Peace, justice, partnerships and corporate strategy

3rd May 2017

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Jason Monckton

Action on building a peaceful, just society through the SDGs

Around $1.26trn is lost in low-income countries to corruption, bribery, theft and tax evasion, according to the UN. This money could be used for the common good: public infrastructure, environmental protection, healthcare and education. Where there is war and conflict, children miss school, disease is rife, and infrastructure and the environment suffer. Where laws are not enforced, unethical players have an advantage.

Targets under UN Sustainable Development Goal 16 include reducing violence and ending abuse, trafficking, violence and torture of children. It also calls for the rule of law to be observed and equal access to justice, as well as measures to tackle money laundering, arms trafficking and organised crime. The incidence of corruption and bribery needs to fall. Effective, transparent, accountable institutions ensure participatory and representative decision-making and require support. SDG 16 also covers legal identities and birth registration.

Human rights

In March, the results of the first pilot Corporate Human Rights Benchmark (CHRB) revealed that most of the 98 companies analysed had far to go, with just three falling into the top band: mining companies BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto, and high-street retailer M&S.

The CHRB was developed with support from a coalition, including financial services firms Aviva Investors and APG Asset Management, and NGOs with expertise in responsible investment and human rights. Because it is an open-source methodology, any company can self-assess to see where it sits in relation to others.

Conflict minerals

In areas dogged by high levels of violence and insecurity, social and economic development is held back and the environment suffers. The search for precious metals and diamonds is one activity that can be exploited by criminals, fuelling conflict and destabilising communities. Swiss-based refiner Valcambi is committed to sourcing gold only from sources that respect human rights and do not contribute to conflict. Nicoletta Ferro, of Valcambi’s corporate affairs team, says: ‘Our updated procedures systematise the whole due diligence process, introducing a new set of tools for carrying out a thorough risk assessment, mitigation and remediation.’

Valcambi involved experts in artisanal small-scale mining and responsible sourcing, and an independent academic to help it refresh its systems. ‘We have now reached the stage where we are testing feasibility in the field and seeking feedback from key stakeholders: suppliers, clients, UN agencies and NGOs,’ says Ferro.

As well as ensuring that its own supply chains are conflict-free, Valcambi hopes its approach will empower artisanal small-scale miners, helping them to access markets and be recognised as a sector. This should strengthen their communities, making them less vulnerable to exploitation by violent criminals.

Companies with links to the gold supply chain can refer to a handbook developed by sustainable mining consultancy Estelle Levin and the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime as part of the Gold and Illicit Financial Flows (GIFF) Project. Follow the Money helps companies to research financial flows linked to artisanal and small-scale gold mining so they can spot and eradicate money-laundering, smuggling, tax evasion and corruption.

‘Every actor has a role to play,’ says Levin, who is the GIFF project director. This includes traders and financiers as well as refiners and jewellers. She is passionate about the need to share information to accelerate progress: ‘Donors and companies need to invest in knowledge management and communications, so the impact of public funds is maximised and they give life to the knowledge that comes out of projects.’

When buying gold and jewellery, customers can look for the Fairmined certification and for companies certified by the Responsible Jewellery Council.


It is not enough to obey the letter of the law in paying taxes. Some multinational companies have been criticised for complex legal arrangements that aim to lower tax bills, a strategy that is seen as unfair by many people. Power company SSE has taken its tax policies to the next level with the award of the Fair Tax Mark. Director of sustainability Rachel McEwen says the company changed little of what it was doing, but under the terms of the accreditation, it must now disclose a lot more information and publish a standalone, accessible tax report. ‘It has led to deep thinking about the role of a big corporation in society, our rights and responsibilities, our social contract,’ she says. ‘We benefit from public spending on roads, health and education, so we should pay our fair taxes. It’s part of the deal. The Fair Tax Mark sends a powerful message to our customers and our employees about what we stand for.’

Further information

Corporate Human Rights Benchmark –

Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime and Follow the Money guide

Responsible Jewellery Council –

FairMined –

Transparency International Business Integrity Toolkit –

Fair Tax Mark –

Partnerships for the goals

As a whole, the sustainable development goals provide a powerful, credible mandate for various organisations and institutions to work towards the same objectives. The challenges are huge. The changes they imply will not be easy. Individual excellence is not enough: change will need to be at the level of the whole system. So it is sensible to work together on the goals.

Targets for goal 17 include direct financing of development through aid and investment; co-operation on sharing knowledge, technology and science; and promoting rules-based multilateral trade. There are targets related to policy and institutional coherence in public bodies and governments, and to credible statistical monitoring and transparency about progress.

Like goal 16, the 17th is both enabling and an end in itself. Cat Tully, of the not-for-profit School of International Futures, says: ‘Effective, inclusive and accountable institutions and working in partnership are the keys to unlocking the transformative power of the SDGs. The real question is how we create a common view of the future, harnessing everyone’s enthusiasm and energy.’

Genuine transformation, Tully argues, relies on a conversation between governments, citizens and businesses. Corporations increasingly see the need to be part of those multi-stakeholder conversations.

Protein challenge

One multi-stakeholder collaboration, catalysed and convened by sustainability consultancy Forum for the Future, is the Protein Challenge 2040. Waitrose, The Hershey Company and Quorn are among the businesses working together on the question ‘how can we feed nine billion people with enough protein in a way that is affordable, healthy and good for the environment?’

What makes this collaboration special is its focus on system-level change and innovation. The organisations involved are not content with the easy and incremental. They want win-win solutions and have identified innovation for immediate action and longer-term scoping.

Landscape level partnership

A different approach to system change is happening at the landscape level. Examples include the catchment-based approach to improving water quality and the KELOLA Sendang landscape partnership in South Sumatra.

With partners including the Zoological Society of London, the Department for International Development and Dutch development NGO SNV, KELOLA Sendang works with oil palm and rubber smallholders to achieve ecological and social benefits across the whole landscape. The anticipated environmental benefits include a reduction in carbon emissions from forest fires and less peatland destruction, and preservation of crucial habitat corridors for the Sumatran tiger.

Seth Shames, director of policy and markets at US-based land use constultancy EcoAgriculture Partners, says a landscape level approach is important. Single-objective strategies that are pursued to solve global challenges such as biodiversity loss, poverty and food insecurity are highly connected, he explains, and solutions aimed at growing more food or conserving more habitat can alleviate one problem but exacerbate another.

His organisation helps to run the Landscapes for People, Food and Nature Initiative, a global partnership of conservation, agriculture and development organisations that use whole-landscape approaches in which both the producer and the communities benefit. Current projects include working in partnership with the international development organisation Solidaridad in northern coastal Honduras, where palm oil is the main crop. Producers in sugar and cocoa supply chains are involved in the project but so are community, public sector and NGO stakeholders, ensuring a holistic approach.

What makes a great partnership?

Joint working can be disappointing if clear, shared goals and skilful convening are lacking. Potential collaborators need to listen to each other’s assumptions about how they expect to work together, as well as what they want to achieve. This approach, and other useful frameworks and tips, are explored in my book Working Collaboratively: a practical guide to achieving more.

Further information

Protein Challenge 2040 –

Landscapes for People, Food and Nature –

UN Global Compact –

World Business Council for Sustainable Development –

UK Stakeholders for Sustainable Development –

Working Collaboratively: a practical guide to achieving more is available at

Strategic responses

Different businesses are taking different approaches when responding to the UN SDGs. Acciona, the Spanish renewables and infrastructure company, is using them to focus its corporate volunteering, while Cemex, BT and Samsung are highlighting links to specific goals in their sustainability reporting. GRI, the Global Reporting Initiative, has mapped the SDGs against its reporting frameworks. Meanwhile, Novozymes is using them as part of filtering and prioritising in its innovation pipeline. The biotechnology firm has gone further, linking the bonus scheme for its executive leadership team to annual operational targets, derived in part from the goals.

Many organisations are using the SDGs to augment their materiality analysis. Global consultancy firm PwC has developed a sophisticated tool to assist clients to take their first steps in engaging with the goals. Louise Scott, who helped to develop the Navigator tool, says: ‘Our detailed country-by-country research has helped companies to spot things they didn’t realise were important, and catalysed conversations, grounded in geography, about where they can have the most impact.’

Make some noise

Businesses have a powerful voice and can choose whether to support or undermine robust government action in favour of sustainable development. This is particularly important for policy coherence, which is targeted in goal 17. BT is part of the We Mean Business coalition, which involves companies working to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy. More than 120 members have signed a commitment to responsible corporate engagement on climate change, promising to audit their activity, ensuring consistency and disclosing their positions, actions and outcomes.

Expert after expert told me that companies need to look hardest at where they may be undermining the SDGs, albeit inadvertently. ‘It’s not just about opportunities, it’s also about responsible conduct and impact,’ says Ruth Mhlanga, Oxfam’s private sector policy adviser. ‘Don’t undermine one goal while tackling another. Sustainability leaders will include those who support government efforts to govern for the common good and are willing to stand up to peers who undermine those collective efforts.’

Collaborate to shift the system

Picking off the goals and targets that seem easiest could be a flawed strategy if the actions involve trading off progress on one front with undermining it on another. In its research into the interconnections between the SDGs, the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) highlights an area ripe with what it calls ‘wicked trade-offs’: environmental protection versus reducing food prices. The IIASA found that the most effective action would be to reduce the proportion of meat in diets.

Mhlanga also advocates collaborative, system-level action. ‘Where companies, governments and civil society work together, making issues like suppliers paying a living wage precompetitive, no single company is disadvantaged by competitors undercutting.’

The Business and Sustainable Development Commission’s Better Business, Better World report is clear on the need for system-level change: ‘Business as usual will not achieve this market transformation. Nor will disruptive innovation by a few sustainable pioneers be enough to drive the shift: the whole sector has to move.’ Stephanie Draper, at sustainability NGO Forum for the Future, says: ‘Successfully delivering the SDGs requires a really strong systems approach. That means joining up with others’ efforts to achieve individual goals; looking at the inter-relationships between all the goals; and delivering the them in a way that models the characteristics we need for a sustainable society.’

Which brings us back to goals 16 and 17, with their call for inclusion, participation and collaboration. ‘If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’ We need to go far and quickly. So we’d better figure out how we’re going to do both.

Further information

Global Reporting Initiative –

PwC’s Navigator tool –

Responsible Corporate Engagement in Climate Policy –

Business and Sustainable Development Commission –

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