Can Sida push private business towards sustainability?

Swedish leadership for sustainable development is an initiative Sida has coordinated since 2013. The initiative aims to create a platform for transnational Swedish companies to discuss and share ideas on how to operate more in line with sustainability. However, the lack of clearly defined and ratified measurements undermines the credibility of the commitments.

Louise Gripenberg, commentator for FUF Lund. Photo: Private

The collaboration between Sida and the private sector is extensive. Business can contribute with innovative sustainable solutions to global challenges as well as create jobs that sustains economic growth and lift people out of poverty, according to Sida. As such, private actors are important agents in delivering the SDGs. The network “Swedish leadership for sustainable development” is one of the initiatives Sida has coordinated to ensure companies are also working towards realizing the global goals. It was established in 2013 and consists of 22 Swedish transnational companies. IKEA, Scania AB and Volvo Group are some of the members.

The network works on the principle of commitment to sustainability, mainly focusing on goals 8 (good jobs and economic growth), 12 (responsible consumption) and 16 (peace and justice). The members agreed upon three key business practices that should aim at reducing negative impact on environment and promoting efficient use of resources, creating decent jobs, productive employment and development opportunities and fighting corruption and unethical behaviour. Also, gender equality and equal opportunities for all are targets the companies should strive for. The forum allows knowledge and experiences to be shared amongst the members on sustainable issues and possible solutions.

However, there are no actual obligations that need to be undertaken or targets to be met. On the contrary, the companies operate on the basis of sovereignty and set the bar in accordance with their own policy framework on sustainability. For example, IKEA has initiated the project People & Planet Positive, while Omtanke (Swedish word for caring and to think again) is the broad term Volvo Group has named their programme for sustainability commitments.

Therefore, without central binding measures the commitments remains ambiguous and open for self-interests. It makes the forum seem more of a market-strategy rather than a pledge to the Global Goals. Leadership requires actions that are progressive but how good of an example can the members be without accountability and defined measures? We are left with the question whether sustainability will ever become the top priority for these companies before the market finds it economic profitable – when only faced with guidelines and no demands. Sustainability will always be secondary to profits if not opposed to it as long as the current mainstream model of economic growth continues.

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