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The Power of the Global Goals

By Lise Kingo, CEO and Executive Director of the United Nations Global Compact

Lise-Kingo_headshot-highresWhen leaders from 193 countries adopted the 2030 Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals nearly three years ago, it marked the start of the most ambitious plan of action for people and planet the world has ever seen. A step forward from the previous Millennium Development Goals, these new Global Goals rightly identify the private sector as a necessary actor in tackling the biggest challenges faced by our world today. In response, the United Nations Global Compact and our Local Networks based in over 70 countries have been actively bringing business to the table through our “Making Global Goals Local Business” campaign. And companies everywhere are stepping up and taking action, something I have been able to witness first-hand through my travels to meet with businesses and Global Compact Local Networks on the ground.

The Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) region is no exception. On a visit to Argentina this April for our Making Global Goals Local Business regional event, nearly 600 local and global leaders from business, finance, civil society, Government and the UN convened to highlight business progress on the Global Goals in the region. Held ahead of the G20 Meeting in Argentina, the event underscored the impact of multi-stakeholder partnerships and demonstrated how companies in the region are shifting sustainability from the fringes to the business mainstream.

We recently published a report illustrating how the business community in the LAC region is leading the way towards 2030. In fact, 80 per cent of the more than 2,100 companies participating in the UN Global Compact in the region are taking action on the Global Goals. This level of engagement is unsurpassed by any other region in the world, and we should look to and learn from its causes.

The LAC region is facing a set of unique challenges associated with climate change, rapid and unsustainable urbanization, deforestation and loss of biodiversity. Many countries in the region have also seen the effects of an increase in the rate of obesity and non-communicable diseases on a population that is also fighting hunger and under-nourishment. These are all issues that the Global Goals explicitly address, and present clear opportunities for business to partner with other stakeholders to amplify impact. So it’s no surprise that 61 per cent of companies in the region are engaging in multi-stakeholder partnerships to advance the Global Goals (compared with 54 per cent globally).MGGLB – Argentina_attendees

 Centring a principles-based approach

This year’s G20 meeting, hosted by Argentina, will look at these very issues, and focus on fair and sustainable development, placing special attention on the future of work, creating infrastructure for development and building a sustainable food future. Underlying themes include empowering women, fighting corruption and taking action on climate change.

More than 15 Global Compact Local Networks across the LAC region, including our Local Network in Argentina, have been proactively involved in contributing to this agenda from a private sector perspective through public policy dialogues. Most importantly, we are calling on all companies in the region to commit to the Ten Principles of the UN Global Compact — including human rights, labour, the environment and anti-corruption — as the foundation for private sector action towards sustainable development, and as a foundation for any public-private-partnership.

Many businesses in the region have already shown exceptional progress towards integrating the Ten Principles into their strategies and operations, including the most recent 10th Principle against corruption. And a growing number of companies — 14 per cent — are also requiring their suppliers adhere to the Ten Principles, with 61 per cent of considering adherence when selecting their supply chain partners.

But we need to go further and help enable businesses on the ground to centre principles across all operations. At Making Global Goals Local Business – Argentina, I launched a year-long dialogue with leading experts and business leaders to explore putting the Ten Principles into practice, not least Principles 1 and 2, which are derived directly from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Putting human rights into action is essential to multiplying and magnifying the positive impact of responsible business, and it’s under the spotlight as we look ahead to the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights later this year.

The 2030 Agenda itself is grounded in the Declaration’s essential framing of rights as universal and inalienable, which is why understanding human rights and integrating them into business practices is essential to making a meaningful and holistic contribution to the Global Goals. The regional dialogue in LAC was enlightening and inspiring in its demonstration of the power of collaboration across sectors to achieve common goals.

Creating the world we want

 The Global Goals are a unique catalyst for businesses that want to turn risks into opportunities, and a hugely important lighthouse for the LAC region that has so much economic, social and environmental development potential. If we can learn from and replicate some of the energy and optimism building around the Global Goals there, then we can expect more and more businesses and stakeholders to join forces to create the world we want. But with less that 4,500 to meet the 2030 deadline, this is a time for bold action. Let us not become too comfortable, and remember the words of Argentine poet Jorge Luis Borges: “Nothing is built on stone; all is built on sand, but we must build as if the sand were stone.” Let’s keep building.

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