New Report: Highjacking the SDGs?

The Private Sector and the Sustainable Development Goals

At the United Nations (UN) summit in September 2015, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was adopted by all UN member states. The Agenda gives a comprehensive framework for a global socio-ecological transformation.

The novelty of the SDGs vis-à-vis the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is its paradigm shift: all countries, not just the countries of the Global South, have to implement the SDGs, working closely together to achieve the common goal of a sustainable future. By 2030, the SDGs are to be implemented by all states and at all levels.

Along with governments, various actors have been involved in the development of the SDGs, and are now part of implementation strategies. This is the case for organizations (CSOs) and academia as well as the business sector. As a matter of fact, the 2030 Agenda gives the private sector a significant role.

In many countries, the engagement of the private sector in the SDG implementation is part of official policies. Governments and UN are striving for increased commitment of the private sector to finance the SDG implementation. Along with this, many governments expect the SDG engagement of companies to lead to greater social and environmental awareness in business strategies.

The call for business engagement in the 2030 Agenda has been answered by various corporations and corporate lobby groups. Already during the SDG negotiations, the private sector was intensively engaged through many different channels. Now, with the adoption of the goals, several corporations have pledged their support for the SDGs or evaluated the relevance of the SDGs for their own business activities.

The idea of business involvement with the SDG is trending but so far there is little systematic analysis: In which way are businesses engaging with the SDGs? What is the actual impact on sustainability of businesses’ SDG activities? And which strategies are needed in order to better align business activities with the transformative Agenda of the SDGs?

This analysis aims at answering some of those questions and thus contributing to the critical discourse on business engagement with the SDGs. The first chapter gives an overview of business involvement with the SDGs and the relevant discussions following that trend. Then, the analysis looks at two different business sectors. The first case examines at the financial sector. The idea of “shifting the trillions” gained huge attention following the understanding that SDG implementation depends on redirecting financial flows from unsustainable areas to SDG financing. The case study examines the growing market of SDG related financial instruments like bonds and its impact on sustainable development.

Consumer goods are highly relevant for the 2030 Agenda because of their environmental and social impact along the supply chain. The second case examines tobacco companies and their involvement with the SDGs. Along with alcohol, tobacco is in fact the only consumer product explicitly mentioned in the SDGs. And of all consumer goods, tobacco touches on every SDG, be it health or agriculture or water, and has therefore a relevant role to play for the successful implementation of the SDGs.

Highjacking the SDGs?

The Private Sector and the Sustainable Development Goals


Authors: Marie-Luise Abshagen, Anna Cavazzini, Laura Graen, Wolfgang Obenland
Published by: Brot für die Welt, German NGO Forum on Financing for Development, Unfairtobacco, Global Policy Forum, MISEREOR

Berlin/Bonn, July 2018

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