Can a Business Leave No One Behind?

‘Leave no one behind’ (LNOB) is one of the fundamental principles of Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals. But what does this mean for business? Can companies contribute to this ambition? Benafsha Delgado, Senior Programme Manager for Business & Human Rights at UN Global Compact Network UK explains:

When global leaders committed to Agenda 2030 and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), they also committed to a set of universal principles which put people’s dignity at the heart of their efforts. LNOB is both a universal principle and a central goal of Agenda 2030. It calls for efforts not only to eradicate poverty but to go beyond this and address the entrenched inequalities and persistent forms of discrimination which disadvantage specific groups. In many ways, LNOB asks us to prioritise those who have been left furthest behind, which will in turn improve the lives of all.

Measuring Up 2.0: How the UK is performing on the SDGs shows that poverty and deeply entrenched inequalities, which are often intersectional and reinforcing, are compounded by some of our environmental and climate challenges. These inequalities continue to be exacerbated by the energy and cost-of-living crises. LNOB is as relevant in the UK as it is anywhere. However, it is rarely mentioned in the context of business engagement with the SDGs. So how can it be integrated and operationalised?

An approach rather than an objective
Using LNOB as an approach rather than an objective would enable it to become a factor in decision-making. This approach would challenge companies to question whether their actions are inclusive or whether they detrimentally impact or exclude certain groups. In practice, this could mean staying with a supplier and working together to improve their practices, rather than ending the relationship and risking job loss for low-paid workers. Another example could be ensuring your product design and marketing activities don’t perpetuate discrimination – like developing products that match a variety of skin tones, such as plasters and underwear.

Internal responsibilities
Insights show
that businesses often find it easier to focus their engagement with the SDGs on internal operational change. Internal responsibilities are the ideal place to start to consider where your company could go further. One example of this is adapting policies and practices to fit the needs of a diverse range of people. Aviva offers equal parental leave, including six months at basic pay, and their data shows that the number of men and women taking this policy is almost equal.

Companies should also assess where their established processes may leave a group behind by excluding them, to the detriment of both these people and the business. For example, PwC have removed the 2:1 degree classification requirement for all their undergraduate and graduate roles, internships, and placements. Once within an organisation, people are at risk of being left behind due to discrimination or non-inclusive work cultures. To combat this, companies can introduce initiatives which provide specific support, such as HSBC’s diversity mentoring scheme and NatWest’s Digital and Innovation Apprenticeship programme.

At the same time, is there more you could be doing to support employees or stakeholders with the challenges they face that might be outside of your direct control? For example, M&S are currently providing staff with meals and vouchers to support them with the cost of living crisis.

Becoming an activist brand? Not necessarily…

Measuring Up 2.0 shows the systemic nature of poverty and inequality and presents how the SDGs can help us think more systemically about solutions. To leave no one behind in our society will require businesses to consider what they can do to influence the wider environment they operate in.

While not every business will feel called to activism, simply vocalising public support for a campaign or call for change can create ripple effects. Those that feel able to be active could go a step further and be aligned to action within the business, examples of this include No 7’s call for the beauty industry to become more inclusive or Tesco joining Marcus Rashford’s Food Poverty Taskforce to ensure free school meals are provided to every child who needs them.

Achieving the Global Goals will require businesses to embed their values in the way they work and who they choose to work with. LNOB must be one of these values in order for businesses to truly contribute to meaningful progress.

Benafsha Delgado is Senior Programme Manager for Business & Human Rights at UN Global Compact Network UK part of the world’s largest responsible business initiative connecting companies and other organisations in a global movement dedicated to driving more sustainable growth.

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