Highjacking the SDGs? The Private Sector and the Sustainable Development Goals

Monday, July 9, 2018
United Nation Theme: 

At the United Nations (UN) summit in September 2015, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was adopted by all UN member states. The agenda gives a comprehensive framework for a global socio-ecological transformation. The novelty of the SDGs vis-à-vis the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is its paradigm shift: all countries, not just the countries of the Global South, have to implement the SDGs, working closely together to achieve the common goal of a sustainable future. By 2030, the SDGs are to be implemented by all states and at all levels.


Along with governments, various actors have been involved in the development of the SDGs, and are now part of implementation strategies. This is the case for civil society organizations (CSOs) and academia as well as the business sector. As a matter of fact, the 2030 Agenda  gives the private sector a significant role. In many countries, the engagement of the private sector in the SDG implementation is part of official policies. Governments and UN are striving for increased commitment of the private sector to finance the SDG implementation. Along with this, many governments expect the SDG engagement of companies to lead to greater social and environmental awareness in business strategies.


The call for business engagement in the 2030 has been answered by various corporations and corporate lobby groups. Already during the SDG negotiations, the private sector was intensively engaged through many different channels. Now, with the adoption of the goals, several corporations have pledged their support for the SDGs or evaluated the relevance of the SDGs for their own business activities.


The idea of business involvement with the SDG is trending but so far there is little systematic analysis: In which way are businesses engaging with the SDGs? What is the actual impact on sustainability of businesses’ SDG activities? And which strategies are needed in order to better align business activities with the transformative agenda of the SDGs? This analysis aims at answering some of those questions and thus contributing to the critical discourse on business engagement with the SDGs. In its case studies it looks at two different business sectors. The first case examines the financial sector. The second case examines tobacco companies and their involvement with the SDGs.

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Highjacking the SDGs? The Private Sector and the Sustainable Development Goals