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UN Report Shows Significant Gap Between Corporate Sustainability Intentions and Actions

There is a major gap between what companies say and do about sustainability, with 65 percent developing policies at the CEO level and only 35 percent taking action, according to a recent survey by the United Nations Global Compact.

The Global Corporate Sustainability Report 2013 includes survey responses from 1,712 companies from 113 countries, and reviews the actions taken by companies to integrate responsible practices outlined in the Global Compact Management Model into their strategies, operations and culture. The survey paints a picture of how companies are addressing sustainability issues including human rights, labor, environment and anti-corruption.

The report shows that when companies do take action, it is usually on environment and labor-rights issues. Fifty percent of the companies surveyed perform risk assessments on the environment, as opposed to 21 percent on human rights, 36 percent on labor and 25 percent on anti-corruption.

According to the UN, moving from making a commitment to taking action often requires a greater investment of company resources and time. However, the longer a company is committed to the Global Compact, the more action they take.

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While bigger firms are twice as likely to evaluate their environmental performance or have a human-rights complaint system, smaller companies lag behind. Small and medium-sized companies attribute this to a lack of financial resources and knowledge, which prevents them from taking action on sustainability issues. The survey also found smaller companies are increasingly taking steps to catch up.

Supply chains are among the biggest challenges companies face when attempting to improve their sustainability performance. While some 83 percent of companies consider adherence to the Global Compact principles by suppliers, only 18 percent help them set and review goals. Only 9 percent of companies try to verify remediation by their suppliers.

In May, the United Nations Global Compact announced it is redoubling its efforts to scale up corporate sustainability in Africa and emphasize the private sector’s role in contributing to the continent’s full economic and social renaissance. Following more than a decade of unprecedented growth, Africa is poised to unleash a strong business sector, with governments serving as a critical catalyst for change, Global Compact says.


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