From Principles to Practice: The Role of the SA8000 in Implementing the UN Global Compact


The United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) is the world’s largest corporate citizenship and sustainability initiative that gathers companies and civil society organizations committed to the 10 universally accepted principles in the areas of human rights, labor, environment, and anti-corruption. Launched 10 years ago and structured as a voluntary but accountable public-private initiative, the Global Compact focuses on engaging businesses around the world in the implementation of best corporate social responsibility practices. Chief Executive Officers of participating companies pledge to align their operations and strategies with the ten UNGC principles and they share approaches 10 lessons learned in the annual progress communication publication.

Just as good corporate citizenship goes beyond statements and declarations, participation in the UN Global Compact goes beyond signing a name on the dotted line. As companies commit to implementing the ten principles of the UNGC, they seek the best mechanisms to ensure that these principles are reflected in their performance. While there is no single best approach, there are some mechanisms that may prove useful for many companies around the world. One example is the SA8000 global social accountability standard for decent working conditions developed by Social Accountability International (SAI).

This article shows how six companies of different sizes representing different sectors and corners of the world use the SA8000 workplace standard as a tool to implement and report on the commitments to the labor principles (Principles 3-6) of the UN Global Compact. The Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) and SAI jointly interviewed their executives to obtain first-hand accounts of how they implement the principles of good corporate citizenship in practice. Each company is both a UN Global Compact participant and certified compliant to SA8000; all companies take advantage of the synergies between these two standards. In doing so, they have moved from ideas and statements to action.

This article is based on a joint UNGC-SAI-CIPE publication under the same title launched at the UNGC Leaders Summit in New York, June 2010. The full publication is available here.

Launched in 2000, the United Nations Global Compact is a call to companies around the world to align their strategies and operations with ten universal principles in the areas of human rights, labor, environment and anticorruption, and to take action in support of broader UN goals. Through the development, implementation and disclosure of responsible corporate policies and practices, business can help ensure that markets advance in ways that benefit economies and societies everywhere. The Global Compact is a voluntary leadership platform for dialogue and learning, it is not a regulatory body. With more than 8,000 signatories in 135 countries, it is the world’s largest corporate responsibility initiative.

Social Accountability International is a 13-year old international multi-stakeholder organization of business, labor and NGOs whose mission is to advance the human rights of workers around the world. It carries this out through training, capacity building, and the SA8000 workplace standard, which is based on ILO and UN conventions. Over 2200 organizations, in over 60 countries, employing over 1.3 million people, are certified compliant with SA8000 by organizations accredited by SAAS (Social Accountability Accreditation Services). SAI has partnered, in dozens of countries, to conduct training, capacity building and workplace rights consultations – attended by workers, factory managers, auditors, labor inspectors, trade union representatives, supply chain managers, brand compliance officers, NGOs – about implementing management systems and criteria for ethical workplaces. 
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