Global Business Community Meets for Annual SDG Business Forum

The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), the UN Global Compact and the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs convened more than 12,000 sustainability leaders recently for the 5th annual SDG Business Forum. More than 40 chief executive officers at the forum highlighted the imperative to address three critical fragilities exposed by the coronavirus pandemic – climate change and nature loss; economic exclusion; and social inequality.

Held under the theme of “Redefining Business Leadership in a COVID-19 World,” the Forum’s program focused on actions needed to tackle the pandemic and align a future economic recovery with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

In opening the flagship event, UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, emphasized the imperative for global solidarity in the face of the coronavirus crisis – with the UN’s Deputy-Secretary General, Amina Mohammed, later making an impassioned call to action for the business community to leave no one behind in the face of the pandemic.

The forum highlighted a growing recognition of the need for multi-stakeholder partnerships both in the response to and recovery from the COVID-19 crisis. Several government ministers – including from the United Arab Emirates, France, Egypt and Estonia – expressed their support for scaling existing private sector partnerships and collaboration. While the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, H.E. Gaston Browne, appealed for the global private sector to increase its engagement in Small Island Developing States to assist their recovery from an unprecedented economic shock. 

Reflecting this sentiment, attendees called for the development of public-private partnerships policies – far outranking financial incentives and awareness raising – as the primary way for governments to accelerate corporate SDG alignment. In this context, the forum saw the launch of a major new initiative bringing together public and private sector partners to help local communities recover better from the pandemic. 

The COVID-19 Private Sector Global Facility – developed by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), UN Global Compact and ICC – will work to mobilize a minimum of US$5 billion in support for local business communities to enable a resilient rebuild from the pandemic. The Facility will leverage public financing and significant in-kind contributions from multinational businesses to deliver projects – from skills training to infrastructure development – that directly meet the needs of SMEs and the communities in which they operate. 

“If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it is that our collective health and prosperity depend upon working together to protect people and the planet,” said Sanda Ojiambo, CEO and Executive Director of the UN Global Compact. “And leaving no one behind.”

DHL, Microsoft and PwC have been confirmed as initial strategic partners of the facility – with UNDP Administrator using his speech at the Forum to call on other international institutions and companies to join this effort with the objective to “recover better together.” 

The social and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are sobering, added. Liu Zhenmin, the UN’s undersecretary general of economic and social affairs. “Not only has the pandemic demonstrated how the environmental, social and economic dimensions of sustainable development are intrinsically linked, but it has also revealed the dire consequences that profound inequalities and injustices have on our societies,” he said. “It is at times like these that we need extraordinary leadership, from governments, from civil society, and from the purpose-driven business leaders who are not afraid to step up to drive the much-needed transitions.”  

The forum also highlighted the recently launched SME Climate Hub, an ICC-led initiative which aims to provide micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises with the practical tools and incentives needed to allow them to reap the benefits of taking action aligned with the Paris Agreement and the latest climate science. The Hub is already supported by several supply chain leaders and SME CEOs – including Jesper Brodin, CEO of IKEA, and Maria Fernanda Garza, vice chair of ICC – both of whom spoke on panel sessions throughout the day.

On ambitions for public sector support of the initiative. “It is imperative that governments create regulatory environments which reward and enable long-term investments in resilience and sustainability,” said John Denton, ICC secretary General. In particular, by ensuring the financial system rewards and preferences companies taking action to enhance their environmental and social performance. ”

In a closing keynote address, Ajay Banga – CEO of Mastercard and Chair of ICC – acknowledged the transformational commitments made by businesses to align their operations with the SDGs, but called for action from all stakeholders to enable them, noting, “Delivering on these commitments is up to all of us… not just to hold businesses to account, but to do our part to build lasting pathways for achieving those aims. The UN’s Decade of Action will be shaped by the quality of the partnerships we develop and by the systems we create to enable a recovery that places resilience at its core.”

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