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Sanda Ojiambo: “Every company must respect human rights, respect the environment and fight against corruption”

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Kenyan Sanda Ojiambo received news that United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, I wanted her at the head of the United Nations Global Compact, at his home in Nairobi. It was two years ago when the world was paralyzed by the pandemic and everything was done by phone and virtual calls. With her official appointment on June 17, 2020, she became the second woman and first African to chair this body, which aims to promote a more sustainable private sector that respects human rights.

Since then, Ojiambo has started the Company strategy 2021-2023 and has sought to expand the number of companies that are committed to compliance Ten Principles of the Global Compact to do business. According to the organization, this means acting in such a way that they at least meet basic responsibilities in relation to human rights, labour, the environment and anti-corruption. And with that aim, the Kenyan visited Spain this week, where she held hands with her arm localalong with ICO Foundation and ICEX Spain Exports and Investmentshave announced a collaboration “to promote responsible management of the global supply chain of Spanish companies”.

Questions. When you took office, your predecessor Lise Kingo said she was “happy to pass the baton to a great female leader from the Global South”, do you think she brings a different perspective as such?

Answer. I am aware that I am the first African to lead the organization; and I come from the Global South, but I am very well prepared: I studied in Europe, Canada and the USA and have traveled a lot. So I actually bring more with me than just the perspective of the Global South. I have a pretty deep understanding of many countries, regulatory frameworks and sectors. I have previously worked in development, public policy and the private sector.

However, it is very clear that there are areas of the world where progress has not been as rapid as it should be, perhaps due to an imbalance of power and resources. It is very important to address this. In the climate debate, for example, one of the underlying keys is whether the Climate Adaptation Fund it is refinanced to support necessary transitions in the Global South. In addition, inequality slows the momentum towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). I want to rebalance this sustainable development work.

P During the pandemic, it was said that we would better get out of the crisis. Do you think companies are doing better on sustainability and human rights?

R Before the pandemic, we weren’t making as much progress as we needed to reach the SDGs. Inequalities increased. And during the break time, many companies have been reflecting on their mission and purpose on how to refocus their work. There has been much talk about more sustainable and inclusive growth, acknowledging that past practices have not been the best. Has happened? Yes and no. Among other things, we are observing worldwide and also here in Spain that more and more companies are interested in our work in the Global Compact. Membership has grown at an unprecedented rate. That’s a very positive sign.

Greenwashing will happen whether these companies are in the Global Compact or not

On the other hand, many countries had not emerged from the Covid-19 crisis when the war in Ukraine started, which has impacted energy and food prices, leading to instability and displacement. Every day we read how European countries are struggling to transform energy supplies and resources. But in places like Egypt, their most basic concern is access to wheat and bread. Without a serious review of how food systems can be rebuilt and made more resilient, the picture does not look very rosy. But now there is a high level of awareness in the private sector. One of the lessons companies have learned during the pandemic is that they need to work differently with different stakeholders, with their own competition and their governments. These are the models that will help us move forward during this period.

P Do you fear that the new companies in the Global Compact will use your membership to cultivate their image (green washing), but don’t change anything?

R That green washing it will happen whether these companies are in the Global Compact or not. Many publish commitments, some with good intentions, but not necessarily measurable and reportable. It is important that they are held accountable when they commit to corporate sustainability. Shareholders or people interested in this company and even employees have the right to request information about the progress. The key is credibility. How do you measure what is said? How credible are all these promises? A second aspect is development financing. How do we ensure resources are mobilized, prioritizing those that contribute to the SDGs? Given the challenges we face, companies must be bold and make ambitious commitments, but they must also live up to them.

P Reporting is voluntary. Do you think it should be mandatory or do you plan to include it among Global Compact member companies?

R In the EU, there is a smart mix of what we call voluntary and binding national and international action on climate and human rights. Overwhelming compliance has a small downside: it might become a ticking exercise and you can say you’ve accomplished something, but it might not change anything. It is important that the services make sense.

P Most of the companies in the world are small and medium sized, how do you work with them?

R Around 90% of companies worldwide are SMEs; many are part of the supply chain of much larger companies. They are a very important part of the economy and have very unique needs. Many are also led and owned by women who face unique challenges in accessing finance, technology and markets. During the pandemic, we have witnessed the vulnerability of SMEs. We have seen many small businesses go bankrupt. They need to build their resilience and help them access finance more easily when they need it. The second thing is to include them more in the Sustainable Development Goals if we want to achieve them by 2030. One of the biggest human rights challenges is transparency in the supply chain. You may know what’s happening at headquarters, but you don’t know what’s happening in all the countries where your company is present.

All well-intentioned CEOs should investigate where they get their supplies from and what the working conditions of their employees are like.

P But initiatives to ensure transparency in the supply chain are often rejected by large corporations.

R This is a journey. This is arguably the area of ​​least transparency where risk is greatest. All well-intentioned CEOs should investigate where they get their supplies from and what the working conditions of their employees are like. A company is only as strong as its weakest link. You cannot be a successful company in Madrid if there are human rights violations in the supply chain. It’s only a matter of time before it goes away. Customers, consumers, citizens are very aware. And all it takes is a photo, a message on social media, and it’s over. It is important to understand what is going on in your supply chain, what principles you need to apply, perform a gap analysis and implement corrective actions. And then assess what resources are required for deployment.

P How can you convince the citizens of the Global South that it is important that they develop differently from us western countries?

R We are facing a climate crisis driven by high consumption of fossil fuels. And now we have economies in the Global South that are looking to industrialize but are being told they must adapt to green energy very quickly. I don’t think there is resistance to adaptation, the question is how to make this energy and climate transition just, fair, sustainable and inclusive without countries going into debt or losing jobs. That is why the Adaptation Fund is very important so that the countries of the South have access to the amount of capital they need for this transition. It’s not just about moving from one technology to another, the social elements also need to be considered.

P Is a stronger engagement of the north in the fight against climate change necessary?

R A key figure is fossil fuel subsidies. Only 3% goes to renewable energy while a much higher percentage goes to fossil fuels. What message are they spreading? Let’s put the resources in the right places. You can’t talk about the energy transition, but they don’t get the right amount of help.

P Is there a country or region in the world where you would like more companies to join the Global Compact?

R Europe has always been a leader in terms of sustainable management. But we need to focus on increasing membership in Asia, Africa and Latin America, although some countries are doing very well there, like Brazil and Mexico. Also, in June we launched our China strategy: we must increase the membership of Chinese companies doing business in your country. But we’re not just about numbers. As we increase membership, how do we channel that energy to address climate change, the human rights agenda and progress towards the SDGs as a whole?

P Do you think that the 10 principles of the Global Compact are still valid 20 years after they were formulated?

R The world has changed. But we still feel like they’re a good base for businesses. Perhaps due to the way they are written, some of them may be a bit outdated. We have a good internal discussion about it. Nonetheless, it is very important for any company that wants to do long-term business to ensure that it respects human and labor rights, cares for the environment and fights against corruption. They are good pillars.

P When the SDGs were tested, there was criticism that the private sector was at the decision-making table. What do you think about it?

R The private sector has many solutions: innovation, technology, speed to market. It’s also part of the problem. If we left out the private sector, we would not do justice to the scale of the current challenges, which require the involvement of many actors. The most important thing is that everyone is accountable and their role is clear.

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Source elpais.com

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