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UNECE joins CEO mobilization for “purpose-first” economy to build back better for the SDGs

The Sustainable Development Goals cannot be achieved by governments alone. As uneven progress made worldwide is being threatened by the COVID-19 crisis, massive and multistakeholder action is urgently needed, with a critical role for the private sector.

Joining business and political leaders, academics and senior figures from multilateral organizations this week for the 3rd Annual Leaders on Purpose CEO Summit, UNECE Executive Secretary Olga Algayerova stressed the need for “a mobilized and committed private sector that goes beyond the bottom line of business, and that considers purpose before profit.”

This engagement will be crucial to address key challenges, both for the region and globally. For climate, the UNECE region has had some success decarbonizing: it generates some 40 per cent of GDP but only one third of global CO2 emissions. But much greater efforts are needed, urged the Executive Secretary.  “Countries must reduce their dependence on fossil fuels and provide incentives for the private sector, which must reduce energy and resource use and invest more in low carbon technologies and renewables.”

Stepping up action to address inequalities is another critical challenge. Globally, the pandemic is expected to push between 71 and 100 million people into extreme poverty. 400 million jobs worldwide were lost year over year in the second quarter of 2020. Gender gaps are a key concern, as the pandemic has disproportionately affected women, both at work - where a quarter of women are in precarious jobs - and at home. Violence against women and girls has surged dramatically.

“Decades of progress on the empowerment of women are at risk, unless we act now. I encourage all stakeholders, including the private sector, to join UNECE’s efforts to promote the use of gender-responsive standards”, she stressed.

To capitalize on the growing private-sector mobilization for the “purpose-first” economy, the Executive Secretary called for strengthened engagement by businesses on concrete UNECE initiatives in areas including:

  • Textile supply chains: UNECE supports garment and footwear companies in sharing product information on sustainability criteria in a standardized format. This provides the industry with the right tools to ensure that claims about sustainability are based on reliable data from all actors along the value chain.
  • The impact investment industry (a market valued at USD 715 billion in 2019, according to the Global Impact Investing Network), closely linked to infrastructure. UNECE’s Guidelines on People-first PPPs help to integrate concrete SDG metrics: on access and equity, fiscal and environmental sustainability, resilience, replicability and stakeholder engagement. This increases impact and scalability.

As the United Nations marks its 75th anniversary since its creation after the devastation of the Second World War, Ms. Algayerova emphasized that its role as a multilateral anchor remained “as relevant as ever” in addressing our key challenges. “Multilateralism goes much beyond nations acting together. It embraces cooperation with the private sector as well.”

As a sign of the building private-sector momentum to engage for sustainability, a global coalition of 14 CEOS representing a combined annual revenue of over $100 billion USD and a combined global workforce of over 500,000 people have proposed a roadmap through the Leaders on Purpose initiative to “build the economic system better,” supporting an inclusive and sustainable post-COVID-19 economy that benefits society, the planet, and shareholders for generations to come.