Stakeholder Capitalism

Businesses must take the lead in renewing global cooperation. Here's how

The United Nations headquarters building is pictured in Vienna March 28, 2012.

The 75th anniversary of the UN reminds us that cooperation between all sectors remains vital Image: REUTERS/Herwig Prammer

Christina Koulias
Senior Manager, Global Governance, The United Nations Global Compact
Pedro Gabriel Gomez Pensado
Head, Partnering Against Corruption Initiative, World Economic Forum
Eleanor Dennis
BCL & JD Candidate at Faculty of Law, McGill University
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SDG 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

  • The pandemic has highlighted the weak spots in international cooperations and our multilateral institutions.
  • A new statement from the UN, signed by more than 1,000 CEOs, calls on businesses to show leadership in renewing collaboration across borders.
  • Here's how firms can start to make a difference.

We are living in a time of unprecedented disruption and global transformation. Never has it been clearer that the economic, social and environmental challenges facing our world are interconnected – and never before have these challenges been so urgent.

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended the lives of billions of people around the globe and has also cast a spotlight on the vulnerabilities in international cooperation and multilateral institutions. This message emerged from conversations held between the UN Global Compact and the private sector, in addition to the hundreds of thousands of people who participated in global dialogues initiated this year by the UN and the World Economic Forum.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the UN, which serves as a stark reminder that cooperation across all nations and stakeholder groups must be mobilized to adapt to changing circumstances. New corporate governance approaches have also emerged, and the shift towards stakeholder capitalism – the leading theme of the World Economic Forum's Annual Meeting earlier this year – has shone a light on the important role businesses must play in strengthening multilateral cooperation. Business leaders now have a unique opportunity to transform their companies for the future and serve the interests of all stakeholders: governments, people, businesses and the planet.

Have you read?

Reflecting the importance of business engagement, the UN Global Compact, together with UN75, today released A Statement from Business Leaders for Renewed Global Cooperation. The statement has been signed by over 1,000 CEOs from various industries and regions and of different sizes to demonstrate their support for the UN and what it stands for: peace and security, human rights and development.

The statement was largely informed by interviews with 40 major companies conducted through the Action Platform for Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions, of which the Forum’s Partnering Against Corruption Initiative is a partner. Many of the business leaders interviewed expressed that a statement calling for renewed global cooperation comes at a particularly relevant time as we not only deal with a global pandemic but as other converging crises create a compounded disruption – including racial injustice, economic uncertainty and climate change.

The statement serves as a powerful call for businesses to demonstrate leadership in advancing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG)—with Goal 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions) serving as the foundation to achieving all the other SDGs. Progress cannot be made unless accountability, integrity and transparency in public and private institutions are treated as a priority.

What does this have to do with business?

There is a strong business case for the promotion of peace, justice and strong institutions. Substantially reducing corruption and illicit financial flows are not only targets of Goal 16; they are conditions precedent to achieving sustainable development. After all, the World Bank estimates that businesses and individuals pay more than $1 trillion in bribes each year. A 2019 study of CEOs conducted by the UN Global Compact and Accenture also found that 63% of respondents considered political uncertainty across markets to be the most critical global issue for their companies’ competitive strategies, with 42% reporting it to have reduced or stalled their sustainability efforts.

During the interviews, business leaders were directly asked the following question: “How do peace, justice and strong institutions relate to business?” Here’s how they responded:

1. Good governance is the foundation of good business: Accountable, effective and transparent institutions at all levels are fundamental to Goal 16. These objectives are equally important for the public and private sectors, especially in times of crisis.

2. Without strong institutions, businesses cannot operate properly: Over the past year, the world has seen global protests denouncing racial injustice, gender inequality and the lack of progress on environmental goals. These global movements indicate a lack of trust in global and national institutions and recall the need for strong institutions to support partnerships between civil society, government and businesses.

3. Many businesses are already engaging on Goal 16, but don’t know it: The goals of peace, justice and strong institutions are incredibly broad, but many businesses have already internalized aspects of Goal 16 in their everyday functioning. For instance, many businesses have anti-corruption policies which set out their expectations and standards for transparency and accountability. As such, more businesses must now create deliberate and explicit connections between their policies to increase their visibility and drive further industry and systemic change by setting a positive example.

Above all, interviewees supported broadening the definition of 'G' - governance – in ESG to encourage businesses to engage more deliberately and responsibly with governments and civil society organizations to strengthen our institutions, laws and systems, both procedurally and substantively. The importance of the 'G' must also be underscored to inspire businesses to strengthen governance systems while expanding the dialogue with their stakeholders. In today’s world, a governance structure that fosters integrity beyond compliance is an existential issue.

Will you join?
Will you join? Image: UN Global Compact

What can businesses do next?

Reducing corruption and promoting integrity goes beyond rules based-compliance; it requires a collective effort based on collaborative and sustained cooperation between stakeholders. Businesses must transform their companies for the future and engage in collective action on both the global and local level by working alongside governments, businesses and civil society. Here's how they can make a start:

1. CEOs can show their support for A Statement from Business Leaders for Renewed Global Cooperation and commit to demonstrating leadership in advancing peace, justice and strong institutions.

2. Businesses can engage with the UN Global Compact on the Action Platform for Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions and participate in the country consultations alongside multilateral stakeholders to identify concrete actions that can be taken towards improving accountability, integrity, and transparency within businesses and the countries in which they operate.

3. Businesses can engage more concretely with the World Economic Forum community and participate in its initiatives to further aid the implementation of collective action in the anti-corruption space.


What's the World Economic Forum doing about corruption?

The 75th anniversary of the UN serves as a timely reminder that only through global cooperation between stakeholders can society be more responsive and resilient in times of crises. Recovery cannot begin without peace, growth cannot occur without justice, and prosperity cannot be achieved without strong institutions. Goal 16 is therefore the enabler and the outcome for creating the world that we want and – more importantly – the world that we need.

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