SDG 16 is critical for business and business is critical for SDG 16. Business thrives in peaceful environments with effective institutions where operating costs are predictable and working environments are stable. The lack of such an enabling environment can generate costs and financial, legal and reputational risks. From a business perspective, a country’s governance is therefore an important externality. However, business can also exert considerable influence on a country’s governance system: companies can promote peace, justice and inclusion, by for example preventing exploitation, adhering to labour standards or curbing corruption. In turn, business can undermine the rule of law and exacerbate tensions and instability in society, by for example failing to share information and consult with local communities in areas where they operate.
The private sector was actively involved in the negotiations of the 2030 Agenda, including through one of the so-called Major Groups – nine sectors of society serving as the main channels through which participation would be facilitated in UN activities related to sustainable development. Many other actors also called for the engagement of businesses, both to leverage resources and innovation and to ensure they recognize their responsibilities towards the societies they operate in. As a result, the 2030 Agenda calls explicitly on “all businesses to apply their creativity and innovation to solving sustainable development challenges (…) while protecting labour rights and environmental and health standards in accordance with relevant international standards and agreements and other on-going initiatives in this regard, such as the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the labour standards of ILO, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and key multilateral environmental agreements” (paragraph 67).
The Agenda calls on the private sector to report on their contributions (paragraph 89). Private sector networks such as the Global Compact, the Global Reporting Initiative and the World Business Council for Business and Sustainable Development have started to support the private sector in assessing their impact on the SDGs. The annual UN High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) hosts the SDG Business Forum, where companies can exchange experiences on different business solutions to accelerate sustainable development.
In his 2018 report on Peacebuilding and Sustaining Peace, the UN Secretary- General encouraged the United Nations system "to further develop partnerships with the private sector and the investment community to strengthen the peacebuilding impact of companies, set conflict-sensitive investment guidelines and explore potential contributions to United Nations peacebuilding activities".
Business can, thus, not only provide investment to the progress of SDG 16 through resources, but also champion ways of doing business that advance peace, justice and inclusion.
Core Resources for Business and SDG 16
Photo credit: @Ishan Tankha/UNDP India, Jan Sahas