The civil rights and environmental movements of the 60s and 70s already drew attention to two developments: Society is increasingly expecting more of companies - soley focusing on maximising profit is less and less accepted. On the other hand, a globalised economy also needs to have a shared framework which promotes social responsibility and environmental sustainability.
Society and the economy are intertwined
Economic and political interests are in no way contradictory: Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary-General, said:
Business cannot survive or thrive if societies fail. He also noted:
The United Nations and business need each other. The discussions of the past few years then led to the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals, the SDGs for short.
The SDGs are at the heart of the UN's sustainability strategy and include environmental but also social and governance goals. These goals are collectively known as ESG, which is often also used as a synonym for CSR. ESG aims, for example, at eliminating hunger and poverty, at health care, decent working conditions, climate action, gender equality and sustainable consumption. On its platform UN-Business Action Hub, the UN shows how the 17 global sustainable development goals also have a concrete impact on businesses and that the private sector can make a decisive contribution towards reaching the goals.
Global cooperation in a global economy
As early as 1999, under the then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the UN launched the Global Compact in an effort to promote the active contribution of the private sector to global developments. At the time Kofi Annan remarked:
Unless globalisation works for all, it will work for nobody. To make sure that globalisation works for all, companies and the UN concluded the Compact taking the form of commitment to the ten Global Compact principles. The initiative provided tremendous impetus to the UN's goal of making the economy more social and greener. To date, more than 9,500 companies from 161 countries have joined the Compact.
Other current UN priorities include sustainability along supply chains (UNCTAD), responsible investment (UNEP/UNPRI) and corporate responsibility in developing countries (UNIDO). The 2011 Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights are proof that the promotion of human rights plays a paramount role in the UN's CSR strategy.
Amplification through complementarity: the OECD and the UN are joining forces
The topics put on the agenda by the United Nations or the Global Compact are taken up by organisations such as the Organization for Economic Co-ooperation and Development (OECD), which was founded in 1960. It translated them into concrete support and guidance, especially for multinational enterprises. For example, the OECD was the first organisation to integrate the UN human rights guiding principles in its well-known OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, and which drew attention to the implementation of the SDGs and checked whether its own frameworks are aligned with them.
In keeping with its basic strategy of boosting sustainable economic growth by fostering binding policy guidelines, the OECD's CSR agenda covers a broad range of issues. Its priorities include green growth and sustainable development, corporate governance, the fight against corruption or safety and working conditions.
All in all, we are seeing that the findings and experiences of the past decade regarding the globalisation of our economies and global challenges such as climate change, poverty and health have led to increasingly global and cohesive answers and to cooperation.