How business can lead and rebuild trust by Dr Gillian Sparkes

From the Commissioner

Two hundred and fifty local and global leaders from business, civil society, academia and Government convened at Arts Centre Melbourne on April 30-May 1 for the Global Compact Network Australia GNCA Annual Conference. With the theme ‘Rebuilding trust in corporate Australia – Business as an Agent of Sustainable Change’, standout sessions included the Ethical Dilemmas for Boards panel discussion with Rio Tinto Director and Head, Australian Space Agency Dr Megan Clark AC. Also on the panel were Non-Executive Director of Suncorp Group Audette Exel AO and Berthold Beitz Professor in Human Rights and International Affair, Harvard Kennedy School John Ruggie. It was enlightening to hear Megan speak so plainly about Rio Tinto’s Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) approach. She commented on how the Board had under estimated how unknown their ESG commitment was externally, and the need to change this perception.

The takeaway message was the importance of organisations telling their stories better to build understanding and trust in their business.

The conference discussed the need for business leaders to become leading authorities on policy debates such as, anti-corruption, climate change and human rights and the intrinsic link to the United Nations Global Compact’s (UNGC) Ten Principles and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs call for an increase in multi-stakeholder partnerships and collaboration to help achieve local and global sustainable development priorities by 2030.

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A panel discussion with DFAT Deputy Secretary Clare Walsh, Executive GM, International Operations Aspen Medical Craig Fitzgerald, Managing Director Oil Search and 26-year PNG resident Peter Botten AO with facilitation by Centre for PolicyDevelopment (CPD) CEO Travers McLeod, considered examples of actual collaborations and multi-sector partnerships in the region to inspire ideas about how businesses can lead on impact. This session was extremely thought provoking for me in the context of our work Office of the Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability integrating the UNSDGs into Victorian Environmental Reporting. The discussion reaffirmed the importance of the work our Office is doing to align environmental reporting to the SDG framework and the role of ‘Government as leader’ in operationalising the SDGs.