Peace and the Private Sector: The Business Role for Goal 16

Guest Post by Stone Conroy
Senior Manager for Strategic Partnerships
Alliance for Peacebuilding


At the United Nations General Assembly in September, the Global Alliance for Reporting on Peaceful, Just, and Inclusive Societies hosted an event titled Better Business for a Better World. It was held at the law firm White&Case and moderated by award-winning NY Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff—over 150 people from the private sector, the United Nations, and civil society were present, and the theme was how the private sector can engage with Goal 16 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): promote just, peaceful, and inclusive societies.

Goal 16 offers a new paradigm for peace and development and is a critical component to the rest of the SDGs. The preamble of the SDGs declares, “we are determined to foster peaceful, just and inclusive societies which are free from fear and violence. There can be no sustainable development without peace and no peace without sustainable development.” Goal 16 is also important for private sector engagement in the SDGs, and has been described by one company as “foundational to achieving the other UN Sustainable Development Goals.”

Why SDG 16 is Critical to the Private Sector

The United Nations Global Compact lays out a framework for Goal 16 that focuses on three interconnected challenges to businesses (corruption, violent conflict, and weak rule of law) and describes the necessity of anti-corruption, peacebuilding, and rule of law efforts to create an environment where business can thrive. This was a common theme at the Better Business for a Better World event—a representative from the RELX Group at the event noted, “when rule of law is strong, business and society flourishes,” a sentiment echoed by several other private sector companies.

Many businesses have come out strongly in support of the SDGs, but Goal 16 often isn’t the most popular—a survey of over 2,000 sustainable business professionals revealed that climate action (SDG 13) was the most supported goal among corporate and brand respondents, followed by SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth), and SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production). Some private sector actors believe that SDG 16 is purely the mandate of nonprofits and government: a report on the SDGs by The Fletcher School supported with a grant from Citigroup posits, “some goals, such as SDG 16 (Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions), are enablers for which much of the onus must fall on noncorporate actors.”

Some businesses have taken a different view, and see themselves as key actors in achieving Goal 16. PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) notes that “just, peaceful and inclusive societies provide a firm foundation for business to thrive” and technology firm SAP explains on their SDG webpage that business can often exacerbate conflict and therefore must play a central role in creating peace. The CEO Guide the to the SDGs highlights that the SDGs provide an opportunity to gain society’s trust and establish new opportunities for positive engagement, and supporting peace and justice is a great place to start. A year ago, the International Peace Institute hosted an event on why Goal 16 is good for business that highlighted several ways that the private sector can promote peace, justice, and inclusive societies.

How Can the Private Sector Build Peaceful, Just, and Inclusive Societies?

Peace, justice, and inclusion are undoubtedly good for business, but how can businesses play a positive role in promoting these values via the SDG framework? The United Nations Global Compact described a few ways the private sector can engage with Goal 16 in a report from 2015: at the micro level, corporate responsibility initiatives can play a role in increasing the transparency, accountability, and inclusivity of a company’s operations. At the macro level, businesses can champion the rule of law, human rights, labor rights, environmental issues, and anti-corruption initiatives.

The private sector has its own view of how business can contribute to Goal 16. Business for 2030 provides examples on companies working on each of the Global Goals, explains how the private sector can work on the Goals, and provides partnership resources. The SDG Industry Matrix contains several case studies on businesses from seven sectors working on SDG 16, as well as opportunities for shared value through collaboration. One great resource is a guide from the UN Global Compact and KPMG on Responsible Business Advancing Peace. Private sector tools such as the SDG Business Hub, the SDG Compass, and the SDG Selector can help businesses think critically about how to engage Global Goals— for Goal 16, they note that businesses should implement conflict-sensitive policies and practices, conduct risk and impact assessments to identify and mitigate risks of contributing to corruption, violence, and conflict, and engage in public-private dialogues, partnerships and collective action for conflict prevention, peacekeeping, peacebuilding, anti-corruption, and the rule of law.

What these tools do not provide, however, are suggestions for where businesses can turn if they want to engage specifically on Goal 16—if a company wants to engage in partnerships around peacebuilding, anti-corruption, or rule of law to advance Goal 16, how do they begin? One place is the United Nations Business for Peace network, a platform of close to 150 leading companies and business associations from 37 countries dedicated to catalyzing collaborative action to advance peace. The UN provides guidance for companies working in conflict, as well as how business can advance sustainable development by supporting peace. Another good focal point is the Alliance for Peacebuilding, a global network of over 100 organizations and 15,000 people working to advance sustainable peace and security worldwide. The Alliance can help companies partner with civil society organizations working on peacebuilding around the world, turning a Global Goal into an actionable project at the local level.

From Global to Local: Partnerships for Peace

While most conversations about the private sector working on the SDGs have focused on large, multi-national corporations, it’s important to remember that the majority of business consists of micro, small, or medium size firms operating in their local communities. The same is true for the sustainable development—while large non-profits and inter-government entities work on the Sustainable Development Goals, all development efforts are ultimately a local affair.

Given this fact, it’s important that businesses working on Goal 16 work with local private sector companies, local civil society organizations, and local governments on issues related to Goal 16. The key to building a durable peace lies in collaboration—no one company, non-profit, or government can reduce conflict, eliminate corruption, or build inclusive societies. For Goal 16, it’s critical that businesses (and governments) work with local non-profits—this was highlighted by the Executive Director of the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies at the Better Business for a Better World event, who said that companies can work on peace, but only if they work with civil society. Fortunately there are resources on how to engage with civil society on the SDGs—one article describes how civil society can work effectively with the private sector on the SDGs, and International Alert (a leading civil society peacebuilding organization) makes similar suggestions with regard to Goal 16 in particular.

As an article from Corporate Citizen notes, “peaceful and inclusive societies are as much a means as an end to achieving all the other goals. The herculean nature of this task means that it has to be all hands-on deck – including governments, NGOs, businesses, and communities.” If businesses are committed to building a better world, Goal 16 is a good place to start—and if the private sector embraces this goal, the odds of achieving more peaceful, just, and inclusive societies will greatly increase.

Business Makes It Happen: American Business at the UN General Assembly

By Peter M. Robinson
President and CEO
United States Council for International Business

“We live in a complex world. The United Nations cannot succeed alone. Partnership must continue to be at the heart of our strategy. We should have the humility to acknowledge the essential role of other actors, while maintaining full awareness of our unique convening power.”

-Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary General

The 72nd United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) gets under way this week at a time of stresses and strains in the international community. The nature of these stresses is particularly acute for the U.S. business community: a growing need for financing and investment in infrastructure, the open trading system called into question, and calls by some for a retreat from engagement in multilateral forums. How does American business plan for these challenges, and where can we make the biggest difference?

For USCIB and its members, an important place to start tackling these questions is the UN’s 2030 Development Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a framework that will be at the center of this week of high-level meetings, also known as Global Goals Week.

In the face of challenges such as unemployment, climate change and population growth around the world, USCIB believes we have to pursue the SDGs as “must-wins” for the United States and for the American business community. We know that economic growth abroad helps create jobs at home. Open markets and policies that foster private investment offers new markets for our products. Innovation aimed at improved sustainability give the U.S. a leg-up in global competition while advancing investment in energy sources and new technologies to combat climate change.

That is why, this week, USCIB is holding a series of discussions on the margins of the UNGA to cultivate the “ingredients for impact” to catalyze business contributions to the SDGs. We are doing this under the theme, “Business Makes It Happen,” because we believe that, without strong commitment and incentives for the private sector, we won’t be able to achieve the Global Goals.

USCIB supports multilateral solutions to global challenges, with business constructively involved. We rely on solid, long-term dialogue and a close working relationship with both our government and the UN system to advance U.S. business contributions to sustainable development, delivering economic benefits at home and abroad. When it comes to what business depends on to succeed, thrive and lift the American economy, we look to Washington, D.C., and to the United Nations. We depend on both, and that is why USCIB has chosen to step forward as a U.S. business organization, working closely with our partners in the U.S. government as UNGA gets underway.

The “Three I’s”

The 2030 Agenda provides a blueprint for action that enjoys wide business and government support. But there are still three broad challenges in terms of implementation by business – inclusiveness, innovation and information. 

  • Information: While there is more and better information available from companies on SDG action, we are overwhelmed with the quantity of data, and so we – business, governments -- don’t know where to begin to understand or prioritize action. We have too much information and not enough analysis. The business community needs to develop ways to present its progress that are accessible and relevant for the international community and national governments.
  • Innovation, which is the best source of solutions for sustainability, still faces obstacles due to a lack of proper incentives for researchers, inventors and investors. The UN must do better in creating a fully welcoming environment and institutional framework for technology innovation that is genuinely involving business experts.
  • Inclusiveness: A basic tenet of the Agenda for 2030 is that no one is left behind. That suggests that everyone needs to be involved to deliver solutions. Yet in some UN forums, the private sector is still not regarded as a full partner in the effort. At times, there are still political sensitivities when business wants to come to the table, or even just listen in on policy deliberations. Clearly, we in business need to do more to demonstrate commitment and deliver actual results.

Statements by both United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres and President of the General Assembly Miroslav Lajčák suggest that, under their leadership in the UNGA this year, we could see progress towards a more inclusive and transparent framework to involve the business community across the board. USCIB would endorse and welcome such a development.

By their very nature, many of the SDGs depend on partnerships to be implemented, and we regard business as indispensable in collaborative action to deliver the SDGs. On its 2nd anniversary, the USCIB web platform, Business for 2030, now showcases 200 initiatives from 52 companies, in over 150 countries, covering 85 of the 169 SDG targets. These encompass both philanthropic and corporate responsibility initiatives as well as core business operations that all contribute to achieving one or more of the 17 SDG targets.

Progress has been made, as witnessed by the strong response to this year’s SDG Business Forum on the margins of last July’s High-Level Political Forum – it literally filled the UN’s largest room, the General Assembly Hall. Governments and the UN have to continue to create those new kinds of spaces in which that exchange on policy and practice can occur substantively and with good governance.  

With our affiliations to leading global business organizations embedded in the UN system, the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and the International Organization of Employers (IOE), we have been fortunate to be on the front lines of the collaborative discussions that brought forward the SDGs, and to foster recognized opportunities for the private sector to cooperate with the UN. The process of multilateralism does move slowly, demanding investment of time and effort, but the rewards are outcomes in which business is invested and knows what to expect.  

It is already clear to USCIB that one element of success towards efficiency and effectiveness in the reform of the UN is to create the most open and inclusive institutional structures to consult with representative business bodies, and then to recognize and include those inputs. We have seen time and again how the ILO, the OECD and other inter-governmental forums have demonstrated that including business in a recognized manner is a value add because it is brings on board those societal partners that invest, innovate and implement.

At USCIB, we are more convinced than ever that a more open and accountable policy dialogue, with recognized involvement of representative business groups, is a fundamental element of good governance (which is in fact the aim of SDG16), and will deliver real results. By and large, UN bodies are involving business in more substantive ways, and we are looking forward to this year’s UNGA to keep that discussion going, particularly in the context of UN reform.

In his report laying out his vision of UN reform, Secretary General Guterres presents eight big ideas for reform of the UN system.  At the heart of those are the 17 big commitments which the global community made in 2015: the SDGs. Our main goal this week is to join the international dialogues and offer ways to make those big ideas a reality for, and with, U.S. business.

Throughout the negotiations leading to the SDGs, and now in the period of their execution, we have underscored the need for business to be embedded in the process. This is necessary to leverage all the resources that the private sector can provide through investment, innovation and know-how. With dialogue and the right mix of incentives, business really can make it happen and we will be working throughout this year’s UNGA to continue the evolution towards collaborative and impactful SDG partnerships with business.

What to Watch for During UNGA

Business and the Sustainable Development Goals

From September 18-22, 2017 in New York, the United Nations General Assembly will convene with a focus on the Global Goals.  According to DEVEX, key developments to watch out for during these high-level meetings include António Guterres’ debut UNGA as secretary-general, UN reform, President Trump’s speech to the U.N., and humanitarian crises. The Devex summary also flags as important the transformation and recognition of the role of the private sector to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In many U.N. settings, business is now acknowledged as a critical partner to help achieve the SDGs through investments, corporate responsibility, product innovation and more. This year, the International Chamber of Commerce will attend the UNGA in its capacity as an Observer Organization to the UNGA, represents thousands of companies and associations all over the world.  Other business organizations will be involved in UNGA related side events on SDG reporting, innovation and partnerships, hosted around the city.  USCIB will be on the ground all week with a series of events centered on the theme: “Business Makes It Happen.”

To read the full article, click here.

To see the latest list of UNGA week events organized by USCIB, click here.