15 Sep 2023

We’re halfway to 2030. Here are 10 things companies can do to drive progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals.

ASOBRIS Coffee 20213

By: Kelly Hawrylyshyn, Head of Global Resource Mobilisation at Fairtrade International

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres says this year’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Summit must be “a moment of unity to provide a renewed impetus and accelerated actions.” The organisers of the event – currently taking place in New York and marking the midpoint between the launch of the SDGs in 2015 and the target date of 2030 – have called for “the beginning of a new phase of accelerated progress.”

It’s perhaps easy to dismiss the SDGs as abstract, for ivory tower policymakers, or not tangible and urgent enough for the crises of climate change, growing economic disparities, and threats to democracy and human rights, among many others.

However, the SDGs have been successful in providing a common framework, and bringing together different stakeholders (from governments, civil society, to the private sector) to drive action towards the sustainability of people and planet. Accountability for the delivery of the so-called Agenda 2030 has also been prioritised, with progress on commitments for each of the 17 goals available through this handy open source tracker.

Of the 169 targets underlying the goals, there is barely a single one that isn’t somehow related to food and farming. At Fairtrade, we’ve identified the twelve goals to which we contribute most, whether through our Standards, how farmers and workers use their Fairtrade Premium funds to contribute to SDG targets, our partnerships and programmes that bring more resources to producers, or businesses working with us to tackle development challenges including human right risks in global supply chains.

Recently I was invited to take part in a Business Fights Poverty expert panel to discuss what businesses must do to accelerate progress toward Agenda 2030. While farmers are doing their part to build resilience in the face of global threats and preparing to comply with new sustainability legislation being put in place in some countries, it’s clear that SDG gains over the past decades are being undone by the devastating effects of climate change, the increasing threats of pandemics and conflict. Businesses need to urgently up their game, as one of the most influential collective forces on the planet – as well as a sector that stands to benefit by prioritizing the SDGs.

Building off the rich exchange hosted by Business Fights Poverty, here are 10 ways businesses can accelerate progress toward the global goals.

  1. Understand that the SDGs are not a “nice to have” but are essential for sustainable business operations and supply chains. Without embracing the SDGs, companies are unlikely to thrive in the long term. According to the OECD, numerous private sector organisations already consider it “economically viable” to develop sustainable products and services. “As the SDGs draw increased attention, this may expand both business opportunities for companies and value added for society.”
  2. Invest in supply chains to address major challenges such as the climate crisis (SDG 13), deforestation (SDGs 12 and 15), child labour (SDG 8), forced labour and low incomes (SDG 1). While it’s tempting to “cut and run” when problems are found in a supply chain, it’s more responsible – and sustainable – to work on improving conditions and livelihoods, rather than abandoning farmers, workers and their communities at risk.
  3. Encourage suppliers to uphold workers’ rights, including the right to join a trade union and to negotiate through collective bargaining (SDG 8). Improved productivity and reduced costs due to staff turnover are some of the many positive outcomes of businesses committed to social sustainability.
  4. Work with producers and farmers to reduce inequalities by prohibiting discrimination and promoting equality - especially for women, young people and migrant workers - and protection from gender-based violence and sexual abuse (SDGs 5 and 10). Fostering inclusion and gender equality are strong attributes of successful and innovative businesses. When it comes to agriculture, an African Development Bank brief based on data from several countries found that giving women equal resources to men (for instance fertilizers and land allocation) would increase agricultural productivity overall by up to 10 percent, and enable up to 13 percent of households to move out of poverty.
  5. Commit to support sector-specific initiatives to promote decent incomes, such as living wages for workers on banana plantations or flower farms, and living incomes for cocoa and coffee farmers (SDGs 1, 2 and 8).
  6. Build partnerships for digital inclusion and quality education (SDG 4). Businesses which invest in training and skills transfer are more sustainable and more competitive in the long term.
  7. Commit to becoming carbon neutral and encourage everyone else in your supply chain to do likewise. Work with producers and suppliers to implement zero carbon and zero waste strategies (SDGs 7, 11, 12 and 13). Support producers to go organic or adopt other climate-resilient and environmentally friendly practices such as agroforestry.
  8. Lead by example and bring others along on the sustainability journey. Be proactive in seeking supply chain collaborations and partnerships. That way producers and companies sourcing from the same origins will both benefit from and contribute to greater collective impact (SDG 17).
  9. Embrace better regulation and responsible business practices such as anti-corruption strategies, human rights and environmental due diligence (SDG 16), good corporate behaviour (SDG 12) and open and transparent data sharing – this will make sustainability a level-playing field.
  10. Empower the next generation. The children of small-scale farmers will only follow in their parents’ footsteps if they see agriculture as a viable, sustainable career - and that means benefiting from a fairer share of the value chain (SDGs 4, 5 and 8).

Fairtrade is one way for producers, companies and citizens to contribute to progress on many of the SDGs. With seven harvest seasons remaining until 2030, there’s no time to waste in taking up our collective responsibility for a sustainable world.

You can catch up on the live Business Fights Poverty discussion or download the summary paper here.