Many businesses will conclude that SDG16 is mainly the preserve of governments, but there are tangible steps companies can take to help deliver on its crucial targets
SDG16's vision to "promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels" obviously places much of its onus on national and regional governments. It is they, after all, who have the ability to deliver fair justice systems, effective governance, and geopolitical stability. But from anti-corruption measures and sustainable supply chain management to progressive lobbying efforts and labour policies, green and responsible businesses can play a key role in maximising the chances of this vital global goal being met.
BusinessGreen talks to a number of leasing experts about how business leaders can develop a successful strategy in support of SDG16 and presents their six top tips.
1. Break down what it means to you
Sustainable Development Goal 16's targets can, on the face of it, look rather abstract from a private sector perspective. But Ulysses Smith, director of the business and rule of law programme at think-tank Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law, tells his clients that it's actually the goal that has the most relevance to a company's ability to operate.
"Once you get past the language of the SDGs and the UN-speak it becomes very clear for businesses to understand that it's about institutional frameworks, it's about the rule of law, it's about transparency and accessible regulatory frameworks, it's about fair judicial action. If you can translate it into common-sense everyday things it's about basic governance principles," says Smith.
2. Be transparent
"Business has a significant role to play by modelling the right behaviours, being transparent in its reporting, allowing sensible regulation to come to the fore and giving politicians confidence to put that legislation onto statute," says David Croft, global director of sustainability, environment and human rights for household goods giant RB (formerly Reckitt Benckiser).
Companies can contribute to this in many ways, says Transparency International, including appointing diverse management teams to enhance the openness of the leadership environment and publicly reporting on political contributions and lobbying activities throughout their supply chain.
Transparency International would also particularly like to see progress on beneficial ownership transparency, where the public can see who really owns a company. However, this is a more sensitive topic, says Smith. "There definitely are companies that are calling out for new laws and regulations to require more transparency [but] I guess there is more hesitance to engage on this topic than human rights," he notes.
3. Think global
Clearly, the context in which a firm operates is going to affect how it can practice. Transparency International's Business Integrity Country Agenda tool analyses the integrity of the broader business environment, and the interplay between the state and private companies.
"What has become clear from these assessments is that the strength of a company's internal integrity management system is critical in markets in which corruption is commonplace," says Matthew Jenkins, research coordinator at NGO Transparency International. "While it is obviously easier to act with probity when one is not being solicited for bribes by public officials, robust anti-corruption policies can help inoculate a firm against governance risks in difficult markets."
He adds that many firms operate in multiple jurisdictions, which are likely to have different standards of good governance and varying levels of institutional strength. "This is another compelling reason for multinationals to establish a strong culture of corporate compliance, anti-bribery policies, codes of ethics and so on, to make it crystal clear that no employee can use discrepancies between jurisdictions as either an excuse or rationale for corrupt behaviour," he says.
4. Corruption-proof your business
Running a global business and supply chain opens a company up to significant corruption and bribery risks, warns Transparency International. It recommends that companies measure their risk of exposure and report on it openly and regularly as a first step towards tackling a problem that is often far larger than many people suspect.
Existing business integrity tools can then provide useful recommendations and suggest good practice on how to prevent or mitigate those risks through comprehensive anti-corruption programmes, says Transparency International.
Rigorous supply chain scrutiny is essential - as it is for all SDGs. Some multinationals like Nestle use third-party organisations such as Ecovadis to undertake independent assessments of their suppliers, although these are usually complemented by unique internal processes to provide a fuller picture.
5. Find partners that share your principles
The majority of sustainable development work has focused on multinationals, says Smith, because they have more clout and bear the highest risks of legal action or reputational damage. "Whether on the green economy or SDGs more generally, for the most part it has been up until now the bigger companies that have been driving the change," he says.
But smaller organisations play an important role too. "A lot of multinationals can have trouble finding joint venture partners or companies they want to merge with because of that whole issue that whoever they team up with is clean. There's a real incentive for smaller businesses who want to partner with them to improve their practices," adds Smith.
6. Harness the power of technology
The Task Force on Justice - an initiative of UN member states, international organisations, civil society and businesses - highlights promising technologies that can provide justice at scale. These include services that facilitate the resolution of disputes, new technologies that support user-friendly contracts, and alternative private sector legal providers that aim to help large numbers of individuals and small businesses make good use of the law.
Innovative examples include an app developed by the UK government's Department for International Development called 'Pay no Bribe' which allows users to report bribery and identify corruption hotspots. It has already been piloted in Sierra Leone and thereare hopes it could be rolled out more widely.
As well as benefitting from such technology, the Task Force says the private sector can help develop new ways of meeting people's justice needs at low cost. "The public and private sector innovators need space to collaborate and support for innovation through all stages of the process, from researching needs and developing a response, to monitoring impact," it advises.
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