Sustainable Development Goal 16 aims to promote a sustainable society by promoting just, peaceful and inclusive societies. We’re still living in a backdrop where “conflict, insecurity, weak institutions and limited access to justice remain a great threat to sustainable development”.
The UNHCR claimed to have registered in 2018 the highest number in the last 7 decades, about 70 million refugees. Unjust sentences have been made; Amal and George Clooney have launched their foundation to make justice more just, The Clooney foundation for justice. Health treatments have been unequal; the Gates foundation helps to improve access to medicines in less fortunate places and medical research to eradicate specific diseases in those places. Misconduct has been widespread, from schools’ playgrounds to workplaces. If these were SDG indicators the SDG 16 evolution would be different than what is shown on the graphic below, extracted from the Sustainable Development Report 2021. Society won’t evolve if leadership doesn’t change.
Many agree that business should be a force for good, myself included. Milton Friedman argues, in his zero-sum perspective on sustainability, what is good for one is evil for another. Some interpret sustainability likewise, the Milton Friedman’s followers, some of them unconsciously. Although Friedman supported ESG practice, it was only on a low sphere of influence. On his perspective it was laudable if a small owner did so with his/her resources but not so much for the corporate executive.
“The situation of the individual proprietor is somewhat different. If he acts to reduce the returns of his enterprise in order to exercise his “social responsibility,” he is spending his own money, not someone else’s. If he wishes to spend his money on such purposes, that is his right, and I cannot see that there is any objection to his doing so. In the process, he, too, may impose costs on employees and customers. However, because he is far less likely than a large corporation or union to have monopolistic power, any such side effects will tend to be minor.”Milton Friedman, New York Times, 1970
Others follow Alex Edmans’ perspective of growing the pie, some also unconsciously. Notwithstanding, sceptical and opposers have been shrinking and a community of the civil society, businesses and governments supporting sustainable initiatives, business models and lifestyles has been growing as more evidence sheds light into the benefits of doing so.
Sceptical and opposers should use their capabilities to do good instead of harming. It will make them more sustainable. Sustainability is the ability to manage the scarce and non-renewable resources so they last throughout generations, ensuring future generations’ wellbeing is at least as good as the current ones. Waste has thus to be reduced to zero. In not doing so, and not having leadership that enables so, a sustainable future isn’t foreseen. Good governance is one of the three pillars on which sustainability relies. Environmental and Social being the other two. Sustainable leaders should decide with an holistic perspective, embracing the three pillars.
Being humble, a leadership characteristic often taught and less frequently used, should also be dust free. What’s the credibility of an organisation that claims one value but practices another? Back in October 2019 the FT called business schools to be more sustainable and practice what they preach, recommending to follow the UN principles for responsible management education, two of them being sustainable purpose and values. Yet, being a PRME signatory doesn’t guarantee its compliance. Empirical evidence has shown big deviations regarding the first three principles, by professionals in top leadership positions, former students of signatory institutions.
Lack of credibility leads to unstable environments with implications at macro and micro level. What stability does a person (legal or physical) face in a place where regulation and policies have been set but misused in your face, with abuse of power, supporting out of scope events in detriment of events that fall within the public committed regulation, whose compliance would ensure a safe environment? Why aren’t its regulators independent? Why is history repeating itself in a different dimension? Thinking at macro level examples it comes to my mind when the Spanish government was sued by renewable energy investors after the committed subsidies were withdrawn. The same happened with the Argentinian government when unilaterally ended payments to its creditors. At microlevel, the situation also occurs. Some people have been harassed because (i) public transport and cycling were used to commute over private car; (ii) when the obvious was spoken, proven scientifically and empirically; (iii) gender and nationality. Albeit a complaint was made, existing rules were manipulated and harassment continued. What is sustainable about this? Nothing, in a common-sense world! Unfortunately, when faced with this type of situations some minds argue that as they aren’t in the human rights business, they shouldn’t be compliant with human rights. They can only be spaced out.
When individuals or organisations are harassed due to the sustainable options they have chosen or unchangeable natural factors, development isn’t sustainable. Myopic vision only sees short distance and the force for good gets forgotten to preserve unsustainable values. It’s like the Evil Queen silencing the Snow White with poisoned food, in her jealousy, instead of using her force for good.
How can organisations preach and ask to be followed on sustainability when they don’t comply with it and aren’t the preached humble leaders?
A survey conducted by Vault Platform in the UK (56%) and USA (41%) with 2,000 office workers suggests that, in both geographies, about 75% have suffered or witnessed misconduct in their working life. Bullying in the workplace is the most common misconduct experienced by over 50%, followed by harassment by 50% in both geographies. This seems a playground practice transposed to the workplace. UN Women informs that boys and girls experience bullying in their teenage years. Whilst boys most likely experience physical bullying, girls experience its psychological version. This evidence suggests that early education is paramount in stopping later misconduct while great governance could ensure its reduction in the contemporary workplace.
School-related gender-based violence is a major obstacle to universal schooling and the right to education for girls. Globally, one in three students, aged 11–15, have been bullied by their peers at school at least once in the past month, with girls and boys equally likely to experience bullying. While boys are more likely to experience physical bullying than girls, girls are more likely to experience psychological bullying, and they report being made fun of because of how their face or body looks more frequently than boys.”https://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/ending-violence-against-women/facts-and-figures
Misconduct is a significant bad practice, very far from sustainable and ethical. The lack of psychological safety makes their net so strong that victims are unable to gather the sufficient support, making them feeling even more powerless, deepening so when rules are applied unequally. For example, to people of the same gender but different backgrounds. Events are manipulated. One falling within the policy scope is dismissed but another falling outside that same policy is protected with the strong consequences for the second aggressor. Although some organisations have processes in place, its misuse causes more harm than good. Isn’t the house upside down?
The Trust Gap Report also shows that misconduct at workplace has negative socio-economic implications. Yet, as the research shows professionals still misbehave, possibly when feeling threatened by ethic potential competitors to eliminate them. Using so has been destroying value for the organisations they belong to. GRI and UN Global Compact standards have indicators that help in tackling this big problem in the workplace, workplace violence and harassment, for those entities that want to change.
Now that COP26 is about to close, we’ve many alliances have been announced throughout these two weeks. It’s great to hear these public commitments to decarbonise themselves, and to influence other in doing so. Although this is a good step to improve the Planet wellbeing, Sustainability goes beyond SDG 13, Climate Action. Leaders have to build strong institutions to be followed. Complying with SDG16, Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions is thus another step to sustainable leadership. Wouldn’t institutions be showing authentic leadership if they cleaned their house first, ensuring good governance is carried out? Real apologies for the unsustainable practices some of their members have carried out against some stakeholders, events they were aware of let the unsustainable course of action run, would increase their credibility. Ignoring or pretending do not solve problems properly. Is time for organisations to remove the speck of their eye. Then leadership will be credible. Money is indeed needed to change the world and make it a just and stronger one, not a corrupt one.
The interdependence amongst governments, independent regulators, businesses and society exists to ensure good practices are kept amongst themselves, albeit not always functions well. Fortunately, the world and the Planet have come a long way and greenwashing is increasingly unacceptable. But more actions are needed as the end of COP26 shows. It seems also that we are moving from Milton Friedman’s zero sum to Alex Edmans’ growing the pie perspective.