Can Business Help Meet the Millennium Dev't Goals?

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 5/20/2008 01:24:00 AM
The Hippocratic oath is said to embody the idea "First, do no harm." In recent years, corporate social responsibility (CSR) has become all the rage as large corporations of all sorts attempt to deal with the social and environmental challenges of today. Notable attempts to create global standards for CSR practice include the United Nations Global Compact for all corporations as well as the Equator Principles which apply specifically to financial firms' investing practices. As with the Hippocratic oath, they are guided more by the negative principle of doing no harm. Being large, visible entities with considerable economic clout, checks on abuses of corporate power are certainly welcome, even if these attempts are largely voluntary and lack enforcement mechanisms to punish transgressors.

Recently, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) unveiled another initiative entitled the "Business Call to Action" that may be more on the proactive end than the reactive one. Instead of emphasizing not doing harm, the UNDP, the British government, and various multinationals are envisioning corporations doing good. That is, can the efforts of firms be instrumental in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)? Although I am no big fan of how the MDGs are written--William Easterly has explained their faults--the objective of enlisting the support of MNCs in helping alleviate poverty is certainly timely. I have long listed pioneering works by CK Prahalad ("The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid") and Stuart Hart ("Capitalism at the Crossroads") on my virtual bookshelf, and the ideas here are similar. What follows are some excerpts. First, here is the main idea:

In July 2007 Prime Minister Gordon Brown, speaking alongside UN Secretary General Ban Ki–moon, called for a new global partnership to address a growing development emergency: the shortfall in progress towards delivering the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. This is a global Call to Action that cannot be achieved by governments alone, and where the private sector has a unique transformational role.

The Business Call to Action is the focal point for mobilising the efforts of big business to support growth in developing countries and contribute to the MDGs. Businesses are an engine of growth and development with the potential to have a huge impact on improving the lives of people in developing countries through increasing investment and skills, creating jobs and developing goods, technologies and innovations.

This is not about philanthropy. The Business Call to Action challenges companies to find new business opportunities for the 21st century – using company’s core business in a way that both contributes to the MDGs and contributes to their success. The Business Call to Action is not a one off event. It is part of a major campaign to speed up progress on the MDGs during 2008 – drawing on the power of businesses, governments, NGOs, faith groups, and citizens.

Next, here are what the Business Call to Action intends to pursue:
  • Generate significant new employment opportunities in developing countries;
  • Improve the quality of supply chains, helping local businesses to diversify, and/or become internationally competitive;
  • Include innovations and/or technologies which make it easier for individuals and businesses to make a living.
I will have more to say about the third point in the near future. Meanwhile, here is the declaration itself:

At the Millennium Summit in 2000 the world declared it would spare no effort to achieve the seven key Millennium Development Goals. There has been some progress. But seven years later and half way to 2015, the world is not on track to meet that commitment. We have just seven years to go – a few short years to make the difference for millions of people on our planet between grinding poverty and the opportunity to learn, be healthy and make enough to support their families. We need urgent action to meet this development emergency if the world is to get back on track.

With will we know we can make the difference. We can build on the progress that has been made on every continent when the right policies have been combined with sufficient resources.

But we need to go further. We need to mobilise all our efforts. The eighth Millennium pledge was that we would “develop a global partnership for development”. The time has come for us all to live up to that promise. We believe we now need an international effort that harnesses the power of everyone: the private sector, individuals, consumers, faith groups, cities, civil society organisations, as well as governments, north and south, to work together to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

We believe now is the time to act, not talk. We know what needs to be done and the urgency of doing it. So today, as leaders from the private sector, we declare our commitment to meet this development emergency. We commit to action and because the scale of the challenge means no one acting alone can achieve the difference we need, we call on all parties, including the private sector, governments, civil society and faith groups to play their part. It is only by acting together in a genuine partnership that we can succeed.

We urge the convening of a UN meeting in 2008 that brings together heads of government with leaders from the private sector, civil society and faith, to review progress made in the preceding 12 months and accelerate action.