Corporations are key players in SDGs’ success

25. 9. 2015
This Friday, September 25, the 193 UN member states are expected to officially adopt the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs’) after 3 years of global conversations, discussions and open surveys, the longest ever period of UN consultation.

This plan will replace the Millennium Development Goals adopted in 2000 and will enlarge the areas targeted, tackling economic, social and environmental issues. Each goal include specific targets, bringing the total to 169 targets to be achieved in the next 15 years. 

The UN Sustainable Development Summit 2015 held in New York has received, however, criticism for attempting to overreach in its goals and more specifically in its implementation and funding. The SDGs will not be legally binding and it is feared that civil society organisations will be left in charge of surveillance. Accountability remains then a key issue for the plan to thrive. We are facing complex challenges that cannot be addressed by governments or civil society alone.

The fact that many corporations have a greater turnover than the GDP of most countries makes them powerful change agents. Therefore the way these corporations are managed can affect the potential for either positive or negative change, depending on the chosen stewardship.

The current default is to regulate corporate behaviour through external regulations, which are crucial to mitigate acute environmental and social problems. But what if businesses were to consider structuring their activities to eliminate potential harm and contribute positively to the welfare of workers and environment? In this way, companies integrate responsible corporate behaviour from the inside out and ethical conduct ceases to be just a matter of legal compliance.

For example, this very week nine major firms including Goldman Sachs, Johnson & Johnson, Nike, Procter & Gamble, Starbucks and Walmart joined the RE100 initiative pledging to work towards the goal of sourcing 100% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020. This initiative already counts with the other 12 top corporations such as Ikea, H&M or Nestlé.

Reforming the corporate governance framework offers an opportunity to complement existing regulation that seeks to promote responsible businesses. Revisioning corporate governance is a centerpiece if we want the SDGs to be an effective tool towards sustainable growth. UNDP Administrator Helen Clark emphasised the importance of cooperation between all parties involved: "This agreement marks an important milestone in putting our world on an inclusive and sustainable course. If we all work together, we have a chance of meeting citizens’ aspirations for peace, prosperity, and wellbeing, and to preserve our planet." In order for the SDGs to be successful, businesses must be an integral aspect of the partnership.

Main picture (cc): Nicolas Raymond 


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