Advancing the SDGs: Understanding and Improving the Role of Corporate Transparency

Date: April 19 and 20, 2018
Location:  Columbia Law School, Jerome Greene Annex

Roughly three years after global leaders universally adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the  Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment (CCSI) and the EMGP project, in partnership with B3 and FGVces, organized a high-level roundtable to take stock of efforts to understand how corporations are impacting achievement of those Goals, and to explore why and how to improve such understanding. This information is crucial to enabling firms to assess and improve their performance in relation to the SDGs; moreover, it is essential for other stakeholders such as policymakers, stock exchanges, investors, lenders, consumers, and employees to formulate and implement meaningful strategies designed to shape corporate behavior.

These issues may be familiar, but this meeting focused on several complex and under-explored issues. These include the fundamental question of what it means for a company to contribute to the SDGs. While there have been some early efforts to assess and report on corporate contributions to the SDGs, the critical discussion remains to be had on what should be measured and assessed, and what metrics and indicators should be used. A second key issue to be considered relates to the practices (and drivers) of emerging market firms. Many of the leading multinational enterprises from these markets are truly global leaders; others, while perhaps not making global rankings in terms of their total or foreign assets, are nevertheless extremely impactful players in their countries and home regions. Given that action on the SDGs requires action at global and local levels, it is crucial to bring these firms and their stakeholders into the discussion to assess what we know about these corporate actors’ contributions to the SDGs, the factors that are shaping performance, and ways in which knowledge and performance can be improved.

Third, and related to that second point, this meeting leveraged the experience and expertise of stakeholders from different countries and regions who have been thinking about, researching, and working on these issues at the macro- and micro-levels, sharing experiences to generate further insights.

This meeting was organized as part of a longer-term initiative aiming to promote continuing conversations, develop partnerships, and produce meaningful impacts in terms of understanding and advancing corporate contributions to the SDGs. The next meeting in our series, which took place in Sao Paulo, Brazil, the week of July 16th, explored new tools, (including the use of big data and artificial intelligence technologies) to improve collection and processing of information on firms’ performance and impacts.

Premilla Satyanand, EMGP coordination team and partner, presented on Assessing the SDG Impact of Emerging Market Multinationals –  What can we tell with today’s FDI data? Lise Johnson, also from the EMGP coordination team, moderated three sessions. The following partners also contributed to the discussions: Jan Boguslaw Blawat, Mario Saraiva, Miguel Perez Ludeña, Milton Montoya Pardo, Sedat Ahmet Aybar, Teresina Gutierrez Haces, Xinjian Cui, and Victor Chen.