Private Sector’s Role in Implementing SDGs

The private sector can help achieve SDG 16 through its capacity to build economic stability, fight corruption and promote human rights

SDG-F web site screen capture

The SDG-F is an international cooperation mechanism that supports sustainable development (web site screen capture)

By Kaitlin Drape – In late 2017 the Sustainable Development Goals Fund (SDG-F) launched its extensive new report “Business and SDG 16: Contributing to Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies” which outlines the importance of the participation of the private sector in achieving Sustainable Goal Development 16 (SDG 16): peace, justice and strong institutions.

At the report launch event, Paloma Duran, Director of the SDG-F, stressed the importance of the private sector in the success of SDG 16 and SDGF’s goal of influencing the private sector to make SDG 16 a part of their business strategy. The project is to explore “how we can engage all the stakeholders” in fostering ethical development policies that promote peace and justice though economic opportunity. The report provides a model for private sector engagement in furthering the 2030 Agenda and especially SDG 16.

The opportunities which can be achieved through partnerships with the private sector are crucial to the ultimate achievement of peace and justice through enhancement of the rule of law and the existence of strong and accountable institutions which perceive human rights as a necessary aspect in its business decisions. Toward this end, SDG-F conducted a survey among its Private Sector Advisory Board members concerning governance and compliance and how they interact within partnerships for sustainable development. In addition, they solicited recommendations about private sector participation in the achievement of SDG 16.

As the report outlines, “the private sector has seen (SDG 16) mainly as the government’s domain, with activities focusing on corruption and eliminating bad behaviors. But this is a narrow view that misses the role of the private sector in areas such as anti-corruption, promoting diversity and gender equality, free information flows and supporting justice initiatives”.

A Historic Moment

Rangita de Silva de Alwis, Associate Dean for International Programs at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, began her presentation by calling this “an historic moment” with the conclusion of the study and the publishing of the report which she called a “clarion call to action” and a “toolbox” for constructing a model for the collaboration between governments and the private sector. Yet, she said, “many companies don’t understand the SDGs. Our report sets out to correct this.”

She added that “the bedrock of our report is not to just react, but to be proactive.” Involvement with the private sector builds economic stability but also aids in the promotion of human rights. She also stated that it is crucial to address gender equality issues. The private sector “can also foster women’s equality” and “increase gender equality” and “can mean higher levels of economic growth.” In addition, she said, the private sector “can support the expansion of the rule of law in society” particularly through anti-corruption initiatives. As an associate dean at Penn Law she proposed that law schools play a part in an advisory role in establishing guidelines for the collaboration between government, private sector and civil society.

Ana Maria Menéndez, Senior Advisor of the United Nations Secretary-General on Policy, said that the mandate to “leave no one behind” requires three areas of concentration of the Fund’s efforts: creating grass-roots reforms, focusing on overcoming reluctance on the part of some in the private sector to participate, and to focus on crisis prevention. She explained an anti-corruption program in Colombia where drug trafficking and armed conflict have created a humanitarian crisis.

The program there focuses on improving food security and creating new opportunities while also developing means of peaceful conflict resolution. She also offered the example of a conflict prevention program in Sierra Leone where a variety of actors – UN agencies, private sector and universities – developed a program to improve natural resource governance, and also promote skill training among the youth.

A mutually beneficial relationship

H.E. María Emma Mejia, Permanent Representative of Colombia to the United Nations, said that the program should be a “holistic agenda” which does not focus on any few individual countries, but must be a universal venture. She emphasized the need for the collaboration between government and the private sector. Moreover, assistance from NGOs is “essential” to the success of the initiative. She discussed the program in Colombia in which small producers of products like coffee have been assisted in gaining access to markets and raising productivity through private sector partners. The private sector has begun to play a role in focusing on improving livelihoods through a greater consciousness of its human rights responsibilities: “The private sector is there.”

Carla Mucavi, Director of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Liaison Office in New York discussed the alarming increase in those who are undernourished in the global “food crisis” and outlined the importance of the private sector in sustainable development goals particularly SDG 16. The three most important goals are increasing employment, achieving better nutrition, and providing protection of children. To achieve these goals, It is crucial to “sustain private sector engagement” she said. She made the point that the collaboration means that the private sector “is not just a source of funding” but a full partner in long-term commitment to the goals, in a mutually beneficial relationship.

The private sector can be involved in production development, policy dialogue as a partner in the forming of models of development, investment, and job creation. Private sector partnerships create “opportunities for income generation and create production opportunities.”

Promoting citizens’ rights

General Director of Fundación Nutresa (Grupo Nutresa is a Colombian food processing conglomerate) Sol Beatriz Arango emphasized that to achieve the goal of SDG 16, “The entire society needs to take on its responsibility” including the private sector. Nutresa, she said, which has 46,000 employees, has made an aggressive commitment to SDG 16 through a series of initiatives.

The first is the “Act with Integrity” program, a commitment to act ethically and to create the tools to end corruption. Next, the company is committed to “proactive participation in the police process” where the company is “actively involved in promoting citizens’ rights” and ending corrupt practices. Third, she said, they are committed to developing inclusive alliances in the company’s production areas, such as cocoa farms, to increase the employment and standard of living. Lastly, Ms. Arango explained her company’s commitment to “corporate policies focused on protecting human rights.” For example, a number of refugees and displaced persons have been hired by the company to enable their transition to integration. “We believe the report will have impact on actors and institutions,” she said. It can influence companies to make “the inclusion of SDG 16 as part of their business strategy.”

The report demonstrates a number of case histories which show how the private sector has implemented their commitment to development, training, social justice and equality in countries such as Colombia, Sierra Leone, Cote D’Ivoire, the occupied Palestinian Territory, and Bangladesh.

As the report concludes, “The private sector has a catalytic role to play in SDG 16 at local and global levels. By being responsible partners throughout the chain of production, businesses can help the countries where they operate to meet the SDG 16 targets related to anti-corruption, labor rights, inclusive decision-making and community engagement”.