Leading businesses are taking steps to support the recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals

The UN Global Compact has applauded businesses that have committed to the 17 new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), for approaching them the same way they would business goals.

“We are encouraged that companies are setting targets that through their businesses positively affect SDGs,” says Ole Lund Hansen, chief of leadership programmes for the UN Global Compact. “For most companies, setting goals is widespread, and there is still a small but growing group that is applying the same process to sustainability goals. This helps everyone understand what the priorities are, and they can tie them to performance. We see that as extremely important; taking a professional approach to sustainable development.”

The SDGs were adopted on 25 September at a UN General Assembly plenary session. More than 300 CEOs, heads of state, UN and civil society leaders attended the session to discuss businesses’ role in implementing the SDGs, which apply to the period 2016-2030. The SDGs replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which were in place from 2000 to 2015. The aim of the SDGs, according to the UN Global Compact, is to “eradicate poverty and combine elements of economic, social and environmental action, including climate change”.

CEOs show support for UN SDGs

Hansen says: “We see the first and most important tasks as making sure that companies all over the world understand the new goals, why they are important and what can happen by taking action or not taking action. We produced guidance as to how to address them, but not all 17 will be equally important to any particular company." In addressing the goals, the Global Compact would like to see companies develop products in ways that reduce the impact on the environment, and form partnerships, especially ones that bring together bigger organisations, explains Hansen. “The leading companies within a sector coming together really have the potential to advance things in a significant way.”

The SDGs differ from the MDGs in three important ways, Hansen says. While poverty eradication is the main mission for both, the SDGs look at a broader dimension of sustainable development. The MDGs were mostly focused on poverty, health and education, and really defined a set of aspirations for developing countries. “The SDGs are designed so all countries can develop priorities,” Hansen says.

Connecting communities

In the case of the US social media giant Facebook, it plans to help the UN bring internet connectivity to refugee camps. In addition, the company launched the “Connectivity Declaration” together with other partners. “Recognising the indispensable role the internet plays in creating jobs and opportunities, enabling access to essential public services, advancing human rights and justice, and ensuring government transparency and accountability, the Declaration calls on governments around the world to work together with innovators to deliver access to all,” according to a description of Facebook’s commitment from the UN Private Sector Forum.

Lego partner with Unicef

The Connectivity Declaration highlights target 9c of the SDGs, which calls for internet access for everyone in the least-developed countries by 2020. As well as addressing SDG 9, which sets out the goal to build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation, Facebook’s commitment also addresses SDG 8: to promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all, and SDG 10: to reduce inequality within and among countries.

The UK mining firm Anglo American has also pledged to meet SDG 8 by adding 10,000-15,000 jobs a year in the communities where it operates – both within and outside the supply chain – adding up to a quarter of a million jobs by 2030. Anglo American has already employed about 100,000 people in the past 25 years through enterprise development programmes.

“With programmes now in five countries – South Africa, Botswana, Brazil, Chile and Peru – these SMEs generate an average of 10,000 jobs per year, with almost 50% of these businesses run by women and a large proportion by young people, in rural and urban areas,” says James Wyatt-Tilby, head of external communication for AngloAmerican. “Although the current economic environment is challenging for miners, we recognise the long-term nature of both our investments and the SDGs, and will continue to work towards showing how mining can have a transformative role in development. We must focus on where we can make the biggest difference. For us, this focuses on developing local suppliers, enterprise development, building the capacity of local governments, building the skills of our workforce and supporting health and education.”

In addition, the company is partnering with the Universidad de Chile to build the capacity of municipal staff to deliver services to local communities, Wyatt-Tilby says. “In South Africa, we’re working with the Department of Science and Technology to improve maths and science education in Comfivaba, a rural community in the Eastern Cape. Using platinum-based fuel cell technology, we’re bringing a more reliable power supply and wireless internet to schools, with the ultimate goal of finding out how these technologies can contribute to the development of rural teaching and learning.”

Denmark’s Lego Group has committed to implement the Children’s Rights and Business Principles, which provide guidance to companies on the full range of actions they can take in the workplace, marketplace and community to respect and support children’s rights, according to the Global Compact Lego plans to partner with Unicef and has committed $8.2m to this work to support the implementation of SDG 4: to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.

The Global Compact wants people to agree that the SDGs define the key challenges businesses are facing globally and examine how best to address them, Hansen says. “Businesses are set up to tackle problems and develop solutions,” he says. “You can tackle SDGs and know that if you can solve one, there will be a huge market for those solutions.” 

SDGs  sustainable development  UN Global Compact  MDGs  refugees 

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