What role for the private sector in the post-2015 development agenda?

Teresa Fogelberg and Pietro Bertazzi, Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)

During the past few days in New York, discussions about a new global development agenda were in full swing both inside and outside the UN headquarters. The role of the private sector was discussed on several occasions, especially at the UN Global Compact Leaders Summit (19-20 September).

At this event, the UN Secretary-General launched the UN Global Compact report Building a Business Engagement Architecture for the Post-2015 Agenda, stating that: “This architecture is designed to drive and scale up corporate actions to directly advance United Nations goals.  It connects the dots in the ever-growing field of responsible business initiatives, standards and certifications.  And it calls on corporate leaders to work together on an entirely new scale — collaborating and co-investing to share risks and realise opportunities.  The Architecture report is also an open call to organisations, initiatives and networks working globally to engage business.  I am pleased that the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and the Global Reporting Initiative have joined us.”

As the Secretary-General recognised, this architecture will need to grow and evolve as governments set their positions on the post-2015 development framework. The intergovernmental process brings up plenty of questions about how to best set priorities, with delegates at the Special Event towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals spending at least 50 per cent of their speaking time addressing the pieces of the post-2015 development agenda “process puzzle”. In past consultations and events the majority of governmental actors, civil society, and business have been calling for a legitimate and participatory process roadmap, but, moreover, for a single, post-2015 sustainable development agenda.

Since the adoption of the UN Millennium Declaration, many donors and governments have incorporated the MDGs in their policies. Yet companies with significant economic, environmental, and social impacts have less frequently taken the MDGs explicitly into account in the development of their business strategies and operational decisions. The Secretary-General recognised: “Even though the private sector was identified for the first time as a strategic player in reaching UN goals, there was no clear role for business in the agenda.  Yet, business has had a major hand in reducing extreme poverty.”

Although it is not yet clear what SDGs governments will ultimately agree on, we can be certain poverty eradication will be the top priority for the new global development agenda. Poverty eradication indeed needs to have sustainable development at the core, making a natural link to the key role of the private sector. Right now there is the opportunity to engage businesses: during the UN Global Compact Leaders Summit around a thousand corporate leaders demonstrated that companies are increasingly tackling the world’s most pressing development challenges and that they are willing to be architects of a better world.

The Post-2015 Business Engagement Architecture is designed as an invitation to organisations, initiatives and networks working globally to engage business on sustainable development, to join forces to promote and support corporate commitments and actions that advance UN goals. One of the three key elements of this platform is corporate transparency and accountability: “companies must adopt transparent processes for communicating to their stakeholders, applying standards such as those developed by the Global Reporting Initiative.”

Many governments and the UN High Level Panel report advocate the need for a data revolution. It is incredibly important to make data available to assess progress made toward the goals and to take action to make change happen. This will make the SDGs tangible, not only lofty aspirations on paper. In this framework, measuring what matters and encouraging transparency and accountability of the private sector becomes of a strategic importance.

Already, thousands of companies around the world are reporting their sustainability and the importance of sustainability reporting for business sector engagement in sustainable development was explicitly recognised by governments at the Rio+20 Conference in 2012. This acknowledgment was formalised in Paragraph 47 of the outcome document ‘The Future We Want’. Since then, the creation of “Group of Friends of Paragraph 47” signaled the willingness of governments to advance a culture of corporate transparency and accountability on a global level.

Further, the recommendation that governments should consider sustainability reporting a requirement for large companies had already been put forward by many actors involved in the debate, including the UN High Level Panel on Global Sustainability, and has been welcomed by many actors, including the investor-led Corporate Sustainability Reporting Coalition.

On the path to a new development agenda – which must reflect the massive changes the world has seen since the year 2000 – GRI is fully committed to offering its reporting framework, expertise and network to help companies and their stakeholders to enhance corporate transparency and sustainability towards truly global sustainable development goals and targets.

MORE INFO:

UN Global Compact report Building a Business Engagement Architecture for the Post-2015 Agenda: http://www.unglobalcompact.org/resources/441

Secretary-General, Opening Global Compact Summit, Calls On Business, Civil Society, Government Leaders To Be Architects Of Sustainable Future: http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2013/sgsm15300.doc.htm

ABOUT THE AUTHORS:

Pietro Bertazzi is Senior Manager, Policy and Government Affairs and Teresa Fogelberg is Deputy Chief Executive, Global Reporting Initiative (GRI).