Committee Reports

Examining the New York City Bar Association’s Decision to Join the United Nations Global Compact





The New York City Bar Association (“City Bar”), at the recommendation of its Business and Human Rights Committee (“BHR Committee”) has joined the United Nations Global Compact (“UNGC”). As discussed below, participation in the UNGC closely aligns with, and directly supports, positions taken by the City Bar with respect to the role of the United States as well as the United Nations in championing and furthering human rights, climate change mitigation, sustainable development, and anti-corruption goals. From the perspective of business, participation in the UNGC by the City Bar, a major legal organization at the epicenter of global business and finance, serves as a powerful endorsement of the UNGC’s goals to the legal profession. Moreover, participation by a non-business entity, such as the City Bar, is not cost-prohibitive, as it does not require a fee or other financial commitment.

This White Paper provides an overview of the mission and work of the UNGC and outlines the rationale for City Bar participation in the UNGC, the mechanics of joining the UNGC and the obligations of participation. 

It is the product of extensive research and deliberation by the UN Global Compact Sub-Group of the BHR Working Group (predecessor to the BHR Committee), which met regularly and liaised with representatives of the UNGC in carrying out its mandate. The Sub-Group also provided this recommendation to, and sought feedback from, numerous committees and other bodies within the City Bar whose work touches upon the work of the UNGC, including the UN Committee, Corporation Law Committee, International Law Committee, International Environmental Law Committee, Foreign and Comparative Law Committee, International Human Rights Committee, Council on International Affairs, In-House Counsel Committee, and the Vance Center for International Justice.[1] 


The UNGC is the world’s largest global corporate sustainability initiative. Established in July 2000 by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the UNGC calls on businesses[2] worldwide to operate responsibly by aligning their strategies and operations with its Ten Principles (see below) covering human rights, labor, the environment, and anti-corruption, and to take actions to advance broader societal goals, such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals (“SDGs”), with an emphasis on collaboration and innovation.[3]

The Ten Principles of the UNGC are derived from four key universal instruments: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Labour Organization’s Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, and the United Nations Convention Against Corruption. The UNGC’s human rights principles are especially relevant today, as they capture the notion of “business responsibility to respect human rights”[4] embodied in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (“UNGPs”), which have become the global standard for responsible business conduct related to human rights.[5]


 Ten Principles of the UN Global Compact

Human Rights

Principle 1: Businesses should support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights; and
Principle 2: Businesses should 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 labor;
Principle 5: the effective abolition of child labor; and
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; and
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.  


To date, the UNGC has over 22,500 participants from over 160 countries, including over 19,000 business participants.[6] While not its main constituency, the UNGC also has non-business participants, such as law firms, bar associations, foundations, academic institutions, non-governmental organizations, and labor unions.[7]

Participants of the UNGC can enhance their knowledge of corporate sustainability topics covered under the Ten Principles and take action to contribute to the SDGs through events and conference programming, accessing guidance materials and training platforms, and networking with peer companies and other stakeholders both at the global and local level.[8]   


Business interest on issues of corporate sustainability, such as human rights, labor, the environment, and anti-corruption, continues to grow in size, impact, and prominence.[9]  The legal profession, directly, and indirectly, through advisory services will therefore increasingly engage with these issues. The City Bar’s participation in the UNGC is a logical response to these developments.  

The UNGC serves as an important mechanism for promoting global corporate citizenship and encouraging companies to voluntarily implement principles in the fields of human rights, labor, environment, and anti-corruption – each of which the City Bar has championed for years, as discussed below. The UNGC provides structural advantages in furthering these goals, including an established and globally recognized policy framework in which companies share best practices and emerging solutions, access shared tools, resources and trainings, and benefit from the authority, knowledge, and experience of the UN.[10]

Significantly, participation in the UNGC entails concrete benefits for businesses themselves as well as society as a whole. From a business perspective, “corporate and organizational success requires stable economies and healthy, skilled and educated workers, among other factors.”[11] What is more, reports published by the UNGC show that businesses that have signed on to the UNGC reported that participation strengthened their brands by increasing trust in their organizations, prioritized sustainability issues and addressed humanitarian concerns.[12]  From a societal perspective, sustainable businesses can “offer fresh ideas and scalable solutions to society’s challenges.”[13] In recent years, the number of UNGC signatories has increased steadily from about fifty to more than 22,500, including more than 19,000 businesses, which has helped to “alleviate extreme poverty, address labor issues [and] reduce environmental risks around the globe.”[14]    

Bar associations are uniquely positioned to play a catalytic role in advancing these goals, given their missions often include equipping and mobilizing the legal profession to promote the rule of law and legal reforms, and providing training to ensure lawyers meet the current and future needs of their clients. Accordingly, bar associations around the world and in the US are UNGC participants, including the American Bar Association Fund for Justice and Education, which joined in 2018; the International Bar Association, which joined in 2004; and the Finnish Bar Association and Georgian Bar Association, which joined in 2021.[15] Similar to the City Bar’s Business and Human Rights Committee, the American Bar Association and the International Bar Association have developed their own committees focused on business and human rights.[16]

In addition to joining other prominent bar associations in the UNGC, the Sub-Group believes that the City Bar has a critical role to play in championing topics covered by the Ten Principles, given New York City’s role as a hub for global business and the implications that business decisions made in New York have both locally and globally.

Moreover, as the City Bar’s membership includes many business-focused lawyers, including in-house counsel,  joining the UNGC enhances the City Bar’s value to its members and the legal profession more broadly by partnering with the UNGC to provide training on corporate sustainability topics, which are increasingly becoming more mainstreamed and demanded by clients.[17] Sub-group members spoke with Adam Gordon of the Global Compact Network USA (the UNGC’s US chapter), who suggested that the UNGC would be interested in collaborating with the City Bar on programmatic work, including, but not limited to, continuing legal education courses on corporate sustainability topics.[18]

 Participation by the City Bar is expected to serve the UNGC. The City Bar’s participation in the UNGC provides an influential endorsement of the UNGC’s mission and work and may encourage additional US companies to join the initiative. This is particularly important, as the Sub-Group learned during its diligence that many in-house corporate counsel are unfamiliar with the UNGC’s mission and work, deterring many US businesses from participating in the UNGC.  


The goals of the UNGC – embodied in its Ten Principles – closely align with the stated policies and programmatic work of the City Bar to date.  As discussed, the Ten Principles focus on the promotion and protection of human rights, labor, and the environment, as well as anti-corruption efforts by businesses. The City Bar has repeatedly articulated and demonstrated its support for these goals. As an initial matter, the mission of the UNGC has long been embedded within the work of the City Bar’s United Nations Committee, which “engages in the same broad range of substantive issues that concern UN Member States and UN agencies,” including, inter alia, “climate change, sustainable development, human rights, … [and] good governance.”[19]

Moreover, in several letters to UN and US leaders, the City Bar has taken positions in support of human rights, environmental protection, and the SDGs themselves, as well as the advancement of those objectives through instrumentalities of the UN.  These include:

  • A March 28, 2022 letter from City Bar Executive Director Bret Parker, Vance Center Environment Program Director Susan Kath, and multiple City Bar committees to the Hon. Brenda Mallory, Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality, asking that the Biden Administration support a United Nations General Assembly resolution recognizing the right to a healthy environment. [20]
  • A March 29, 2021 Report by the United Nations Committee making recommendations to the Biden-Harris Administration with respect to the UN, including, among other goals, promotion of human rights through the mechanisms of the UN and supporting Sustainable Development Goal 16 (“Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.”).[21]
  • A September 14, 2020 Statement of the City Bar expressing support for formal recognition by the UN of the human right to a “safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment,” and encouraging the UN Human Rights Council and General Assembly to take action toward such formal recognition.[22] Notably, one of the City Bar’s rationales for this position was that “[a]s an internationally recognized human right, the importance of the right to a healthy environment will be elevated and more easily articulated and advanced in other international forums,” contributing to “the discussion around the United Nations’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and facilitate[ing] the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals.”
  • A November 13, 2017 letter from then City Bar President John Kiernan to Congressional leaders in response to the Trump Administration’s withdrawal of U.S. membership in the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (“UNESCO”).[23]  In particular, the letter stressed the mission of UNESCO – “[t]o further universal respect for justice, for the rule of law, and for the human rights and fundamental freedoms which are affirmed for the peoples of the world, without distinction of race, sex, language or religion” – and noted that withdrawal would impede the U.S.’s ability to contribute to and achieve these goals.
  • A June 2, 2017 Statement that the City Bar “is deeply disappointed” that former President Trump had initiated the process to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement.[24]
  • An April 28, 2017 letter from then City Bar President John Kiernan to Congressional leaders expressing concern about the Trump Administration’s handling of human rights issues during its first one hundred days.[25] In addition to noting that the promotion of human rights is a “principal goal” of U.S. foreign policy, the authors voiced particular concern at the prospect of US withdrawal of membership from the UN Human Rights Council, and encouraged the leaders “to support full cooperation and engagement with the United Nations and other international institutions and human rights mechanisms.”
  • A September 2, 2014 letter from the chairs of five City Bar committees to UN officials urging UN Member States to make governance a stand-alone goal in the SDGs.[26] The letter noted that governance “underpins every aspect of sustainable development” and “is the golden thread that should be woven into” the UN’s development agenda. The authors also emphasized that “[c]orruption stifles sustainable development and breeds cynicism and despair, whereas adherence to the rule of law reduces poverty and incentivizes investment.”
  • A June 11, 2014 letter from then City Bar President Debra Raskin to the Director of the Division for Sustainable Development at the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs urging that the SDGs – which the UNGC is charged with promoting – incorporate targets and support for the reduction of toxic pollution.[27] In support of the City Bar’s position, the letter cited the 2012 Outcome Document from the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, including sections on Water and Sanitation, Health and Population, and Oceans and Seas. 

The City Bar’s recent programmatic work has similarly dovetailed with the goals of the UNGPs.  These include, for example:

  • The Fourth International Law Conference on the Status of Women (March 8, 2023);[28]
  • Third Annual International Environmental Law Year in Review (June 23, 2020) (including keynote speech “The Right to a Healthy Environment”);[29]
  • Keynote addresses, Legal Frameworks for the Empowerment of Rural Women:  Case Studies From Across the SDGs (March 15, 2018);[30] and Making the Rule of Law Understood and Valued – UN SDG 16 (October 29, 2021)[31]
  • The Anti-Corruption Assessment for Latin America 2021-2022 established by the Vance Center’s Lawyers Council for Civil and Economic Rights in the Americas;[32]
  • Panel, Attaining the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: Major Obstacles for Women and How Attorneys Can Help (March 21, 2016).[33]

The work of the UNGC is fully consistent with, and supportive of, each of these City Bar positions and programs.  Participation in the UNGC will further the City Bar’s advocacy and work in these areas by (i) signaling to its membership and to corporate counsel generally the legitimacy and importance of support for the UNGC by the legal profession, and (ii) creating opportunities for potential collaboration with the UNGC through additional programming and outreach to the profession.


In order to join the UNGC, the City Bar had to submit a letter of commitment describing its interest in becoming a participant and complete an online non-business application.[34] Per the guidance provided by the UNGC to the Sub-Group, the letter of commitment came from City Bar leadership, and indicated the City Bar’s intent to support the Ten Principles of the UNGC.[35] While there is no financial contribution required to become a non-business participant of the UNGC, voluntary contributions are encouraged.

As a member of the UNGC, the City Bar is required to submit a “communication of engagement” every two years. The submission will describe the efforts the City Bar has undertaken to promote the principles of the UN Global Compact.[36] There are no specific requirements for what must be contained in a communication of engagement, and the substance of such submissions varies among participants. While business participants often focus on how their operations align with the principles of the UNGC, non-business participants, such as bar associations, often focus on their activities that promote the Ten Principles, whether or not focused on the UNGC specifically. Accordingly, the City Bar will be expected to compile for each communication of engagement a list of activities undertaken by City Bar committees or other constituents, including events hosted and reports issued, that support the commitments championed under the Ten Principles.   

The Sub-Group recommends that the City Bar’s UN Committee be responsible for drafting and submitting the City Bar’s letter of commitment and communications of engagement, given the UN Committee’s substantive focus. The Sub-Group makes this recommendation at the suggestion and with the agreement of the current chair of the UN Committee, who is also a member of the Sub-Group.

The Sub-Group (again, with the agreement of the chair of the UN Committee) further recommends that one permanent staff member within the City Bar be assigned responsibility for notifying the chair of the UN Committee of bi-annual deadlines for submission of the City Bar’s communications of engagement. This is similar to the process put in place for the Quadrennial Report that the City Bar is required to submit in connection with its Consultative Status with the UN Economic and Social Council. Furthermore, much of the information that is compiled for the Quadrennial Report overlaps with, and, therefore, could be used for, the communications of engagement submitted to the UNGC.  

Finally, the Sub-Group considered the question of whether the City Bar or the City Bar Fund is the appropriate entity to join the UNGC. The Sub-Group concluded that the City Bar itself should join, because the City Bar, through its committees and other constituents, conducts the programmatic work that aligns closely with the Ten Principles of the UNGC. We believe this is particularly so given that the City Bar’s communications of engagement will describe that programmatic work. The Sub-Group also took the view that having the City Bar as a whole, rather than the City Bar Fund (which is the nonprofit 501(c)(3) arm of the City Bar), become a participant of the UNGC would more effectively signal the importance that the City Bar places on the work of the UNGC.


For the reasons discussed above, the City Bar accepted the BHR Committee’s recommendation to join the UNGC and submitted its application on October 5, 2021. Its application was accepted on May 2, 2023.

Business and Human Rights Committee
Suzanne Knijnenburg, Co-Chair
John Murray, Co-Chair
Viren Mascarenhas, Immediate Past Co-Chair
Irit Tamir, Immediate Past Co-Chair

UN Global Compact Sub-Group
Shubha Chandra, Co-Chair
John Murray, Co-Chair
Clayton Cheney
Michael Cooper
Allen Fletcher
Richard Langan
Sabeena Ahmed Liconte
Suzanne Knijnenburg
Elena Marchenko
Steve Nickelsburg
Vela Park

United Nations Committee
Sophia Murashkovsky, Co-Chair
Ervin Nina, Co-Chair
Catherine Van Kampen, Co-Chair

[1] Those committees and bodies either expressed support for the recommendation or did not communicate a position.  None indicated opposition to participation in the UNGC.

[2] The term “businesses” is referenced in the UNGC and should be construed broadly to cover a range of corporate entities and organizations.

[3] See (All websites last accessed on May 23, 2023).

[4] See for an explanation of the relationship between the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the UNGC’s Human Rights Principles (states that the Guiding Principles provide guidance on the policies and processes businesses should implement in order to ensure that they meet their responsibility to respect human rights). 

[8] The UN Global Compact has over 80 Local Networks which support companies to advance corporate sustainability efforts in their specific national context. See Engage Locally:

[9] There is a growing body of national and international soft law principles regarding corporate responsibility to respect human rights, and international, national, state, and municipal laws regarding the corporate responsibility to respect human rights, particularly with regard to mandating human rights due diligence, transparency in the supply chains of businesses, and protection of vulnerable populations; and increasing recognition of the growing impact of commercial activities on human rights, environmental sustainability, and the rule of law. See e.g.,;;

[11] See id.

[12] United Nations Global Compact Annual Review 2010 New York: UN Global Compact. Retrieved December 20, 2012, from, for example, cites eight “top reasons for engagement in the Global Compact” (percentages in parentheses indicate the results of an annual Global Compact Implementation Survey): “increase trust in company” (74 percent), “integration of sustainability issues” (71 percent), “universal nature of principles” (66 percent), “networking with other organizations” (39 percent), “address humanitarian concerns” (37 percent), “expanded business opportunities/risks” (37 percent), “attract, motivate and retain employees” (33 percent), and “improve operational efficiency” (33 percent). In a report commissioned by the UN Global Compact, McKinsey & Company reported on the reasons why companies joined the UNGC: “address humanitarian concerns” (55 percent), “acquire practical know-how” (50 per-cent), “network with other organizations” (49 percent), “become (more) familiar with CSR” (46 percent), “CEO or senior leadership passion” (37 percent), “establish links with the UN” (32 percent), “improve public relations” (26 percent), “improve market access” (16 percent), and “other” (9 percent). See McKinsey & Company. 2004. Assessing the Global Compact’s Impact. Retrieved December 1, 2012, from; Satoshi Miura, Kaoru Kurusu, Why do companies join the United Nations Global Compact? The case of Japanese signatories, in Corporations’ reaction to global corporate social responsibility pressures (2015) (companies sign on to the UNGC partly in response to pressures exerted by their external stakeholders).

[14] See;  Critics of the UNGC have argued that membership by businesses is a pretense, and in reality lacks “teeth” to change corporate behavior.  See, e.g., Bruno and Karliner, The United Nations Sits in Suspicious Company, Opinion (Aug. 10, 2000; for a summary of arguments against the UNGC, see Rasche, The United Nations Global Compact: Retrospect and Prospect, (2012) available at  In response, proponents of the UNGC have taken the position that the UNGC is a “necessary supplement” to legal requirements and that, in the long run, membership will serve a normative and educational role with respect to the UNGC’s goals and promote collective action by businesses.  See, e.g., Rache, Toward a model to compare and analyze accountability standards – the case of the UN Global Compact, Corporate Social Responsibility and Environmental Management Volume 16, Issue 4 p. 192-205.

[18] Adam Gordon, Engagement Director of the Global Compact Network USA, provided an overview of the work of the UNGC, including its engagement opportunities, and indicated an appetite from the UNGC to work more closely with bar associations at a Sub-Group meeting on October 22, 2020.

[26] September 2, 2014 Letter from Chairs of United Nations Committee, Committee on Asian Affairs, Committee on European Affairs, Committee on Inter-American Affairs and Committee on Middle East and North African Affairs,

[36] While there is no uniform format for communications of engagement, an example of such a communication can be found here: