Business Engagement at the UN’s High-Level Political Forum on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

The High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) was held from July 11th- 20th at United Nations Headquarters in New York City.  The Forum serves as a platform to review country, major groups and other stakeholders’ progress on attaining the Sustainable Development Goals.

Key themes emphasized throughout diverse HLPF meetings and side-events included building the capacities of governments and local institutions to enable coherent data collection to aid policy-making initiatives that create an enabling environment for politically, environmentally, socially, and economically inclusive societies that leave no one behind.  Additionally, during the General Debate among Member States, several countries, including the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, and Myanmar, noted that corporate social responsibility, national ownership, and sustained, effective partnerships that address the root causes of issues such as poverty need to be harnessed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  Below, we highlight how these themes were elaborated upon in various HLPF meetings and side events, with a particular focus on the role of business.

Partnership Exchange

The Partnership Exchange was organized by the Division for Sustainable Development of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN-DESA), in cooperation with the United Nations Office for Partnerships (UNOP).  The theme of this event was supporting the SDGs through multi-stakeholder partnerships, ensuring that no one is left behind.

The Partnership Exchange featured over 20 partnerships that cover all 17 SDGs.  Some of the initiatives highlighted included:

  • The Partnerships for SDGs Online Platform - a repository for multi-stakeholder partnerships hosted by UN-DESA, many of which originate from large international sustainable development conferences pre-dating the 2030 Agenda.  The Platform currently hosts  2,119 Partnerships registered through numerous “Action Networks.” Business for 2030 is the only business-led “Action Network” on the Platform.

  • The UN Business Action Hub - designed to accelerate partnerships between the UN and the private sector, this Hub, hosted by the UN Global Compact, is being revitalized to help  achieve the SDGs.  The Hub is a UN-system wide interagency initiative, developed between 2009 and 2010, also pre-dating the SDGs.  The platform currently features 35 active UN entities with more than 450 projects, commitments, and pledges.  The platform is also used to connect the UN and business during emergencies.

  • The Multi-Stakeholder Partnership for Enhancing Policy Coherence for Sustainable Development - focused on Target 17.14 (on policy coherence), this platform will host a virtual discussion starting in  September to support  policy makers and key stakeholders who want to formulate, implement, and monitor policy coherence for sustainable development as a key means of implementing the 2030 Agenda.

Furthermore, during the first session, Lise Kingo, the Executive Director of the UN Global Compact, announced the launch of the Partnership Data for SDGs Initiative, which is a joint project of UN-DESA, the UN Global Compact, and the UN Office for Partnerships.  Ms. Kingo noted that “the initiative hopes to bring more transparency, coherence, impact, and comparability to the work carried out through partnerships and voluntary initiatives in support of the SDGs.”

Launch of 2016 OECD Development Co-operation Report  

The OECD hosts the Development Assistance Committee (DAC), the main forum for policy alignment between the world’s donor countries. As part of its work, the OECD annually releases a Development Co-operation Report. This year’s report was launched during the HLPF at an event organized by the United Kingdom Mission to the United Nations, the OECD, and the Mexican Agency for International Development.  The report explores the potential and challenges of investing in developing countries, in particular through social impact investment, blended finance and foreign direct investment, and highlights the challenges in mobilising and measuring private finance to achieve the SDGs The report also provides guidance on responsible business conduct as a key component of implementing the SDGs.  Throughout the report, practical examples illustrate how business is already promoting sustainable development and inclusive growth in developing countries. Part II of the report showcases the profiles and performance of all donor countries, and presents DAC statistics on official and private resource flows.

Louise Kantrow, the International Chamber of Commerce’s Representative to the UN (USCIB’s global partner), spoke on the panel that reflected on the report, which was moderated by the Deputy Secretary General of the OECD, Douglas Frantz of the United States.  USCIB’s Ariel Meyerstein also made an intervention highlighting how the Business for 2030 website has already started the work of measuring business contributions to development cooperation and achieving the SDGs through philanthropic contributions or social impact activity and partnerships by collecting anecdotes of business activity.  But Mr. Meyerstein also noted that we need more formalized recognition by the UN and development actors of how existing corporate reporting frameworks align with the SDG targets and forthcoming indicators, so we can better measure corporate contributions to the SDGs and also identify gaps and opportunities for scaling-up in different sectors, countries and with respect to different Goals.  

This new category of development cooperation has been highlighted in a report by the UN’s ECOSOC Development Cooperation Forum, which points out that this form of development cooperation is poorly understood and that much data gathering and analysis needs to be done to understand it better, but that the evidence suggests that it is growing faster than Official Development Assistance.  Notably, the OECD’s proposed measurement of Total Official Support for Sustainable Development (TOSSD) - which received encouraging support in the Addis Ababa Financing for Development outcome document - would exclude this form of private sector development cooperation because such efforts are not ‘officially supported’ flows, so we still don’t have an agreed way of measuring them.

High-Level Side-Event on Leaving No Country Behind – Sustainable Industrialization and Infrastructure to Support Landlocked Developing Countries (LLDCs)

One of the main takeaways from this event was that opportunities exist in Landlocked Developing Countries (LLDCs) for the private sector to construct and amplify “LLDCs’ productive capacity, export growth, technology transfer, diffusion of productive know-how and skills, employment generation, infrastructure development,” and instituting new markets that encompass high-value added products and services. H.E. Mr. Jan Kickert, the Permanent Representative of Austria to the United Nations, outlined that “the old model of industrialization will not work,” so we need new kinds of industrialization “to achieve Agenda 2030.”  Mr. Kickert highlighted that addressing good governance and rule of law gaps and implementing structural reforms are all critical to attracting foreign direct investment.  To attain sustainable industrialization, Mr. Kickert stressed that sustainable energy is vital, and that LLDCs should pursue partnerships to achieve this objective.

Mr. Bernard Kamphasa, Former Secretary from Zambia, noted that Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) are important in bridging the digital divide, which has also led to a lack of adequate data.  This is a key challenge for LLDCs, he noted, as it pertains to the transportation sector.  Likewise, he observed that regional or sub-regional level challenges include lack of established knowledge sharing mechanisms.  

High-Level Side-Event on Partnerships to End Forced Labour in Global Supply Chains

The High-Level Side-Event on Partnerships to End Forced Labour in Global Supply Chains was co-organized by the Permanent Mission of Argentina, the United States Mission and the International Labour Organization (ILO).  The event focused on a critical aspect of business engagement in the SDGs, namely, doing no harm by ensuring responsible and sustainable sourcing and production practices. The key question addressed by panelists, as stated by Mr. Kevin Cassidy was: “how to ensure that supply chains can be a positive force for quality job creation as well as sustainable and inclusive social and economic development?” More specifically, the event explored “the challenges in supply chains, the responses of the private sector and beyond; the salient challenges in governance; and what guidance programs and initiatives are needed to achieve this goal.”

During her remarks, US Ambassador to ECOSOC Sarah Mendelson underscored that “it was a hard fought victory on including ending human trafficking as part of the SDGs” (Targets 5.2, 8.7, and 16.2 respectively).  Ms. Mendelson emphasized the importance of educating the public about the SDGs, consistent with her belief that “social marketing can change behavior” and that “[b]rand influence can transcend generations and borders and translate policies into effective action.”  Highlighting the scope of human trafficking and forced labor globally cited in the US State Department’s 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report (77, 823 identified victims, and 18,930 prosecutions that contributed to 6,609 convictions; 20.9 million people experience forced labor according to the ILO) she stressed the need for partnerships to combat these violations.

The event served as a launchpad and brain-storming session for such a partnership: the Dignity Partnership to End Forced Labor in Supply Chains, which will be a collaboration by Member States and companies across different sectors to (i) adhere to “The Dignity Partnership Declaration,” a mission statement of the Partnership to be shaped at the event, (ii) develop social marketing campaigns with domestic and international outreach with the goal of making the public, especially youth, aware of the SDG commitments on eradicating human trafficking with a particular focus on supply chains (iii) enforce laws, and enact where necessary, addressing human trafficking (iv) agree to report instances of human trafficking to appropriate national authorities, and (v) engage in peer-to-peer, B2B, learning on best practices.