Advancing the UNGC Sustainable Development Goal 16 for a better world

Corporate purpose and stakeholder capitalism have increased attention and action by businesses to meet rising challenges and expectations. These twin agendas are gaining traction with a still limited but growing number of companies, mostly large multinationals that have long been committed to corporate responsibility and sustainability. That traction appears to be accelerating amidst a convergence of global crises including climate change, economic instability, social inequality, and a global pandemic. The question now is whether the views of stakeholders will be heeded and corporate purpose will be demonstrated—whether statements will translate into actions and commitments into impact towards the business of a better world.  

The answer is the growing interest of businesses in Sustainable Development Goal 16 (SDG 16) from the UN Global Compact, which points to a considered approach of the “G” in ESG. Transformational governance is not a new legal concept, but a prism through which businesses can expand their understanding of the “G.” It’s about asking not only if something is legal, but also if it is right. Our own Senior Advisor Susan Divers joined experts in the fields of ethics, compliance, and corporate culture to talk about the role of governance and discuss the impact of the UNGC's new SDG 16 Business Framework tool. Other speakers included: 

  • Alexander Thompson, Chief Communications Officer, Thomson Reuters 
  • Christina Koulias, Senior Manager, Global Governance, UN Global Compact 
  • Michelle Breslauer, Senior Manager, Governance and Peace, UN Global Compact 
  • Adam Roy Gordon, Engagement Director, UN Global Compact Network USA 

What is Sustainable Development Goal 16, and why does it matter? 

One of the newest and most ambitious and expansive of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, SDG 16 was launched in 2018 to promote peace and justice and to foster strong, effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions. Goal 16 includes the following 12 targets to help accelerate business action on governance in these areas: 

  • Significantly reduce all forms of violence and related death rates everywhere. 
  • End abuse, exploitation, trafficking, and all forms of violence against and torture of children. 
  • Promote the rule of law at the national and international levels and ensure equal access to justice for all. 
  • By 2030, significantly reduce illicit financial and arms flows, strengthen the recovery and return of stolen assets and combat all forms of organized crime. 
  • Substantially reduce corruption and bribery in all their forms. 
  • Develop effective, accountable and transparent institutions at all levels. 
  • Ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels. 
  • Broaden and strengthen the participation of developing countries in the institutions of global governance. 
  • By 2030, provide legal identity for all, including birth registration. 
  • Ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements. 
  • Strengthen relevant national institutions, including through international cooperation, for building capacity at all levels, in particular in developing countries, to prevent violence and combat terrorism and crime. 
  • Promote and enforce non-discriminatory laws and policies for sustainable development. 

What to know about the SDG 16 Business Framework 

Launched earlier this year, the new SDG 16 Business Framework aims to accomplish SDG 16 and accelerate business action on ESG. In an earlier LRN blog post, we cover the full details of the framework. At a high level, the tool demonstrates how businesses can assess and implement SDG 16 through three interrelated dimensions: 

  • Conventional governance: Broadening the traditional notion of corporate governance to include board and management oversight, values and culture, strategies and policies, operations and relationships. 
  • Sustainable governance: Strengthening governance with respect to managing environmental and social risks and opportunities. 
  • Global governance: Inspiring businesses to contribute responsibly to public institutions, laws and systems at the international, national, and municipal levels. 

4 insights on how to advance SDG 16 in organizations 

Susan Divers and Alexander Thompson spoke at length about how organizations can take the governance component of SDG 16 and make it work in the world. Here are four insights that the two shared about how to use SDG 16 as north star to guide efforts in transformational governance. 

  • Focus on company values. Implementing strategies and policies that lead with values is part of the UNGC’s broader principles for businesses to operate in ways that, at a minimum, meet fundamental responsibilities in the areas of human rights, labor, environment, and anti-corruption. Divers noted that taking a values-based approach—and moving away from perfunctory compliance checklists—helps ensure that organizations go beyond the bare minimum and make greater strides in the governance efforts laid out by SDG 16. 
  • Create cross-functional support. Thinking and acting ethically is not a siloed responsibility. Taking a values-based approach to governance can help your ethics and compliance team engage multiple departments—legal, sustainability, HR, and more—in ensuring that all members of your organization are held accountable for doing the right thing and meaning what they say.  
  • Emphasize the importance of individual behavior. People learn effectively from personal stories. LRN's 2021 Ethics & Compliance Program Effectiveness Report has found that showcasing ethical behavior is a best practice to effectively engage employees across an organization to act on company values. Highlighting individuals across your company whose stories illustrate good governance can help employees understand how they can bring SDG 16 to life through their own actions. 
  • Ask how your organization can improve. Having an ethical culture where people feel comfortable listening and speaking up about how to improve company ESG efforts and reporting is crucial. To help create this kind of environment, it’s important to frequently ask to what extent your organization has operationalized on various SDG 16 targets. Did you really achieve what you said you would, or is there more work to be done? The more employees see this kind of transparency, the more likely they’ll share their own observations. 

The key takeaway 

SDG 16 and its framework provide companies with guidance on strengthening business culture, ethics and performance, and supporting public institutions, laws, and systems. But in order to bring this goal to life, organizations need to integrate their values into strategies, policies, and procedures. To learn more about influencing  how to make Goal 16 a reality, check out these additional resources: