Tackling inequality with a business approach: Colombian Global Network partner CECODES’ interview with Alyson Greenhalgh-Ball – WBCSD

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Bogotá, 28 June 2024: This interview with Alyson Greenhalgh-Ball, Interim Program Director Equity at WBCSD, is an English translation of an article that was originally published in Spanish on 28 May 2024 in the magazine “SOSTENIBLEMENTE by our Global Network partner the Colombian Business Council for Sustainable Development (CECODES) under the title “Una visión global sobre el abordaje de la disegualidad con enfoque empresarial”. Read the original text here.

1. Based on your knowledge and experience, what do you consider the role of business to be when we talk about tackling inequality? 

Our world today is characterized by mounting inequality with nearly 700 million people today living in extreme poverty and the fight against poverty has stalled, disproportionately impacting women and people of color. Indeed, in the recent Inequality report 2024 from Oxfam states that [only] 0.4% of over 1,600 of the world’s largest and most influential companies are publicly committed to paying their workers a living wage and support the payment of a living wage in their value chains. It would take 1,200 years for a female worker in the health and social sector to earn what a CEO in the biggest Fortune 100 companies earns on average in one year.

It’s impossible to ignore. Inequality represents both an urgent business​ and systemic risk. The high level and structural nature of inequality in our societies today illustrates the clear systemic risk; one that is weakening and threatening entire economies and social ecosystems in a number ​of ways whether this be fueling civil and political unrest, constraining economic growth, or undermining our capacity to tackle critical challenges such as climate change or nature loss.  

Business plays a crucial role in addressing inequality by fostering inclusive growth, ensuring fair wages, promoting diversity and inclusion, and supporting community adaptation as part of the just transition to a net zero. By integrating equitable practices into their operations, advocating for fair policies, and collaborating with stakeholders, businesses can mitigate these risks and unlock market opportunities, creating sustainable markets where everyone can thrive.   

2. How do you believe WBCSD can work with its Global Network to promote tackling inequality with a business focus? 

Our partners around the globe are critical in both the understanding and solutions for tackling inequality, given this agenda is so context and geographically specific. WBCSD can leverage its Global Network to facilitate knowledge exchange, promote best practices, offering peer-to-peer support and encourage collaboration among businesses both locally, regionally and as a global collective. In doing so, and by measuring and reporting progress, this enhances accountability and drives collective action, helping businesses transform their value chains, fostering a culture of inclusivity and equity across industries and to build equitable, future-proof markets through a united effort.  

3. What is The Business Commission to Tackle Inequality?  

The Business Commission to Tackle Inequality (BCTI) is an initiative that brings together over 80 organizations, including 55 corporations and multiple UN agencies, to address inequality with the mission of building equitable, future-proof markets and societies where all can thrive. Recognizing that private sector leadership is pivotal, this cross-network, cross-sector effort encourages all sectors to make commitments and take action not only on climate and nature, but to connect that concretely to a ‘people positive’ agenda in the board room and beyond; putting people at the heart of the just transition and making social accountability a market reality.  

Building on its Tackling Inequality Action Agenda published in May 2023, the Commission will focus over the next two years on urgent and transformative efforts; catalyzing business action across priority agendas such as human rights, just transition, diversity and inclusion, as well as living wages and incomes.     

Leading up to COP30 in Brazil and using the United Nations General Assembly week in 2024 and 2025 as essential stock-taking moments, BCTI is designed to serve as an accelerator of the 2030 Agenda. Over this period, members of the Business Commission will bundle efforts to transform their own organizations and value chains, and to address market-level roadblocks. Success will be measured as tangible outcomes against the BCTI’s Action Agenda.  

4. What are the main results to date? 

BCTI aims to raise ambition, take action, and deepen corporate accountability to foster inclusive growth and the Commission so far has carefully curated and mobilized a global, cross-network, cross-sector community around a shared equity agenda. It published the flagship report Tackling Inequality Action Agenda, which outlines ten key areas for shared business action, and prioritizes agendas such as Social Performance & Accountability, DE&I, and Living Wages & Incomes.

BCTI also provides an ongoing convening space and acts as a clearing house for high-impact, scalable business-led initiatives, enhancing collaborative efforts to drive systemic change. To bring this to life somewhat, recent examples include masterclasses in DE&I and Fair Recruitment for members, including their broader supply chain and in March 2024, we launched the report on building a multigenerational workforce, “Career Paths and Engagement of Mature Workers”.  

5. What is your assessment regarding the approach to inequality from the business sector? Are we doing well, what should we improve? 

The business sector is making progress, with some clear front runners but more systematic and widespread adoption is needed. Enhancing transparency, accountability, and integrating equity into core business strategies is crucial. Collaboration with stakeholders to address systemic challenges and elevating inequality as a boardroom agenda is essential. Businesses need to prioritize actions that mitigate operational, reputational, regulatory, and financial risks associated with inequality and foster markets where social performance and accountability are inherent. 

6. What business case could you highlight from a company that is strategically tackling inequality? 

Unilever is a prime example of a company strategically tackling inequality and where the social and people agenda is a core component of the corporate and commercial strategy and operations. The team at Unilever have implemented initiatives to promote gender equality, partner with diverse suppliers, and improve access to education and training. Unilever also encourages their suppliers to support their objectives on equity, DE&I, living wages and climate. By setting ambitious targets and regularly reporting progress, Unilever demonstrates how addressing inequality can drive both social impact and business success, aligning with BCTI’s vision for equitable markets. Unilever’s efforts show how businesses can lead by example in transforming their value chains and fostering inclusive growth. 

7. What is your message for the business sector to increasingly engage in these issues? 

Tackling inequality is both a moral imperative and a strategic necessity for businesses. Businesses that prioritize respecting human rights, paying workers a living wage, enabling a just transition, etc. are more resilient, retain and attract top talent, and thrive financially in a socially conscious marketplace. It also meets growing expectations from consumers and investors.

Businesses must take bold, decisive action to create a more inclusive and sustainable world. A collaborative approach is essential for building inclusive and equitable societies. BCTI plays a critical role in elevating the social agenda into boardrooms, putting people at the heart of business and broader communities.

To increasingly engage in this effort, we invite businesses to join our BCTI community. Whether you are a front runner with a passion to inspire and drive action or whether you are just in the early stages of your equity journey, it is important that we work together and help each other to drive individual and collection action and ensure that equal opportunities and better outcomes are available for all. 

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