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Businesses need to do more to fight against poverty

by Sharan Burrow

Businesses need to do more to fight against poverty

An ambitious and universal agenda, built on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), has set us on a course to eradicate poverty and achieve important sustainable development objectives by 2030.

The agenda is vast and complex, and governments alone will not be able to meet the objectives. The roles of trade unions, civil society, local authorities and national parliaments are fairly well defined. On the other hand, the role of business and the private sector in delivering the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is significantly less straightforward.

There are differing opinions on how to engage the private sector fruitfully to ensure that it contributes to, rather than undermines, the SDGs.

Delivering decent work in all of its dimensions, safeguarding human rights and promoting responsible investment that supports inclusive growth are major pillars of the SDGs, and these are areas where the private sector still has a long way to go.

The private sector must be held to the same international transparency and accountability standards as other actors, especially if it is to be supported through development co-operation efforts.

This includes respecting and applying International Labour Organization (ILO) principles and standards, including its International Framework Agreements and the Tripartite Declaration on Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy; the United Nations’ “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework, and its “Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights”; and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.

Major improvements need to be made in the area of corporate transparency: businesses must report on their financial activities on a country-by-country basis. This includes reporting on tax and procurement procedures, as it is impossible to champion the participation of the private sector in development without addressing taxation policy and practice.

To be positive actors in the development agenda, at the bare minimum the private sector must meet its fiscal obligations.

The recent Panama Papers revelations underline the need to address the role of professional enablers – lawyers, accountants, financial institutions, and corporate and trust service providers – in facilitating the use of opaque structures and tax havens for tax avoidance and evasion, as well as corruption and money laundering.

The potential of domestic resources as a sustainable source of development finance cannot be realised without greater tax transparency. The 133-member-strong Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information monitors the implementation of the international standard on tax information exchange.

Through mechanisms such as this one, the OECD and its members are in a position, both as participants in international policy-making bodies and through their development strategies at home and abroad, to promote measures, standards and means of implementation that serve the needs of workers and the real economy.

Social dialogue and social partners (worker and employer organisations) can also play a key role in reaching the SDGs. Social dialogue helps to ensure broad-based democratic ownership of economic and social development objectives, ensure respect for core labour standards, and promote social equity.

Through social dialogue, representatives of employers and workers contribute to shaping effective social and economic development strategies while providing conflict management and contributing to peace.

 

This article is one in a series of opinion pieces written by prominent authors on issues covered in the OECD Development Co-operation Report 2016: The Sustainable Development Goals as Business Opportunities.

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