How companies can continue to look towards contributing to the SDGs post COVID -19
Whilst we have had many calamities since the beginning of this century, none has led the world in a greater upheaval than COVID-19. Although this time will pass, the trajectory has created clear spasms in economies around the world. It has also created a realization of how the global economy is connected and nature does not recognize man made borders. The idea that such a super virus could impact both the developing and developed countries mirrors what can happen as we continue to disturb our ecosystems. In this pretext this points to a growing need to be responsible towards our environment and communities so that we can move forward together.
Established in 2015 by United Nations, the Sustainable Development(SDGs) Goals present a roadmap to the world – towards moving towards a sustainable future. The 17 SDGs and 169 targets effectively point a direction on moving forward. Each of the goals present aspects of what is needed for a better lifestyle for all. The goals cover reducing poverty to decent work practices to meeting essential needs such as access to quality healthcare, clean water and education for all – and most important of all, a disaster management strategy.
COVID-19 has literally bought life to a standstill. This will have a crippling impact on the economy worldwide. As demand for goods drops and transportation becomes difficult in this period, the impact will be felt businesses all the way down in the supply chains. The pandemic has also identified a number of gaps in the systems in both developing and developed countries which can be met by working towards the SDGs. Whilst there has been conflicting news about meeting the SDG targets – the pandemic is a lesson for us all that business cannot go on as usual and the SDG targets need to be met if we are to meet the needs of 9 billion people – where more than 50% of population will be living in cities.
The present situation has identified a greater need to look beyond the financial bottom line. Additionally, as businesses try to move towards normalcy, the concept of social distancing will become an important element in workspaces– especially factory floors. As companies revisit many aspects of their systems, they can look to guidance to the SDGs and their targets. Whilst ‘SDG 3 – Ensure Healthy Lives and Employee Wellbeing’ is the most pertinent in this case, where target 3.8 which speaks of ‘universal health coverage’ and ‘financial risk protection’ for all and target 3.9 looks at indoor and outdoor air quality – targets in other SDGs can also be looked at for guidance. COVID-19 is a virus which spread through contact and can be considered to be work related injury or fatality. Actions companies can take include giving health coverage to the families of the workers and offer adequate financial risk protection.
Target 6.3 puts the onus on all to improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse globally. Whilst COVID-19 is transferred through person to person contact, Pakistan has been struggling with Polio which is transmissible through water.
Target 6.4 puts the onus ‘to substantially increase water-use efficiency across all sectors and ensure sustainable withdrawals and supply of freshwater to address water scarcity’ – the availability of clean water is essential to stop the spread of disease. A key business action would be to ensure that all employees and their families have ample access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation.
Target 8.6 highlight the need to substantially reduce the proportion of ‘youth not in employment, education or training’. Unemployment numbers are supposed to go up in the next coming months. A key action business can take is offer apprenticeship or internship opportunities or initiate skills development programmes using the youth moving down the supply chains.
Target 8.8 essentially works towards ensuring ‘labour rights’ and ‘promoting safe and secure working environments for all workers’, including migrant workers, in particular women migrants, and those in precarious employment’. COVID -19 has highlighted the need for social security for employees and has also raised questions about new working models which do not provide health insurance for their employees, and how a company ensures a proper code of conduct for health and safety for third party activity – which include outsourced transport and janitorial services.
Target 9.4 looks at ‘upgrading infrastructure and retrofit industries to make them sustainable, with increased resource-use efficiency and greater adoption of clean and environmentally sound technologies and industrial processes’. When we read about how COVID -19 has spread through warehouses such as Amazon, this points to the question on how factory floors will need to be modified to provide safe working conditions for all employees. Businesses can also promote innovation by giving all stakeholders (including employees working on the positions) the opportunity to offer creative solutions to these challenges.
The consequences of this pandemic are expected to result in long lasting socioeconomic and demographic changes. The ripples will be felt in many levels in supply chains around the world as consumption patterns are disturbed. Environmentalists the world over have reported improved air quality and other environmental indicators in the shutdowns which have been enforced due to the need for social distancing. This presents an opportunity for business to relook at how to improve resource efficiency of products and services which encourage responsible consumption. An important target in this regard is Target 12.4, which is ‘to achieve the environmentally sound management of chemicals and all wastes through their lifecycles in accordance with agreed frameworks’.
The SDGs have been developed as a roadmap to 2030. They have been agreed upon by stakeholders around the world as necessary steps the world should take. The COVID – 19 pandemic has opened our eyes to how the world can be impacted. As the UN Secretary General António Guterres states in a recent report on the socio economic impacts of COVID – 19 “the recovery from the COVID-19 crisis must lead to a different economy. Everything we do during and after this crisis must be with a strong focus on building more equal, inclusive and sustainable economies and societies that are more resilient in the face of pandemics, climate change, and the many other global challenges we face.”
SDG Compass (2015) SDG Compass: The guide for business action on the SDGs. Available at: https://sdgcompass.org/sdgs
UN Coronavirus Communications Team (2020) SHARED RESPONSIBILITY, GLOBAL SOLIDARITY: Responding to the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19 Available at: https://www.un.org/sites/un2.un.org/files/sg_report_socio-economic_impact_of_covid19.pdf