In 2015, the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (the 2030 Agenda). The 2030 Agenda established 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), containing 169 global targets and 232 indicators to measure progress in implementation, and a set of follow-up and review principles and mechanisms. The 2030 Agenda seeks to achieve transformative change with respect to people, the planet, prosperity, peace and partnership. Unlike the Millennium Development Goals, the precursor to the SDGs, the 2030 Agenda is universal, in the sense that it is applicable to all States. It also requires all actors in society to contribute to achieving the goals. The 2030 Agenda states that:
“Private business activity, investment and innovation are major drivers of productivity, inclusive economic growth and job creation. We acknowledge the diversity of the private sector, ranging from micro-enterprises to cooperatives to multinationals. We call on all businesses to apply their creativity and innovation to solving sustainable development challenges. We will foster a dynamic and well-functioning business sector, while protecting labour rights and environmental and health standards in accordance with relevant international standards and agreements and other on-going initiatives in this regard, such as the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the labour standards of ILO, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and key multilateral environmental agreements, for parties to those agreements.”+ Read more
Business and Industry also constitute one of the nine Major Groups which are major stakeholders in UN processes related to sustainable development.
In addition to minimising the adverse impacts of their core business on human rights, businesses can play additional roles in the implementation of the SDGs, such as providing basic services, including health and education; participating in public-private partnerships; and by paying their taxes and refraining from tax avoidance. In all cases, business conduct should be carried out with respect for human rights.
The 2030 Agenda encourages businesses to adopt specific measures to contribute constructively to the SDGs, including target 12.6, which calls on States to encourage businesses to adopt sustainable practices and to integrate information on sustainability into their reporting cycles.
The links between the 2030 Agenda, human rights, and the role of business implies that States should ensure their efforts to implement the 2030 Agenda align with the standards laid out by the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs). This can be achieved in a number of ways, including through National Action Plans (NAPs) on business and human rights that promote respect for human rights in relation to business’ contribution to implementation of the SDGs.
In the principles for Follow up and Review (FUR) of the 2030 Agenda, states are encouraged to conduct regular and inclusive reviews of progress at the national, regional, and international levels. In this context, States are encouraged to draw on contributions from various stakeholder groups. At the international level, the institutional framework for FUR revolves around the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF), which comprises both thematic debates and voluntary State reviews. These voluntary national reviews (VNRs) aim to facilitate experience sharing and lessons learned, accelerate the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, strengthen government policies and institutions, and mobilise multi-stakeholder engagement in the implementation of the SDGs.
In 2016, 22 states volunteered for review, and in 2017 43 did so. At the national level, implementation processes will vary, but States’ human rights obligations can provide a starting point for the development of a human rights-based approach to national implementation. Because implementation of both the UNGPs and the SDGs can be facilitated through national action plans, there is considerable scope for these plans to be aligned and mutually reinforcing, to emphasise the contribution that responsible business can make to the achievement of the SDGs.
In a statement on the business and human rights dimension of the 2030 Agenda, the United Nations Working Group on Business and Human Rights called on Member States developing SDG implementation plans at the national level to ensure “coherence with national action plans for the implementation of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Conversely, national action plans focused on business and human rights should clarify how the Guiding Principles will be integrated in the context of SDG implementation.”
The Danish Institute for Human Rights (DIHR) has developed analysis, tools and guidance to operationalise a human rights-based approach to the implementation of sustainable development. In that line, it has developed the Human Rights Guide to the SDGs to demonstrate the anchoring of the SDGs in human rights. This Guide highlights that over 90% of the 2030 Agenda’s 169 Targets are linked to provisions established in international human rights instruments and labour standards. In addition to that, during 2018, DIHR will conduct a research project in Ghana and Kenya to explore the role of responsible business in advancing the SDGs. The project will assess the impacts of three different types of responsible business initiatives on specific dimensions of the SDGs: sector-specific responsible value chain initiatives, national action plans on business and human rights and non-judicial grievance mechanisms.
Various initiatives have been taken at the international arena in order to support the implementation of the SDGs. The UN-Secretary General established the UN SDG Action Campaign that is administered by the UN Development Programme and mandated to support the UN system-wide and the Member States on advocacy and public engagement in SDG implementation. This Campaign commits to engaging stakeholders and individuals to support Member States and UN Country Teams in the SDG implementation through direct people’s engagement.
Multi-stakeholder initiatives are addressing the issue of corporate reporting on the SDGs. The UN Global Compact and the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) have partnered to develop an Action Platform Reporting on the SDGs, which is comprised of two bodies: The Corporate Action Group and the Multi-Stakeholder Advisory Committee. The initiative expects three outcomes: Guides to reporting on SDGs, Recommendations on mining and aggregating business data on SDGs, and Lessons learned from emerging practices. The SDG Compass, developed by GRI, the UN Global Compact and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, provides guidance for companies on how they can align their strategies as well as measure and manage their contribution to the realisation of the SDGs.
Various business enterprises are also committed to supporting the SDGs. According to a 2017 PriceWaterhouseCoopers study, 71% of businesses say they were already planning how they will contribute to the implementation of the SDGs.