Kinder, gentler business

A United Nations effort to encourage businesses to be more socially responsible has not met expectations, but is seeing some progress, says a new study by McKinsey & Co., published in the McKinsey Quarterly.

In 2000, the U.N., under the leadership of Kofi Anan, launched the Global Compact, an effort to gain the commitment of corporations around the world to follow a set of 10 guidelines in areas such as ethics, human rights and the environment.

By 2004, 1,800 companies worldwide had joined the compact, the study says, with about 100 of those from the U.S.

The study attributes the low U.S. participation to American companies’ doubts about the value of associating with the U.N. and fear of lawsuits should they not comply with the principles of the compact.

Four in 10 companies surveyed say the compact has had a positive effect on their social responsibility efforts, while seven in 10 say they have seen no changes since joining the compact or that changes that occurred would have happened even without the compact.

While a primary goal of the compact is to foster communication between companies, U.N. agencies and nonprofits, the study says that only 14 percent of respondents have participated in the compact’s online forum or attended international meetings.

To improve participation in the compact, the study suggests convening more and smaller meetings focused on specific topics of interest, providing attendees with opportunities to share and learn from each other’s experiences.

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