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The “Business Pledge”: Is your firm on board for sustainability?

Multinational, regional and local businesses seem to be looking to enhance their corporate governance standards and be more inclusive.

This desire materialises in actions they take to enhance their corporate social responsibility, maybe even through appearances and talks at various forums.

However, the intentions of these businesses are now facing a test.

Pearl Initiative, a vehicle comprising regional business leaders formed for the private sector to take the lead in adapting higher corporate accountability, transparency and governance standards, in partnership with the United Nations Global Compact, has introduced the so-called “Business Pledge” to the businesses operating in the Gulf region.

“The private sector is crucial to realising the an objective agenda for sustainable development. More and more corporate leaders understand that sustainable development serves the long-term interest of the business and its stakeholders, by improving stability and prosperity,” said the Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, at a televised speech at the Pearl Initiative forum held in Dubai on Thursday.

The Business Pledge stands as a commitment and a guide towards responsible and sustainable growth. It comprises four main areas of sustainable growth and governance practices:

Setting targets for sustainable and responsible growth

Under this pillar, the Business Pledge suggests that commitment to be put in action through including sustainable and responsible growth as a priority in the strategy of the business.

This can be achieved through a set of actions, such as including achievable and measurable sustainable development objectives, including those objectives in performance appraisals and defining effective measures to assess the impact.

After the assessment comes the reporting stage, where companies can publish annual sustainability reports following international best practices, regularly communicating about activities and achievements through their channels of communication, such as the corporate website, social media platforms or events.

A more inclusive workplace

Instilling a culture of diversity, free of gender bias, is one of the most important goals companies claim to be aiming to achieve.

Stemming from that desire, the Business Pledge suggests that this must start at the top, by setting a supportive tone in the board and among senior management, creating a culture of trust and performance and implementing work options to achieve a good work-life balance.

This might require a change to some policies, whereby new, more supportive ones can be introduced, such as gender-blind hiring, implementing zero tolerance for sexual harassment, defining clear career paths and providing relevant and effective training.

Promoting integrity

Businesses in the Gulf region are reportedly playing a major role in fighting corruption and have a direct influence on the integrity practices within their walls.

Promoting integrity can start with the supply chain, minimising the corruption risk within, through performing supplier due diligence on selected business partners.

This can be done by providing targeted anti-corruption training to employees and using international communications to inform employees about whistleblowing, anti-corruption guidelines and initiatives taken up by the company.

Another area would be a commitment to the public, whereby companies publicly state taking a tough stance towards corruption and bribery, zero tolerance towards corruption and signing up to international standards and guidelines, such as the UN Global Compact and PACI Principals.

Collaboration and partnerships

Last but not least, since businesses operate within larger communities, the business Pledge states that companies should work together with the sphere, including government agencies, civil society and academia, to promote more responsible growth, diversity, better governance and integrity, while ultimately creating returns for all stakeholders.

Reaching out to the larger community could happen through the establishment of cross-sector partnerships to run specific projects, launching campaigns to encourage other business leaders to join in and being an advocate to peers.

More than 100 businesses in the Gulf region have already signed up to the Business Pledge and the hope remains that they will stick to the commitments to enhance business practices for the region and the world.