The FINANCIAL — On the third and final day of the United Nations Global Compact’s 15th anniversary event, global business leaders met with Governments in the historic UN General Assembly Hall to demonstrate the growing, strategic role that the private sector plays in solving our world’s greatest challenges.
The UN General Assembly President Sam Kutesa and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed over 1,000 people, including the world’s top CEOs and high-level Government representatives to the UN, to review progress made through the global corporate sustainability movement and show the potential for responsible business to help advance sustainable development moving forward, according to Global Compact.
With the United Nations launching global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in September, corporate leaders shared how businesses are operating and innovating in ways that support societal priorities, and also emphasized the need for Governments to enable and incentivize corporate sustainability, including through putting a price on carbon and calling for all public procurement to be transparent.
Addressing participants, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted the growing role of business in advancing United Nations objectives stating that “by respecting and supporting universal principles in operations, and by pioneering new business models and forming innovative partnerships, enlightened business leaders are poised to make long-lasting contributions to the cause of global sustainability.” While marking important progress, the Secretary-General underscored that serious challenges remain for billions of people and our planet. He urged more companies to pick up the pace and deepen their commitment to sustainability.
The day featured addresses by business leaders, including: Henrik Madsen, CEO of DNV GL; Paul Bulcke, CEO of Nestlé; Monica de Greiff, President of Chamber of Commerce of Bogota; Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever; Yılmaz Argüden, Chair of Global Compact Network Turkey; Fu Chengyu, Chairman of Global Compact Local China; Erika Karp, Founder and CEO of Cornerstone Capital Inc; and Dov Seidman, Founder and CEO of LRN.
Also addressing the audience were key voices from civil society, labour and academia, including Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and President of the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice; Julia Christensen Hughes, Dean of College of Business and Economics, University of Guelph, Canada; and Jyrki Raina, General Secretary of IndustriALL Global Union.
The UN General Assembly session concluded a range of events marking fifteen years since the launch of the Global Compact, which represented a major shift within the United Nations to invite new actors – particularly business – to the table in the quest to address global challenges. The Global Compact is today the world’s largest voluntary initiative for corporate responsibility, with over 13,000 companies and other stakeholders based in 170 countries.
The past three days have seen over 1,200 representatives of business, civil society, labour, Government, the UN, academia and the investment community take stock of a decade and a half’s work on environment, social and governance issues – as well as staking the course for the future.
Summing up the UN General Assembly session and the week’s events, Georg Kell, Executive Director of the UN Global Compact stated, “Businesses around the world are awakening to their role in society and have started making important strides to operate more responsibly and innovate for a greener and more sustainable future. But there is still a long way to go. We need companies everywhere to step up to the realities of our time, understanding that healthy societies and healthy markets go hand-in-hand.”
Global report on impact of corporate sustainability
At the event, a new report, Impact: Transforming Business, Changing the World, was launched providing one of the most comprehensive analyses on the impact of corporate responsibility. Produced by DNV GL, a world-leading classification/certification body and technical assurance provider, the report finds that today it is almost impossible for a global company to avoid having environment, social and governance issues on its agenda, contrary to the state of the business world in 2000.
Among the report’s key findings is a major shift in global perceptions of the role of business in society, as well as a critical initiation of the investment community. It concludes that the UN Global Compact has had a profound impact in driving corporate sustainability globally, having strengthened the enabling environment for responsible business in 170 countries.
The study also examines the change in corporate practices over time, and to what extent the Global Compact and its programmes – in particular the Women’s Empowerment Principles, Caring for Climate, Business for Peace and the CEO Water Mandate – have created actionable agendas for business.
“Our assessment shows that the UN Global Compact, as the world’s largest sustainability initiative, and the business community have had an impact on the development of sustainability over the past 15 years. I’m certainly optimistic about the willingness of business to be a partner in solving the serious problems of today’s world and to lead us onto a sustainable pathway. The assessment shows that most business leaders now have sustainability on their agenda,” says Dr. Henrik O. Madsen, Group President & Chief Executive Officer at DNV GL.
Outlining pathways for future transformation, the assessment stresses the need to revitalize corporate sustainability efforts in order to maintain momentum and scale up impact. A key part of this work will be the forthcoming SDGs, which are expected to play an important role in framing global policies and agendas in the next 15 years. The report predicts that the Global Compact Local Networks will play an essential role in facilitating action and partnerships on the ground to implement the SDGs.
The report is built on an analysis of over 1,500 Global Compact survey respondents, 30 interviews with top executives and more than 180 in-depth interviews with people from business, civil society, academia and government.