The Summit of the Future must ensure our global agendas are consequential to business

The Summit of the Future offers a unique, and perhaps last opportunity to boost the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Now is the time for the UN and its member states to acknowledge the need for corporate accountability in creating a sustainable and just world. The UN plays a leading role by creating clarity and setting out the responsibility of business at an intergovernmental level. 

The High-Level Advisory Board on Effective Multilateralism’s (HLAB) recommended to include and obligate the private sector in multilateralism. Describing the private sector as a glaring hole in the global governance system, it stated that multilateral treaties largely ignore these actors even though they have arguably the greatest impact, responsibility and potential to drive solutions.

The most meaningful way to include and obligate the private sector is by strengthening corporate accountability, and the greatest contribution the UN can make is by clearly articulating the distinct responsibility of large businesses in relation to the responsibility of Member States in achieving our global agendas. By articulating the responsibility of business, the UN creates the clarity that companies need, and enables people, civil society, market participants, including finance, and Member States to effectively hold companies accountable for living up to these responsibilities.  

In the Zero Draft of the Pact for the Future, whilst there is a big focus on private sector financing, the articulation of business responsibility is lacking. The responsibility of business is only explicitly drawn on through the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business & Human Rights (UNGPs). The UNGPs are an example of where the UN and Member States, in consultation with other stakeholders, have successfully articulated the responsibility of business with respect to human rights, and thus driven significant corporate accountability efforts, including the translation into hard law and mandatory measures. The UNGPs are a universally recognised framework and therefore pillar of stability, in a wider ecosystem that often lacks consensus on business expectations across global challenges. 

The UN Global Digital Compact is a key deliverable for the Summit, which for the first time, lays out the objectives, commitments and actions needed to ensure a sustainable digital future for all. The Zero Draft puts forward a foundation for corporate accountability, by calling for companies to promote, protect and respect human rights online, to incorporate human rights law in emerging technologies, and mitigate risks from AI technologies. Additionally, there are systematic ways to include the private sector in processes, such as in consultations to build understanding and standards around AI governance, and co-developing industry accountability frameworks. We hope the UN Global Digital Compact can set a strong example of how new global agendas can include and obligate the private sector. 

WBA urges the UN and Member States to build on the success of the UNGPs and continue efforts to include and obligate the private sector in achieving global goals. There is much opportunity for Member States to play a role in setting consensus and clarifying the responsibility of business and ensuring its space in ongoing UN processes.  Whether it’s through an extension of human rights and the UN BHR Treaty, or with AI governance, the Global Plastics Treaty, the Global Biodiversity Framework, or so forth, corporate accountability should become a norm at an intergovernmental level. In doing so it supports the goals of the Summit in ensuring a multilateral system that is inclusive, networked, accountable – and prepared for a post 2030-world. 

WBA stands ready to support this call, through providing insights on company performance in relation to global agendas, and by using the power of our multistakeholder Alliance to fulfil each of our roles in strengthening corporate accountability. 

If you’d like to learn more read our position paper here: 

Read our position paper

Or contact Charlotte Reeves, Global Engagement Lead: 

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