Blurred Crowd in the street representing Inequality

How Can the Private Sector Tackle Inequality and Generate Shared Prosperity for All? 

By James Gomme, Director, Equity Action WBCSD and Director, BCTI

Systemic inequality poses an existential threat to our society and economy. The Business Commission to Tackle Inequality (BCTI)’s flagship report is an urgent call to business leaders to prioritize ten impactful actions that champion equity and inclusion and drive truly transformative change.

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The high level and structural nature of inequality in our world is a systemic risk that poses an existential threat to our society and economy. It is eroding trust in our political and economic systems, constraining growth, contributing to polarization and unrest, and undermining our ability to tackle other pressing and complex global challenges like climate change and nature loss. Meanwhile, it creates compounding operational, reputational, regulatory and financial risks to business that cannot be ignored.

The Business Commission to Tackle Inequality (BCTI) – a cross-sector, multi-stakeholder coalition of leaders and their organizations convened by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) – is intent on mobilizing the private sector to play its part in tackling inequality and generating shared prosperity for all. As Ilham Kadri, CEO of Solvay and a Co-Chair of the BCTI reminds us, “inequality is not a fact of nature; it is a product of our systems and practices, which we can change.”

“Our current economic model is leaving hundreds of millions of people behind. Tackling this inequality will accelerate economic growth. For example, simply paying living wages could add US$ 4.56 trillion to global GDP every year through increased productivity and spending. Ultimately, businesses thrive when societies thrive too.

Alan Jope, CEO of Unilever & Co-Chair of the BCTI

Over the last 18 months, the BCTI’s Commissioners have identified concrete actions that individual companies can put into practice, so that the value and opportunities these businesses create are shared equitably.

Our new flagship report, Tackling inequality: An agenda for business action provides a convincing business case alongside what Peter Bakker, President and CEO of WBCSD and a Co-Chair of the BCTI has called “a comprehensive, credible and impactful action agenda”. At a high level, the ten catalytic actions are:

  1. Implement the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights
  2. Make essential products and services more accessible and affordable
  3. Create a diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace and value chain
  4. Prepare people for the future of work
  5. Provide safe, secure and sufficient work
  6. Pay and promote living wages and incomes
  7. Support and respect worker representation
  8. Support effective public policy
  9. Adopt responsible tax practices
  10. Realize the just transition to a net-zero and nature positive economy

Tackling structural inequality is complex, and so the report also provides a sustainable business transformation framework to help companies identify, assess and strategically integrate measures that both address inequality-related risks and make the most of new opportunities for workers, communities and businesses themselves.

“This report is a call to action to business leaders. It provides a clear and compelling case for business action to tackle inequality, as well as a comprehensive, credible and impactful action agenda that business leaders can leverage to help build a world of opportunity for all.”

Peter Bakker, President and CEO of WBCSD and a Co-Chair of the BCTI.

The good news is that many companies are already playing a role in raising incomes and reducing inequality. Sanjiv Puri, Chairman of ITC and a BCTI Co-Chair, explains that “At ITC, our experience on the ground has underlined how imperative it is to develop inclusive value chains, strengthen climate resilience and build capabilities for tomorrow, especially for farmers and rural communities.” According to Sunny Verghese, Co-founder and CEO of Olam Group and a BCTI Co-Chair, “Business has a powerful role to play in reducing inequality and making it possible for all people to live the kinds of lives they aspire to. Olam has seen this through our efforts to improve incomes and living standards in smallholder farming communities. Collaboration across industry, with government, and other stakeholders is vital to delivering more opportunities to more people.”

The report emphasizes this need for collaboration and stakeholder engagement, calling for a multistakeholder response that drives change at scale whilst being rooted in the perspectives of those who are most impacted by business activities. In the words of Jonas Prising, Chairman and CEO of ManpowerGroup and BCTI Co-Chair,  “We are at a step change moment for business, government and other organizations to work together to create a more just and equitable society for all.”

We are now at a critical juncture as we face complex global challenges, not least the transition to a low-carbon nature-positive economy. BCTI’s report is an urgent call to action to business leaders to prioritize the most impactful actions that champion equity and inclusion and drive truly transformative change.

“Addressing inequality is not only a moral obligation but a business imperative to ensure long-term economic growth. Crucial to that growth is a just global transition to net-zero which will help address growing inequality by putting people at the center of the transition.”

Lynn Forester de Rothschild, Founder of the Council for Inclusive Capitalism & Co-Chair of the BCTI

You can find out more about the work of the BCTI and download the flagship report here

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