2016 has unsettled business leaders everywhere. Whatever one's political views, uncertainty and the return to a much more nationalist politics in many countries have displaced the assumption of steady global integration. Many commentators have declared that globalisation has already peaked, despite its role in the past 30- year run of unprecedented successes worldwide in health, wealth, education and life expectancy.
Certainly the contradictions of that success caught up with us in 2016. In the West, stagnant incomes among broad groups made them angry at elites who were bailed out after the global financial crisis. Frustrated voters have rejected more international integration. Elsewhere, too, those losing out either economically or environmentally, such as the citizens of smog-choked Asian cities, or socially, through the breakdown of traditional rural communities, are asking whether the costs of our global economy are greater than its benefits.
These hard questions matter to business leaders everywhere. As members of the Business and Sustainable Development Commission, we argue that it is incumbent on all of us to make the case for business to be at the heart of an open global economic system. But we cannot defend a lazy return to the old model that has been so widely rejected over the past year.
"Business leaders need to strike out in new directions to embrace more sustainable and inclusive economic models."
We must have the courage to strike out in new directions and embrace an economic model which is not only low-carbon and environmentally sustainable, but also turns poverty, inequality and lack of financial access into new market opportunities for smart, progressive, profit-oriented companies. These complex challenges need the full and combined attention of government, civil society and business. Otherwise, there is no chance of solving them.
Solutions are urgently needed. We see the next 15 years as critical, with change starting now and accelerating over the period. Business as usual is not an option: choosing to “kick the can down the road” over the next four years will put impossible environmental and social strains on a stuttering global economy. But if enough leaders act now and collectively, we can forge a different path, one that eases the burden on finite resources and includes those currently left behind or excluded from the market, helping to address today's political grievances.
In the pages of this report, some 35 business leaders and civil society representatives offer our prescription for a new, socially focused business model that reaches parts of the global economy previously left largely to public aid. It considers adopting the same approaches in developed markets to address similar pockets of need. Taking the UN's new Global Goals for Sustainable Development as the basis for our action plan, we lay out how pursuing these goals in partnership with government and civil society will lead to greater, more widely shared prosperity for all by 2030. We make the case that businesses adopting this plan will transform their own prospects and could outperform those stuck in yesterday’s economic game: this is about return on capital, not just responsibility.
"Big business and finance need to regain public trust."
But responsibility matters too. One casualty of the general meltdown in support for elites is trust in business. Big business and major financial institutions are increasingly perceived as detached and rootless, more willing to justify themselves to each other at meetings like the World Economic Forum than to national legislatures, let alone at town halls in the communities where they operate. So at the core of our argument is also the need for business to regain the licence to operate. We anticipate much greater pressure on business to prove itself a responsible social actor, creating good, properly paid jobs in its supply chains as well as in its factories and offices. Business will need to demonstrate that it pays taxes where revenue is earned; abides by environmental and labour standards; respects the national politics and customs where it operates; integrates social and environmental factors in its investment decisions; and, above all, engages as a partner with others to build an economy that is more just.
Building those partnerships is not simply a response to the political tides flowing so strongly against what is seen as unaccountable globalisation today. It’s also an acknowledgment that the tensions between business and society will remain as each grapples with the changes ahead brought on by disruptive advances in technologies like artificial intelligence and automation. Technology has the potential to drive a better, more sustainable economy for all, but only if there is a continuous dialogue between the innovators and society. Business is a bridge for that conversation. It can apply the capital and skills needed to scale new ideas, taking them from the garage or lab to where they have local and global impact.
The Commission represents a considerable combined corporate value and a wide range of geographies and sectors. But we are still, in the global scheme of things, a tiny handful of people armed only with a big idea. So this is our challenge: we appeal to business leaders everywhere to read our report and join us in building a powerful movement for a new kind of business. Together we can reach that tipping point where business, government and civil society embrace the new model for the future and we create sustainable prosperity for all. This will not happen just through natural forces. It will take acts of real leadership.
We plan to make our invitation personally to colleagues and friends, and we want everybody who reads this report to consider themselves invited to join us. Please contact Mark directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mark Malloch-Brown and Paul Polman Co-founders, Business and Sustainable Development Commission
Read Executive Summary in other languages
Indonesian: Bisnis Lebih Baik Dunia Lebih Baik
Turkish: Daha Iyi Iş Daha Iyi Dünya
French: De Meilleures Entreprises, Un Monde Meilleur
Brazilian-Portuguese: Empresas Melhores Muno Melhor
Spanish-Latin American: Mejores Negocios Un Mundo Mejor
Japanese: より良きビジネスより 良 き 世 界
Korean: 더 나은 비즈니스더 나은 세상
Russian: ПРОЦВЕТАЮЩИЙ БИЗНЕС — ПРОЦВЕТАЮЩИЙ МИР
Arabic: أعمال أفضل، عالم أفضل