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Business, civil society leaders: rebuild the social contract with UN SDGs

“Not heaven on earth … but the world would be undoubtedly on a better, more resilient path.”

That’s the goal of the blue-ribbon World Economic Forum generated Business and Sustainable Development Commission, “setting business strategy and transforming markets in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.”

The commission, composed of leaders from business, finance, civil society, labor and international organizations, published its report, “Better Business, Better World” in conjunction with this week’s WEF meeting at Davos.

“Achieving the Global Goals,” these leaders contend, “would create a world that is comprehensively sustainable: socially fair, environmentally secure; economically prosperous; inclusive; and more predictable …. they offer a compelling growth strategy for individual businesses, for business generally and for the world economy.”

The report presents six specific action commitments. Perhaps the most candid is the need to rebuild the social contract, especially with workers:

“Trust in business has eroded so sharply since the global financial crisis, the social fabric is wearing thin … Rebuilding the social contract requires businesses to pay their taxes transparently like everyone else and to contribute positively to the communities in which they operate. In total, there are over 700 million workers employed directly and indirectly in global supply chains. Treating them with respect and paying them a decent wage would go a long way to building a more inclusive society and expanding consumer markets…

“There are still 20-40 million people working in forms of modern slavery and over 150 million children working in fields, mines, workshops, and rubbish dumps that underpin much of the global economy, unseen and unprotected.

“This is an unacceptable feature of 21st century capitalism — one that boardrooms, investors and consumers can no longer ignore.”

By stark contrast, a simultaneous New York Times analysis of the Davos meeting is bitingly dubious of progress, stressing middle class anxieties and class wealth disparity:

Davos Elite Fret About Inequality Over Vintage Wine and Canapes” … whatever improvements [in “reform capitalism”] are supposed to be made, one can safely assume they will not conflict with those in attendance continuing to enjoy the state of the world as it is now … Which means that the global populism insurrection is unlikely to lose momentum anytime soon.”

The Business and Sustainable Development Commission report’s “call to action” section opens with this admonition: “The Commission believes that changing mindsets is the first critical step toward achieving a transformation of our current economic system.”

Clearly, there is much to be done on “changing mindsets”.