How to become sustainable: 10 principles to get you going
Sustainability
Healthcare
Waste solutions
Tuesday, 19 October 2021

How to become sustainable: 10 principles to get you going

Nowadays, sustainability is getting more attention than ever before, but it also raises a lot of questions. What is sustainability and how can companies become sustainable? In order to give companies an idea on how to become sustainable, this article will go over the “Ten Principles of the UN Global Compact”.

What are the 10 UN principles?

The UN released the “UN global compact 10 point principles” in order to further support the corporate sustainability concept. The UN stated that corporate sustainability starts with a company’s value system and their principle-based approach on doing business. This means that they are operating in ways that, at least, meet fundamental responsibilities in the areas of human rights, environment, labour and anti-corruption. Responsible businesses will act according to their values and principles, wherever they may be, and are aware that good practises in one area should not inflict harm in another area. If companies want to uphold their responsibilities of people, planet and long-term success, they can incorporate the Ten Principles of the UN global compact into their strategies, policies and procedures, and also establishing a culture of integrity. The 10 principles can be divided into four categories: Principle 1 and 2 fall under the human rights category, principles 3, 4, 5 and 6 are part of the labour category, principles 7, 8 and 9 are part of the environment category and principle 10 is from the anti-corruption catergory. The principles are:

  • Principle 1: Businesses should support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights.
  • Principle 2: Make sure that they are not complicit in human rights abuses.
  • Principle 3: Businesses should uphold the freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining.
  • Principle 4: The elimination of all forms of forced and compulsory labour.
  • Principle 5: The effective abolition of child labour.
  • Principle 6: The elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.
  • Principle 7: Businesses should support a precautionary approach to environmental challenges.
  • Principle 8: Undertake initiatives to promote greater environmental responsibility.
  • Principle 9: Encourage the development and diffusion of environmentally friendly technologies.
  • Principle 10: Businesses should work against corruption in all its forms, including extortion and bribery.

In this article we will explain what these 10 principles are and how to incorporate them in your business.

Principle 1: Businesses should support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights

The UN wants to point out their expectations for businesses on human rights. They expect that companies respect and support human rights. With respecting human rights, the UN means that a company should use due diligence to avoid human rights violations and address disadvantageous impacts on human rights with which they are involved. Businesses are also encouraged to actively support human rights. Supporting human rights means that the company will contribute positively to human rights, to promote or further develop human rights.

What can companies do to act according to this principle?

Respect human rights:

  • Look into the “International Bill of Human Rights”, the core “International labour organization (ILO) Conventions” and “Human Rights Translated”.
  • Use human rights due diligence, which means the process of identifying, preventing, mitigating and accounting for human rights violations that the company does through their processes.

Support human rights:

  • Provide safe and healthy working conditions
  • Guarantee freedom of association

Principle 2: Make sure that they are not complicit in human rights abuses

With complicity, it is meant that the company is involved in human rights abuses caused by another company, government, individual or another group.

What can companies do to act according to this principle?
  • Make a human rights assessment of the situation in countries where the company is active, or wants to become active, so the risk of human rights violation complicity can be identified and the company’s potential risk and impact on the situation can be clarified.
  • Identify company functions, even pre-investment/project exploration stage functions, that are most vulnerable for human right abuses, and see where there might be opportunities to advance human rights.

Principle 3: Businesses should uphold the freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining

Freedom of association gives employers and employees the right to freely and voluntarily create associations with others to protest and collectively bargain with their employers. In order to give the ability of free decision making, the work environment needs to be free of violence, pressure, fear and threats.

What can companies do to act according to this principle?

  • Create non-discriminatory policies and procedures regarding trade union organization, union membership and activity in areas like applications for employment and decisions on advancement, dismissal or transfer.
  • Give workers’ representatives the appropriate facilities to support in the development of effective collective agreement.

Principle 4: The elimination of all forms of forced and compulsory labour

Any form of work or service for which the person hasn’t offered him-/herself voluntarily, and is under threat of a penalty, is seen as forced or compulsory labour. Forced labour can come in many forms, for example: Slavery, bonded labour or debt bondage, physical confinement in the work location and deception of false promises about the types and terms of work.

What can companies do to act according to this principle?

  • Make a policy which states that the company will not use, be involved in, or profit from forced labour.
  • Ensure that all company officials understand completely what forced labour is.

Principle 5: The effective abolition of child labour

Child labour is something different than youth employment or student work. Child labour is a form of exploitation and has been recognized and defined by international instruments.

What can companies do to act according to this principle?

  • Follow the national minimal working age, if the national law is insufficient, use the international standards.
  • Work with other companies, sectoral associations and employers’ organizations in partnership in order to develop an industry-wide approach to work on the abolishment of child labour, and improve the connectivity between trade unions, law enforcement authorities, labour inspectorates and others.

Principle 6: The elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation

With discrimination, the UN means the different or negative treatment of people based on characteristics that are not related to the job requirements. Examples of these characteristics are: race, colour, sex, religion, political opinion, national extraction, social origin, age, disability, HIV/AIDS status, trade union membership, and sexual orientation.

What can companies do to act according to this principle?

  • Initiate policies and procedures for within company that make the basis of recruitment exist of qualifications, skill and experience for the recruitment, placement, training and advancement of staff at all levels.
  • Accommodate cultural traditions and work with workers’ spokespersons.

Principle 7: Businesses should support a precautionary approach to environmental challenges

With precaution, risk will be assessed, managed and communicated. When a risk can do a reasonable amount of harm, decision-makers need to apply precaution and consider the fact that there still is some uncertainty that appears from scientific research. Article 15 of the 1992 Rio Declaration states: “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”.

What can companies do to act according to this principle?

  • Make a code of conduct or practice for their operations and products that show that they are committed and care about health and the environment.
  • Support independent and public scientific research on the related issues and cooperate with national and international institutions concerned.

Principle 8: Undertake initiatives to promote greater environmental responsibility

Chapter 30 of Agenda 21 elaborated what the role of business and industry is in the sustainable development agenda: "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.".

What can companies do to act according to this principle?

  • Create sustainability targets and indicators (social, economic and environmental).
  • Cooperate with product designers and suppliers to better the environmental performance of the company and spread the responsibility throughout the value chain.

Principle 9: Encourage the development and diffusion of environmentally friendly technologies

Environmentally sound technologies are protecting the environment, are less polluting, use all resources more sustainable, recycle their wastes and products and have a more acceptable manner of dealing with residual waste than the technologies for which they were substituted.

What can companies do to act according to this principle?

  • Companies can change the process of manufacturing technique at the factory site or unit level.
  • Include the use of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) in the development of new technologies and products.

Principle 10: Businesses should work against corruption in all its forms, including extortion and bribery

This principle was adopted in 2004 which commits UN Global Compact participants to avoid bribery, extortion, any other forms of corruption, and commits them to proactively create policies and concrete programmes to address corruption internally within their supply chains. Companies are also challenged to work together and join civil society, the United Nations and governments to realize a more transparent global economy.

What can companies do to act according to this principle?

  • Introduce anti-corruption policies and programmes internally.
  • Sign the “Anti-corruption Call to Action”.

Sustainability is gaining more attention and we believe that these principles can give a good idea on how to act properly towards the planet and people. If you want to find more information, you can go to the UN global compact site for more activities under the name of “The Ten Principles of the UN Global Pact”.

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