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The Human Rights Opportunity: 15 real-life cases of how business is contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals by putting people first

August 2018 | Sara Blackwell

PARTNERS: World Business Council For Sustainable Development (WBCSD)

With their ever-expanding power and influence, companies have a critical role to play in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The way they work, source, hire, produce, sell and deliver can have a major impact on our natural resources; and it can also affect all of us as people, and our ability to advance our lives with dignity.

Every day, more companies are acknowledging that responsibility. But, words are easy. Delivering is much harder. With 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 related targets, companies may feel overwhelmed or not know where to start.

The risk is that they look for an easy way out by repackaging what they already do in glossy “SDG wrapping.” Or, even worse, that they focus resources and efforts on certain Global Goals based on ease and marketability, rather than their true impact.

The focus has to change.

In order to adopt a coherent and effective approach that maximizes their contributions to what the world needs, companies need to place human rights at the center of their SDG strategies and activities.

What does that mean in practice? It means that businesses need to think about the people part of sustainable development just like they do the planet part.

First, companies should work out where the salient (most severe) risks to people and planet are within their operations and value chains and map those priorities to the most relevant SDG goals and targets. Then, they need to find ways to tackle those risks in ways that maximize positive outcomes and therefore support the Global Goals.

Second, companies should see if and how they could provide beneficial products, services or investments that can bring positive impacts to people and planet and thereby contribute to the SDGs. However, they must make sure to develop and deliver those new innovations with respect for people and planet along the way.

By bringing these two steps together, a company can develop a strategy for the SDGs that enables it to prioritize its efforts and be true to its business, what it does, where it works, and how it impacts people in the most practical sense; a strategy that is principled, coherent and capable of bringing our world closer to a sustainable future.

Sara Blackwell


As an Advisor with Shift, Sara engages with our collaboration partners on a daily basis, drawing on her experience working with governments and civil society partners on implementing the UN Guiding Principles.

Sara Blackwell
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