Business Together for Sustainable Development
How can the Sustainable Development Goals ensure that the radical shifts in the world of work and capital markets benefit everyone and not just the privileged few?
By Roberto Suárez Santos
Some events
in our globalised system leave a stronger mark than others. The 2008 financial crisis was one such event. This economic earthquake exposed the darker side of the prosperity and growth story as advances in wage growth in developing countries were threatened, and toxic wealth inequalities in developed economies called into question the future of capitalism.

The aftershocks of 2008 are still being felt today. The Financial Times recently wrote about the brewing worry over modern capitalism in the minds of many top American CEOs. Already in 2011, Dominic Barton, global managing partner emeritus of McKinsey, warned in the Harvard Business Review that business leaders could reform capitalism themselves or have it reformed for them “through political measures and the pressures of an angry public.”

The G20 is no stranger to these discussions. The G20 Eminent Persons Group on Global Financial Governance produced a landmark report, “Making the Financial System Work for All”, where they describe the challenge of creating “a cooperative international order for a world that has changed irreversibly: one that is more multipolar and decentralized in decisions, yet more interconnected”.

So, how can we reform our economic model before people’s anger morphs into violence and even more widespread political instability. In 2015, the 193 countries of the United Nations General Assembly adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (SDGs). This highly ambitious agenda sets out a blueprint of 17 Goals to address the global challenges we face, including those related to poverty, inequality, climate, environmental degradation, prosperity, and peace and justice. It offers a platform that unites countries to meet shared challenges and redresses the prosperity gap by promising to leave no one behind.

The SDGs are a good vehicle for business as well, helping companies create positive impact beyond profits and shareholder value. According to a “recent survey by Deloitte, millennial workers were asked what the primary purpose of businesses should be—63 percent more of them said ‘improving society’ than said ‘generating profit.’” Sustainability is becoming a pillar of corporate growth and doing business in the 21st century.

Words into action
Four years on from the adoption by the UN General Assembly, the governments of the G20 countries are slowly embracing the SDGs. With domestic appetite for multilateral cooperation extremely low, advancing the SDGs is seen as a show of support for international cooperation. As the five-year milestone approaches in 2020, now is a good time for the business community to accelerate promotion of sustainable practices, take the lead on advancing the SDGs and expand projects and partnerships to achieve them.

The SDGs are applicable to every G20 country as well as less developed nations. Every country has their contribution to make towards achieving this goal and its targets in their own backyard.

Some of the world’s largest and smallest companies are already using them to drive their corporate policies and find the balance between profitability and sustainability.

In September last year, the U.S. Council for International Business organised a major panel discussion on the side-lines of the G20 in Argentina to look at how to further align business activities with the SDGs. USCIB President Peter Robinson urged governments and employers’ groups to do their utmost to foster support for the SDGs in their national business communities, including among small and medium-sized enterprises.

“Many SMEs connect with larger companies via cross-border commerce, trade, and investment,” Robinson stated. “So, there can be a link and opportunity for larger companies to pass these ‘good business practice’ principles on to smaller national firms, both through supply chain links and by making expectations clear.”

Four years on from the adoption by the UN General Assembly, the governments of the G20 countries are slowly embracing the SDGs. With domestic appetite for multilateral cooperation extremely low, advancing the SDGs is seen as a show of support for international cooperation.
The Coca-Cola Company is committed to the economic empowerment of 5 million women across its global value chain by 2020. This initiative, called 5by20, was launched in 2010. By the end of 2018, it had provided support to some 2.4 million women entrepreneurs in 75 countries around the world.

Hedge funds focused on responsible sustainable investing are some of the fast-growing in the world. A Price Waterhouse Coopers survey published earlier this year found that 91% of respondents prioritised and identified the SDGs as relevant to their investment decisions in 2018.

Role of employer organisations
The Business & Sustainable Development Commission published a landmark Report on the growth potential of the SDGs and the economic prize potential of pursuing them. According to the Report, up to $12 trillion by 2030 for the private sector could be unlocked by pursuing the Goals and up to 380 million jobs could be created by SDG business opportunities by 2030. The Report proposes six concrete actions for business leaders, in the G20 and beyond, to take and stresses the fact that progress cannot be achieved alone but through partnerships and a network approach.

Sustainable Development Goals
The IOE has been working on improving social and employment issues for nearly 100 years. As a representative of business worldwide with Employers’ Organisation members in more than 140 countries the IOE has been involved in many processes and international initiatives for decent work and sustainable economic growth. We can provide practical cases in which targeted joint action with our IOE members made a huge difference to strengthen sustainable growth and decent work through proper policy action. This is the impact that we are looking forward.

The SDGs have a tremendous potential for creating value and prosperity for social partners and governments, of reconciling economic development and human development, of creating trust and cooperation between layers of society, and assuring the “future of the open and competitive world order that has brought a large part of humanity out of poverty, raised living standards across nations, and provided the foundation for unprecedented global peace over the last 70 years.”

The IOE calls for reinvigorated inclusive multilateralism most of all, a more agile international public sector, an improved enabling environment for business fostered by governments, and a renewed push and activity through their networks by the employers’ organisation of the world. As employers we are ready to create lasting partnerships for a better tomorrow and work together towards achieving the SDGs. It is time for action, we need to deliver.

About the author
Roberto Suárez Santos is Secretary-General of the International Organisation of Employers.