to develop policies and concrete programs to address corruption.The UN Convention against Corruption is the underlying legal instrument for Principle 10.