Scotland's Sustainable Development Goals Network
Scottish Business Pledge

Everyone’s Business: The role of the Scottish Business Pledge in delivering the Global Goals

By Rhiannon Sims, Policy and Research Officer. The article featured on Oxfam’s website.

Today Oxfam has published a new briefing paper: Inclusive Business: Recommendations for enhancing the Scottish Business Pledge as a driver of change.

In 2015, the global community adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – an inspiring and inclusive vision of a healthy planet for present and future generations; a world free from poverty, injustice and discrimination. Importantly, the SDGs assume a substantial role for business in reaching these goals by 2030.

A renewed Scottish Business Pledge offers an opportunity to bring this vision to life here in Scotland by encouraging businesses to play a leading role in tackling poverty and inequality in this country, and in the wider world. In our new briefing, Inclusive Business, Oxfam Scotland makes recommendations to ensure the revamped Pledge provides a road map for how businesses in Scotland can do more to spread prosperity, opportunities and rewards more fairly, and contribute to achieving the Global Goals.

Encouragingly, businesses in Scotland have been proactive in engaging with the SDG agenda, through the SDG Network Scotland, Business in the Community, and events such as Making Global Goals Local Business,hosted by Glasgow Caledonian University. However, to achieve meaningful change we need bold policy commitments that underpin these ambitions with collective and decisive action from the business community.

The Scottish Business Pledge was created in 2015, the same year as the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon publicly committed Scotland to delivering the SDGs; one of the first countries in the world to make this promise. Businesses signing the Pledge make a commitment to adopt fair and progressive business practices. They must pay the Living Wage and not use zero hour contracts, and are then asked to commit to a ‘pick ‘n’ mix’ of other commitments, including to innovation and taking advantage of international business opportunities.

While this is a welcome attempt to acknowledge good practice, uptake is still relatively low – as of July 2018, signatories to the Pledge represented only 0.3% of Scotland’s registered business base – and Oxfam believes more could be done to ensure that the Pledge drives both higher levels of engagement and meaningful change. Three years on, the Scottish Government also recognises this need: when Jamie Hepburn, the Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills, announced a review of the Pledge he said the goal was to ensure it “secures greater business buy-in and impact”.

Oxfam believes this review is a key opportunity to increase the initiative’s impact in driving the ‘Fair Work’ agenda while also enhancing the role of business in supporting sustainable development at home and abroad. Revamping the Pledge would build on the Scottish Government’s positive efforts to date – from the promotion of the decent work agenda to the creation of the Poverty and Inequality Commission and leadership, to date, on climate change. It would also reflect the leading international role the Government is taking in the creation of a new platform for governments to work together to develop wellbeing economies which place people and planet first. After all, businesses are critical players in achieving this.

To inform the Government’s review, in June 2018, Oxfam hosted a Policy Forum under the auspices of UWS-Oxfam Partnership, to bring together experts to discuss how the Pledge could be more closely aligned with other Scottish Government commitments – including inclusive growth, reducing inequality and tackling climate change. Our report makes recommendations based on the discussions at that event and wider research.

We believe the commitments within the Pledge should be expanded and strengthened – but also made clearer. Now is the chance to address glaring gaps in the Pledge’s original design, such as in relation to environmental sustainability and ethical tax policy, while strengthening other strands, in particular on gender inequality.

Significantly, our recommendations include the introduction of a more robust and transparent accreditation process with increased incentives for businesses to become signatories. We suggest a new-tiered system which we believe would generate a culture of continuous improvement by businesses, rather than a one-off commitment.

Overall, Oxfam’s vision for the Scottish Business Pledge is that it provides a road map for how businesses in Scotland can do more to spread prosperity, opportunities and rewards more fairly – in Scotland and globally – through innovation that does not harm people and planet, while investing in their workforces and local communities.

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