The road to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals

In what has been an intense and challenging month for many amid the fallout of the Voice to Parliament referendum and the tragic situation unfolding in the Middle East, the ARA sat down with Kate Dundas, Chief Executive Officer of the UN Global Compact Network Australia (UNGCA), to discuss the important leadership role businesses can play in creating a thriving community.

Q1: Can you speak to your perspective on the role of businesses, big and small is in a time like this?

From the 2023 Edelman Trust Barometer A lack of faith in societal institutions triggered by economic anxiety, disinformation, mass-class divide and a failure of leadership has brought us to where we are today – deeply polarized. Globally, business is the only institution seen as competent and ethical.

 All businesses have a role to play in creating a thriving society and a thriving environment. The collective leadership of the business community will have a profound impact, and we need a willing partner in government to provide regulations to require all businesses to step up.

In September 2015, all 193 Member States of the United Nations adopted a plan for achieving a better future for all — laying out a path over the next 15 years to end extreme poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and protect our planet. At the heart of “Agenda 2030” are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which clearly define the world we want — applying to all nations and leaving no one behind.

 No matter how large or small, and regardless of their industry, all companies can contribute to the SDGs. While the scale and scope of the global goals is unprecedented, the fundamental ways that business can contribute remain unchanged.

 As a special initiative of the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General, the UN Global Compact is a call to companies everywhere to align their operations and strategies with ten universally accepted principles in the areas of human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption, and to take action in support of UN goals, including the SDGs.


Q2: A UN Report from July this year states that the world is “woefully off track” to achieve the SDGs by 2030. How can businesses accelerate action to achieving the SDG’s?

One really practical way is to sign up to our Forward Faster initiative which guides companies on where they can make the biggest, fastest impact before 2030. There are five areas of action with specific targets across gender equality, climate action, living wage, water resilience and finance and investment.

History has taught us that the leaders that succeed are the ones who meet the needs of the future by moving forward. To achieve the SDGs by 2030 we need forward thinkers, doers, builders, changers, movers, leaders. Because right now only 15% of the SDGs are on track for 2030. So we have to be more ambitious.


Q3: COP27 last year sought to pivot from words to implementation. As we near COP28, to what extent do you think this goal is being achieved?

In regards to implementation, the Paris Agreement requires a Global Stocktake, or an assessment of progress towards every 5 years and will conclude at COP 28. This is more than just a check-in to see how we’re doing, but it’s a way to accelerate key areas where we need action.

 There are still too many words and not enough action which is why Forward Faster is so exciting, as it focusses on tangible outcomes that have been designed specifically for business. One thing I have been thinking about is the need for more comprehensive ‘rules of the game’. There has never been a globally accepted legal standard to hold companies accountable for the full range of responsible business practices. Inevitably laws have been updated to respond to the global acceleration of capitalism – but this has happened in an ad hoc and reactive fashion, jurisdiction by jurisdiction.

 So while there are no binding rules of the game – the SDGs have a role to play as a ‘shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future’– providing clear guidance for businesses who are ready to respond to the UN’s call to leave no-one behind

For retailers, the Forward Faster goal of Climate Action, SDG13 can offer practical advice on how to set ambitious emissions targets, dive into supply chains, and look to circular solutions for Scope 3 emissions.


Q4: With the recent announcement of Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures, in addition to the Taskforce on Climate Related Financial Disclosures, how can businesses de-mystify reporting?

Clear, transparent, comprehensive and comparable disclosure of corporate sustainability information is a critical success factor for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by improving the quality and availability of information about sustainability issues in the market.

Frameworks like SBTN can work with disclosure frameworks like TNFD to produce science-based targets for corporations and municipalities to set.

One way to demystify reporting will be to join us in November 2023 for our Sustainability Reporting Month webinar series to:

  • Find out about the growing suite of ESG-related reporting standards
  • Hear about leading sustainability reporting practices, frameworks, and tools to help support you in improving the quality, relevance, and impact of your sustainability reporting
  • Prepare for regulatory changes and responses to sustainability reporting and disclosure frameworks

But we must remember that reporting is not the end game, we have to think about designing responsible business practices into business strategy and operations, not as an add on, or a way to manage risk, but as a reason for being.


Q5: At the UN Global Compact Dialogue on Business and Human Rights, the necessity for mandatory human rights due diligence was a hot topic. What is it, and how would it function alongside the pre-existing Modern Slavery Act?

Since 2018, companies in Australia have been subject to Modern Slavery Act, which requires them to file an annual Modern Slavery Statement outlining the modern slavery risks associated with their business and steps taken to combat those risks. Mandatory human rights due diligence (mHRDD) differs in that it doesn’t just require companies to report on those risks and steps, but to actually undertake a prescribed level of due diligence. There are many different ‘types’ of mHRDD emerging overseas but for Australian companies, it would likely require them to assess and address a broader set of adverse human rights impacts, over and above those included under the modern slavery umbrella.


Q6: If business can only afford to focus on one thing in this environment, what should they focus on?

There is no easy answer to that question as all businesses have different impacts. Start with the action that meets you where you are today and move forward from there. Check out Forward Faster and sign up to the target that makes most sense to your business.

At the UNGCNA we ask companies to first do business responsibly and then pursue opportunities to solve societal challenges through business innovation and collaboration. So, businesses could look at how they can collaborate both with one another and across their supply chains for positive environmental and social outcomes.





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