Fifteen years ago, the Global Compact—a UN-backed network to commit businesses to sustainability—kicked off in Brazil, seeking to engage the private sector in a global development agenda. For the past seven years we have been based in UNDP, which has geared us to another level of quality and impact. Companies that join the Global Compact abide by 10 principles in the areas of Human Rights, Labour, Environment and Anti-Corruption. As you can imagine, the three-year-old 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals have quickly gained prominence and started to guide core actions of many of our member-companies.
There is a new trend in Brazilian businesses; a new way of working. We notice an increased involvement of companies around sustainability and a growing maturity on the need—and the drive—to move beyond business as usual, to take better care of the planet as well as its people. Not long ago, many companies in Brazil focused this “social role” in sporadic support to projects. This was the mentality of the majority at the time.
We’ve come a long way.
Nowadays, there is an understanding of the global challenges and the role of businesses in this context. Several companies with operations in Brazil now have structured sustainability areas, controlling the environmental impacts of their operations as well as the relation of their products and services with society and the planet. Beyond the idea of corporate social responsibility, I myself am closely involved with companies’ mature and consistent business models that have sustainable development embedded in their DNA.
I believe that the Brazilian private sector needs to show to the international community what it has been doing. Every day we see creative business ideas that are effective and can be shared beyond the country’s borders. With this purpose, in 2018, the Global Compact Network Brazil created a special initiative titled SDGs in Brazil - The Role of the Private Sector. This began with a public call to our members to present their best sustainability programmes in some given areas. We received 80 examples. Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC), a Global Compact partner institution, created the criteria and benchmarks to select the best practices, and a judging commission chose the 19 Brazilian private sector stories to be presented in New York around the UN General Assembly on 26 September.
For example, Fibria, a cellulose-producing company, noted that the theft of wood, was affected its operations. While wood is a key raw material needed for its products, the company also noted that the thefts were taking place because the community close to its main operations had little or no source of income. The company solved the problem not by increasing policing but by investing in the community. It created a broad a food security programme, including training, creation of networks, use of low cost and low impact technologies, and even boosted access to key social services. The training also entailed empowering communities to sell their products. As a result, 4,000 families from four Brazilian states began to sell their food products, generating a monthly average income of 523 dollars (R$ 2,100) per family—over two times more than the national minimum wage.
Ambev, a beverage producer, which uses a considerable amount of water for production, developed another award-winning initiative. The company is developing programmes to reduce its environmental impacts and to contribute to neighbouring communities. Ambev launched a new brand of mineral water, AMA, which allocates 100 percent of its profits to projects that bring water to the semiarid population (the driest region in the country), covering nearly all states in the North-eastern Region (which totals over 53 million people) and the landlocked south-eastern state of Minas Gerais. This is crucial in a country where 30 million people still lack access to drinking water. Moreover, being one of the largest companies by market capitalization in the Southern Hemisphere, we hope that this action will inspire other businesses to follow the example.
Embedding the SDGs in the Brazilian private sector has generated several other impacts ranging from support to entrepreneurship to broadening access to basic sanitation. In a country of 208 million people, half (104 million) lack access to sewerage grid, and 55 percent of the waste collected is not treated before returning to nature. These challenges are not exclusive to Brazil. Many regions of the world, especially developing countries, are experiencing a similar reality.
We know the world needs trillions of dollars required to achieve the SDGs by 2030, boosting gains in the social, economic and environmental fronts while leaving no one behind. We can only get there by engaging all of society in this joint effort. As businesses embrace the SDGs, we’re sure to be on the right path to make this happen.
Carlo Pereira, Executive Secretary of Global Compact Network Brazil