The World Benchmarking Alliance (WBA) is revealing today its second iteration of the SDG2000, which outlines the 2000 companies that have the most influence in contributing to the achievement of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The 2000 represent a combined revenue of USD 46 trillion, directly employing over 102 million people worldwide, plus millions more throughout their supply chains.
This year, for the first time WBA also identified the 10 largest investors behind these 2000 influential enterprises, led by The Vanguard Group, BlackRock, and State Street. Given the significance of these investors, WBA has also included 400 financial services firms in the scope of the SDG2000, which will be benchmarked separately in 2023, as announced in last week’s Financial System Transformation report, which assesses financial institutions’ sustainability efforts beyond ESG and responsible investment products.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has shown the urgent need to prioritise people and purpose over financial gains. However, our CHRB research suggests the opposite: since the pandemic started, too many companies are failing to take account of human rights risks, often affecting vulnerable workers and local communities within their own operations, and their supply chains in developing countries.
Pauliina Murphy, Engagement Director at WBA, said: “The past year has highlighted the fissures and flaws in the current global operating model. Inequalities and tensions have deepened, and it has become clear that we are not on a sustainable path – economically, environmentally, or socially. Businesses have an opportunity in 2021 to take the initiative as the engines of a global reset, but we need to see them taking genuine, impactful, and accountable actions. Our research has identified those global corporations with the most influence to enable change. We are here to scrutinise how they use this power in the next year.”
Enabling a sustainable transformation requires close collaboration of businesses with governments, civil society, investors, and organisations working together and holding each other to account. The SDG2000 list identified how companies interact with ‘WBA Allies’, an alliance formed by nearly 200 global stakeholders, including CDP, Consumer Goods Forum, Principles for Responsible Investment, UN Global Compact, and World Business Council for Sustainable Development, amongst others. Companies were mapped with these stakeholders based on their engagement as network members, platform signatories, assessed or benchmarked companies, and framework or standards reporters.
Only 276 of the 2000 companies listed are engaging with five or more Allies, suggesting that most companies are insufficiently aware of the role partnerships play in achieving a more sustainable future. This is concerning since the SDGs can only be achieved through partnerships (“SDG17: Partnership for the Goals”). Given the magnitude of these 2000 companies and their impact across the SDG agenda, a multitude of partnerships is needed; this requires both companies and Allies to step up their mutual engagement. Industries with the lowest levels of engagement include oil and gas, and utilities. At the other end, the containers and packaging sector appears to be the most engaged of the SDG2000.
As for geography, this year’s list presents less companies headquartered in North America or Europe, and a 15% increase of companies from Sub-Saharan Africa, as well as East and South Asia & Pacific (9%). This reflects WBA’s focus on engaging with companies that span all regions, but particularly the Global South where just, sustainable development is particularly important.
Assessed annually to take into consideration the evolving global business landscape, the SDG2000 identifies companies with the greatest impact across seven key transformation areas, aligned to the 17 SDGs: Food and agriculture; Decarbonisation and energy; Circular; Digital; Financial; Urban and Social transformations.
WBA’s benchmarks chart a clearer course for business, providing evidence that informs and enables dialogue, and ultimately action, towards a more inclusive, fair, and sustainable world.