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.