UN Global Compact seeks corporate support on post-MDG agenda

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Chief executives from around the world will meet in New York this September (19th-20th) to take part in the UN Global Compact’s (UNGC) Leaders Summit. This is anticipated to be the most important of its summits to date and will be chaired by UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon.

Entitled ‘Architects of a Better World’, the conference will provide the UNGC with an opportunity to present a new global framework for private sector action on sustainability and explain how business can contribute to sustainable development. And the timing is crucial, as the following week, the UN General Assembly convenes to create a plan of action to succeed the 2015 Millennium Development Goals.

For its part, the UNGC has submitted a post-MDG ‘report on prospects‘ to Ban Ki-moon. The general consensus is that the post-MDG agenda should reinforce progress on social priorities like health, women’s empowerment and education, while expanding environmental goals and placing new emphasis on peace and stability, infrastructure and technology and good governance and human rights. The new targets may take the form of ‘Sustainable Development Goals’, as discussed at the Rio+20 Summit in 2012.

So, the upcoming Leaders Summit will aim to ensure that business is ready to contribute wholeheartedly to the new agenda and achieve progressive results at scale. Mechanisms for corporate action and multi-stakeholder partnerships will be central to the debate. Africa will also be in the spotlight, with a particular focus on jobs for youth, education, women’s empowerment and innovative financing.

The largest corporate sustainability initiative in the world

The UN Global Compact comprises 7,500 companies and 4,000 civil society organisations, making it the largest corporate sustainability initiative in the world. The condition for participation is a voluntary but public commitment by businesses to uphold UN principles on human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption. Companies are also required to report their progress on supporting these principles on an annual basis.

Writing in The Guardian, UNGC executive director Georg Kell says that harnessing global business as a force for sustainable development will require a robust business engagement framework. This should be designed to broaden the participation of companies, deepen commitments on core issues, upgrade partnerships and collective action, and strengthen capacity for implementation nationally and locally, he believes. Investors also have a critical role to play in advancing responsible investment and sustainable finance.

With increasing numbers of companies seeking to make a net positive contribution to society and the environment, the UN Global Compact is well placed to help by facilitating the creation of collaborative platforms, says Kell. It has already helped organised successful platforms on social and environmental issues, including the well-supported ‘Women’s Empowerment Principles’ and ‘Caring for Climate’.

Ahead of the Leaders Summit, the UN Global Compact has released its flagship Global Corporate Sustainability Report 2013. Based on survey results from 1,712 companies, the report features actions taken by companies to embed responsible practices.