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15. The United Nations Global Compact and the Sustainable
Responsible management transcends the concepts of corporate social responsibility, corporate
sustainability, and business ethics and puts the managerial work required to enact these
organizational-level constructs into focus (Rasche & Gilbert, 2015; Laasch & Conaway, 2015). One
possible way to theoretically frame the work that managers do in support of responsible management
is to discuss voluntary multi-stakeholder standards (Gilbert et al., 2011). Such standards have
proliferated in the last two decades and nowadays range from reporting standards like the Global
Reporting Initiative (Etzion & Ferraro, 2010) to certification schemes like the Forest Stewardship
Council (Klooster, 2010) and principle-based initiatives like the UN Global Compact (Rasche, 2012).
While reporting frameworks identify indicators and guidelines for non-financial disclosure,
certification schemes outline criteria against which factories or farms can be certified along global
supply chains. By contrast, principle-based initiatives do not certify a firm’s operations but outline
foundational values and guidelines that businesses can use as a starting point for initiating actions
around responsible management (Rasche & Waddock, 2017).
This chapter aims to discuss one particular principle-based initiative for responsible management: the
United Nations Global Compact (UNGC). While the chapter will focus on the UNGC, it will also
connect the initiative to the recently launched Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Although
different in character and aim, both the UNGC and the SDGs operate under the umbrella of the UN
system and hence share some commonalities in terms of how they approach responsible management.
The UNGC has attracted significant scholarly attention across different disciplines (for a review see
Rasche et al., 2013). This chapter contributes to the scholarly discourse around the UNGC by
integrating three theoretical perspectives which have so far been treated in an isolated manner: (1)
historical accounts of UN-business relations in general and the UNGC in particular (Coleman, 2003;
Sagafi-nejad, 2008), (2) scholarly work that focuses on how/whether the UNGC is implemented by
participants (Janney et al., 2009; Knudsen, 2011), and (3) research that discusses the contribution of
the UNGC to global governance (Ruggie, 2004; Thérien & Pouliot, 2006).
The analysis proceeds as follows. The first section reviews the background of UN–business
relations and examines their development against the emergence of the UNGC. The next section
introduces the UNGC by focusing on (a) its underlying idea and rationale, (b) its struggles to ensure
accountability as a response to critique from different stakeholders, and (c) its governance framework
and perceived legitimacy. The third section introduces the SDGs. It starts by discussing the move
from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to the SDGs, and shows that the SDGs are better
aligned with responsible management concerns due to their more explicit emphasis on partnerships
and their recognition that social, environmental and economic problems are interconnected. Next, the
links between the UNGC and the SDGs are reviewed. The final section outlines a research agenda
that emphasizes areas of scholarly activity related to the UNGC and the SDGs that have so far been
THE UN SYTEM AND THE PRIVATE SECTOR
Much research has focused on the link between the UN system and the private sector. Historically
speaking, the UN system had a difficult relationship with the private sector. There was a “deeply
embedded mistrust towards the private sector” (Kell, 2016: 730) which prevented the creation of a
fruitful relationship between the UN and (transnational) corporations. Although businesses were
present at the creation of the UN in San Francisco in 1945 and Article 55 of the UN Charter regulates
the relationship with the private sector, the UN focused more on a state-driven approach towards
development in its early years. Prior to the year 2000, the UN’s most prominent attempt to deal with
private corporations was through the UN Commission on Transnational Corporations (UNCTC). The
Commission’s main concern was to negotiate a legally binding Code of Conduct to regulate
transnational corporations. However, the Code never came into existence, as its legal nature remained
contested (Coleman, 2003). Most northern countries favored a purely voluntary solution and did not
want to delegate the implementation authority for the code to the UN, while most southern countries
argued for a stronger (that is, legally binding) regulatory arrangement. The Code was finally rejected
in 1992 by the General Assembly and the UNCTC was closed down in 1993 (Kell, 2013).
The UN’s relationship with the private sector started to see fundamental changes with the
appointment of Kofi Annan as Secretary-General in 1997. The interplay of different favorable
conditions enabled a reorientation (Kell, 2016; Sagafi-nejad, 2008). First, due to his work history
within the UN, Annan had a very good understanding of the weaknesses and strengths of the UN
system and hence knew which operational factors impeded collaboration with companies. Second, at
the institutional level it was recognized that growing global governance gaps (for example, around
climate change) required regulatory arrangements that (a) adequately acknowledged the role of the
private sector as well as civil society organizations in network-based governance and (b) moved
beyond “simple” solutions based on national hard law. Finally, the political landscape around the
millennium, with several world leaders supporting UN aspirations for new types of multi-stakeholder
interactions, created a context in which it was possible to consider innovative solutions to responsible
management problems. The time was ripe for launching the UNGC.
Kofi Annan delivered an important speech in front of the World Economic Forum in Davos in January
1999. The speech suggested a much closer alignment between the business community and the UN
system. Annan said: “I propose that you, the business leaders gathered in Davos, and we, the United
Nations, initiate a global compact of shared values and principles, which will give a human face to
the global market” (United Nations, 1999). Although it was unclear at the time how exactly such a
“compact” should look like, it paved the way for the launch of the UNGC on July 26,2000 at UN
Headquarters in New York. The initial list of signatories included 44 businesses (among them
contested and ethically charged corporations like Nike and Shell) as well as six business associations,
twelve civil society organizations, and two labor organizations.
THE UN GLOBAL COMPACT
Underlying Idea and Rationale
From its inception, the UNGC did not operate as a seal of approval or compliance standard. The goal
was to bring together the business community, the UN system, NGOs, and governments to jointly
engage in learning, dialogue, and partnership around topics related to responsible management
(Rasche, 2009; Rasche & Kell, 2010). At the time of its launch, many did not appreciate this
underlying logic. Due to the introduction of various certification schemes throughout the 1990s – like
the Forest Stewardship Council in 1993 (Klooster, 2010) and Social Accountability 8000 in 1997
(Gilbert & Rasche, 2007) – there was an expectation on the side of some NGOs and unions that a
voluntary initiative without a certification mechanism would not be worth anything. However, to
many learning, dialogue and partnership sounded like a convincing agenda, especially as the
responsible management movement was still in its early days and relevant practices not yet widely
developed or tested (Moon et al., 2017).
The UNGC urged businesses to voluntary accept nine principles in the areas of human rights, labor
rights, and environmental protection (Figure 15.1) as a basic “moral compass” to guide relevant
learning, dialogue, and partnership activities and to thereby advance their corporate practices (a tenth
principle on anti-corruption was added in 2004). The ten principles referred to corresponding UN
treaties and conventions: the two human rights principles were derived from the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights, the four labor principles referred to certain conventions by the
International Labour Organization (ILO), the three environmental principles were based on to the Rio
Declaration on Environment and Development (the so-called Agenda 21), and the anti-corruption
principle was derived from the UN Convention Against Corruption. As the ten principles were
initially not endorsed by the UN General Assembly, some saw their launch as an attempt to sidestep
opposing government interests (Coleman, 2003). Even though the initial introduction of the UNGC
happened without a mandate from the General Assembly, a number of UN member states expressed
political support for the initiative from the start. In 2002, a General Assembly resolution further
codified the emerging links between the UN system and the business community and thus provided
political backup for the UNGC (see “Towards Global Partnerships”, United Nations, 2015a).
Insert Figure 15.1 About Here
Ever since its inception, the UNGC witnessed strong participant growth. As of July 2018, there are
around 9,800 businesses and 3,300 non-business participants from 163 countries actively engaged in
the initiative, which makes the UNGC the largest voluntary initiative for responsible management.
About 50 percent of participants reflect small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) – that is, firms
with fewer than 250 employees. Given that numerous other voluntary initiatives for responsible
management focus on larger firms (for example, the World Business Council for Sustainable
Development), the inclusion of smaller firms is a much-welcome and much-needed characteristic of
the UNGC. Considering the institutionalization of responsible management practices in large firms
(Baumann-Pauly et al., 2013), it is surprising that only 28 percent of Fortune 500 firms are
participating in the UNGC (UN Global Compact, 2017). Research shows that participants join the
initiative for different reasons, including, but not limited to: building trust in the corporation, gaining
access to a network of likeminded companies, expanding on business opportunities, and managing
risk (see Rasche et al., 2013 for an overview).
Organizationally speaking, the UNGC is designed as a global network that consists of many smaller
local networks (Gilbert & Behnam, 2013). Such an approach is vital for an initiative that aims to
connect globally valid principles with locally embedded actions around responsible management
(Ruggie, 2004). Local networks, which currently exist in approximately 80 countries, can be
understood as “clusters of participants who come together voluntarily to advance the Global Compact
and its Principles at the local level” (Whelan, 2010: 318). Such local networks are vital when
considering that learning, dialogue, and partnership need to be embedded in a specific local context
in order to make sense. As countries differ widely with regard to their legislation around different
aspects of responsible management (KPMG et al., 2016) as well as their knowledge about and
experience with relevant corporate practices, local networks helps to contextualize discussions among
business and non-business actors.
From its inception, the UNGC faced critique from NGOs (Deva, 2006), unions (Ryder, 2010), as well
as academics (Sethi & Schepers, 2014). In 2003, Oxfam International, Amnesty International, the
Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, and Human Rights Watch (2003: 1) jointly expressed their
concerns in a letter to then Deputy UN Secretary-General Louise Fréchette, stating:
[…] we believe that the Global Compact must find ways to strengthen methods of accountability for
the private sector in relation to the principles. We recognize that the small secretariat can only do so
much, and we also treat seriously the argument that the Global Compact itself may not be the place
to enforce compliance.
Rasche (2009) summarizes the critical arguments against the UNGC in three main points: (1) the
UNGC needs to monitor participants’ progress towards the ten principles, (2) the principles are too
vague to enable any serious benchmarking of progress or to measure implementation progress, and
(3) the UN’s engagement with the private sector through the UNGC could lead to “UN capture” (a
situation where private actors unjustifiably influence an intergovernmental organization).
As a response to these critical voices, the UNGC adopted the so-called Communication on Progress
(COP) policy in 2003. The COP policy obliges all business participants to annually submit a public
report on the progress they have made towards implementing the ten principles. In order to meet the
requirements of a heterogenous set of business participants (that is, firms with different sizes,
nationalities, and knowledge about responsible management), the COP policy was designed in a
flexible way and only specified certain minimum requirements. COPs need to include a statement of
continued support for the UNGC, a description of the activities in support of the ten principles, and a
measurement of outcomes. The COP policy, however, does not require any monitoring or verification
of the report (UN Global Compact, 2018). The idea of COP reporting is based on three assumptions:
(a) that the availability of public reports will create accountability, (b) that transparency will foster a
race to the top (that is, firms will have incentives to advance their practices once they can learn from
competitors), and (c) that reporting can be seen as a proxy for implementation (Hamid & Johner,
2010). If a participant fails to submit the annual report, the participant will first be labelled “non-
communicating” (for a period of 12 months) and is then delisted from the UNGC. Until July 2018,
the UNGC had to expel 7,989 business participants for failure to submit a valid COP (see Figure 15.2
for a historical overview of “active” and “delisted” companies).
Insert Figure 15.2 About Here
The significantly high number of delisted participants has motivated some research. Knudsen’s
(2011) analysis shows that small firms are more likely to be delisted than larger firms. Further,
participants from countries where domestic governance institutions are well-functioning face a lower
likelihood of being delisted. Rasche et al.’s (2018) analysis confirms the results regarding firm size
and further showed that early adopters of the UNGC face a higher risk of being delisted and that the
presence of a local network in a country reduces the likelihood of being delisted. Rasche et al.’s
analysis uses resource dependence theory (Pfeffer & Salancik, 1978) to discuss why firms with
certain characteristics are more likely to be delisted. One key resource that the UNGC is supplying
to its participants is social legitimacy, which is more important to larger firms as these are
disproportionally exposed to reputational risks and get more critical attention from stakeholders
(Kostova & Zaheer, 1999). In other words, larger firms have more incentives to comply with the COP
policy, as they are more likely to face adverse reputational effects when being delisted. Amer’s (2018)
study also confirms the strong influence of firm size on delistings. Her analysis finds that publicly
traded companies, which were delisted from the UNGC, were subsequently penalized by investors
with an average cumulative abnormal return of -1.6 percent over a period of five trading days.
Governance of the UNGC
The governance of voluntary multi-stakeholder initiatives with a focus on responsible management
remains a much-researched topic (Bernstein, 2011; Mena & Palazzo, 2012). Prior research has shown
that multi-stakeholder initiatives can only gain high degrees of input legitimacy if their governance
structures balance stakeholder voices and ensure high levels of inclusiveness within decision-making
(Gilbert & Rasche, 2008; Miller & Bush, 2015). Input legitimacy refers to the belief that “decisions
are derived from the preferences of the population in a chain of accountability linking those governing
to those governed” (Mayntz, 2010: 10). The input legitimacy of the UNGC remains contested (see
Sethi & Schepers, 2014 and Wynhoven & Stausberg, 2010 for different assessments). On the one
hand, the initiative emphasizes its multi-stakeholder nature and the importance of considering the
perspectives of business and non-business participants. On the other hand, the UNGC also makes
clear that it is “business-led.” The latter point is particularly reflected in the unbalanced structure of
the Board where businesses have ten seats, while civil society and labor representatives together only
have four seats (as of July 2018). Given this unequal distribution of seats on the Board, it is difficult
to argue for high degrees of input legitimacy. However, the limited input legitimacy has no real effects
on the attractiveness of the initiative to potential participants, as the UN system as a whole is
perceived as very legitimate (Barnett & Finnemore, 2008). Many actors find it therefore still attractive
to be associated with it, as they expect positive legitimacy spillover effects (Haack et al., 2014).
The UNGC is mostly financed through non-UN sources. In 2006, the UN permitted the UNGC to
establish a US-based Foundation (as a non-profit entity that is exempt from taxation under section
501(c) (3) of the US Internal Revenue Service) in support of the initiative. The “Foundation for the
Global Compact” collects voluntary donations from business participants and governments.
Currently, around 80 percent of all donations come from private sector participants, while the
remaining 20 percent come from supporting governments (Foundation for the Global Compact,
2018). Recently, the UNGC started to further differentiate business actors into “participants” and
“signatories.” While participants are required to make an annual financial contribution to the UNGC
(and hence also receive better access to the UNGC’s resources and services), signatories are exempt
from such a contribution unless their revenue exceeds USD 50 million. Although it is clear that a fast-
growing initiative like the UNGC needs to secure a stable financial platform for growth, donations
by participating companies are likely to be a source of future conflicts of interest from a governance
THE SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS
From the MDGs to the SDGs
While the UNGC reflects a voluntary initiative, the SDGs do not constitute a standard or initiative to
which corporations can sign up (although firms can support them). The SDGs reflect the UN’s agenda
for sustainable development until the year 2030 (based on a General Assembly resolution adopted on
September 25, 2015; A/RES/70/1). The SDGs consist of 17 goals (see Figure 15.3) to which 169
specific targets are attached. Much like the UNGC, the SDGs follow a multi-stakeholder model. The
Resolution therefore emphasizes that: “Our journey will involve Governments as well as parliaments,
the United Nations system and other international institutions, local authorities, indigenous peoples,
civil society, business and the private sector, the scientific and academic community – and all people”
(United Nations, 2015a: 12) While this certainly improves the ability of the SDGs to address social
and environmental problems, it also creates significant coordination costs and can potentially weaken
the accountability structure underlying the Goals.
Insert Figure 15.3 About Here
The SDGs build on the MDGs, which reflected the UN’s development agenda for the 2000‒2015
time period. Research assessed the MDGs in different ways. While some acknowledged that the
MDGs were important because they helped to “promote global awareness, political accountability,
improved metrics, social feedback, and public pressures” (Sachs, 2012: 2206), others have pointed
out that it was precisely the lack of accountability (for example, of aid agencies and governments)
that weakened these Goals (Black & White, 2004; Fukuda-Parr, 2004). Another key critique of the
MDGs was the top-down donor-driven process of their development; a process which virtually
excluded any broader consultation or even citizen participation (Fukuda-Parr, 2012: 11‒13). It was
thus not surprising that businesses did not enthusiastically embrace the MDGs or even related them
to their responsible management efforts. Although there was fierce debate around whether and to
which degree the MDGs were reached (United Nations, 2015b), some scholars highlighted that
instead of debating goal achievement it is more important to discuss in how far the MDGs redefined
development and aligned relevant practices with neoliberal thinking and acting (Ilcan & Phillips,
From a responsible management perspective, it is noteworthy that the SDGs make explicit reference
to the concept of sustainable development (Griggs et al., 2013). While the MDGs were still mostly
focused on traditional development targets, such as eradicating poverty and improving education and
health, the SDGs acknowledge more clearly that social, environmental and economic development
interact (Sachs, 2012). In other words, the SDGs reflect triple-bottom-line management at large scale
and with significant scope. Unlike the MDGs, which still followed a “silo approach” towards
international development (Hazlewood, 2015), the SDGs acknowledge the interconnected nature of
problems and solutions. Such a systems-based perspective on sustainable development allows to cope
with two key challenges: (1) social-economic dynamics and ecosystem conditions influence each
other (Levy & Lichtenstein, 2012) and (2) environmental problems are interconnected in various
ways because natural systems exhibit non-linear characteristics (Whiteman et al., 2013).
Scholars from different disciplines have criticized the SDGs. One widespread critique concerns the
process of development and hence the legitimacy of the Goals. While it is clear that the “2030 Agenda
process represented an unprecedented level of outreach to citizens” (Fox & Stoett, 2016: 569), it is
unclear how much of this input was really considered while drafting the 17 Goals (see also Yiu &
Saner, 2014). Fox and Stoett (2016) conclude that despite efforts to democratize relevant decision-
making processes, the overall framework was ultimately decided by intergovernmental negotiations.
Another critique concerns the scale and scope of the SDGs. In 2015, The Economist famously
criticized the SDGs as reflecting “ambitions on a Biblical scale, and not in a good way” (The
Economist, 2015: 14) The UN itself defends the high number of Goals and long list of indicators by
pointing to the fact that the SDGs reflect a broad and encompassing agenda for sustainable
development (United Nations, 2015a).
Some scholars have criticized that at least some of the SDGs do not hang together very well (Le
Blanc, 2015) or even be contradictory (Spaiser et al., 2017). For instance, while the UN Resolution
conceptualizes economic growth as a foundation for development (see para 27 in particular), it does
not discuss in how far such growth can undermine some of the ecological and social Goals. It can
therefore be argued that the SDGs assume the existence of an almost universal “business case” for
sustainable development – a scenario in which economic and environmental/social objectives are
always aligned. However, research in responsible management shows that such a business case is not
always present, and that, in fact, reflections on firms’ responsibility and sustainability are most
needed whenever there are no financial incentives to act (Vallentin & Spence, 2017; Rasche, 2018).
The UNGC and the SDGs
There are many connecting elements between the UNGC and the SDGs. First and foremost, the SDGs
explicitly call on businesses to contribute to the 17 Goals, while the MDGs did not clearly realize the
role of the private sector within international development. Much like the UNGC’s ten principles, the
SDGs provide a common framework to set priorities vis-à-vis sustainable development and to align
the expectations and strategies of different stakeholders. So far, we know very little about how exactly
the business community engages with the SDGs. What is clear at this stage is that commitment to the
SDGs is very much framed around the “business case” for responsible management. For instance, the
guide for business action on the SDGs emphasizes that the Goals can be used to identify business
opportunities and to “strengthen the economic incentives for companies to use resources more
efficiently” (GRI, UNGC, & WBCSD, 2018: 4). Although such a framing is certainly attractive to
businesses, it may also limit their potential contribution. What happens, for instance, if a company
cannot make a business case for its engagement with one of the 17 Goals? Should the company then
simply ignore the Goal even though it could in principle make a contribution? Unlike with the UNGC,
which requires firms to live up to all ten principles, companies do not need to commit to all SDGs.
One consequence of this could be that firms start to “cherry pick” those Goals that can be addressed
in the easiest way and for which a clear business case exists (Richardson, 2017).
One important area where the UNGC and the SDG overlap is partnerships. Multi-stakeholder
partnerships are viewed as the primary implementation vehicle for the SDGs (see SDG No. 17). SDG
target 17.16 specifies this by stating that the goal needs to be to “[e]nhance the global partnership for
sustainable development, complemented by multi-stakeholder partnerships that mobilize and share
knowledge, expertise, technology and financial resources” (United Nations, 2015a: 27). Research has
started to explore the conditions that would enable such type of partnerships. Fowler and Biekart
(2017), for instance, show that due to the complexity of the anticipated partnerships, there is a need
for interlocutors (for example, secretariats, platforms, focal points) that make partnerships work well
and that align different projects with each other. Given the complexity of the 17 Goals and their
interrelated nature, such interlocutors seem inevitable to enable partnerships that produce relevant
outcomes. Cormier (2016) shows the need to consider the role of international organizations – like
the World Bank, the UN, and the International Labour Organization – as important participants and
coordinators of relevant partnerships. The study demonstrates that international organizations’
potential to shape partnerships depends on how well their political constraints and their internal
organizational processes (which are needed to address these constraints) are aligned.
FUTURE RESEARCH AGENDA
The UNGC and the SDGs provide an exciting empirical context for future scholarly work in the area
of responsible management. The following areas of research are not meant to designate a conclusive
list. Rather, they point to areas of scholarly inquiry within the responsible management domain that
have been either neglected so far or that relate to recent developments within the UNGC and SDGs
or UN-business relations more generally.
Future Research on the UNGC
One important research area, which has been mostly neglected by responsible management scholars
so far, are delistings from the UNGC (see Knudsen, 2011 and Rasche et al., 2018 for exceptions).
While we have reached a good understanding of what type of firms are delisted, we can only speculate
why these firms decide to leave the initiative. As the vast majority of delisted firms are SMEs, this
provides an opportunity for those scholars who have focused on responsible management in small
and family-owned firms (Murillo & Lozano, 2006). Case study research can unpack the unique
context of such firms and show why they decided to leave the UNGC. For instance, as these firms
usually do not have dedicated organizational units to manage their engagement with the UNGC, it is
likely that interest in the initiative vanishes if committed individuals leave the company or that there
is a lack of moral reflexive practice (Hibbert & Cunliffe, 2015). For larger firms such employee
turnover is unproblematic, as they maintain sufficient staff in units that deal with responsible
management. Research in this direction can particularly look into the relevance of resource
dependence theory (for example, to model the link between a firm’s stock of resources and delisting
decisions) as well as legitimacy theory (for example, to theorize which type of firms profit from
legitimacy spillover effects; see also Haack et al., 2014).
A second area of future research on the UNGC concerns the role of the individual leader. While we
have many macro-level assessments of the UNGC’s role in global governance and also literature that
discusses organizational implementation mechanisms, we have almost no knowledge about how
individual leaders engage with the initiative. To fully grasp the relevance of such micro-level research
it is important to realize that the UNGC is designed as a CEO-driven initiative. It is CEOs who sign
the letter that enroll a company in the UNGC, and it is also CEOs who have to produce a statement
of continued support in the annual COP report. Future research needs to study in how far CEOs really
engage with the initiative, and what distinguishes those leaders that actively participate from those
who do not. Such research can connect to studies of top management’s involvement in responsible
decision-making (Chin et al., 2013; Prahalad, 2010) as well as the design of relevant incentive
systems (Hilliard, 2013). Theoretically speaking, practice theory can help to uncover the situational
embeddedness and performativity of relevant CEO practices (Reckwitz, 2002). Such theoretical work
would consider more closely that it is the situational enactment of social practices (e.g. signing
progress reports) through CEOs and other actors that matters most when analyzing the micro
foundations of UNGC commitment. Such work would also require to study more closely how
responsible management is embedded into managerial jobs and relevant processes (see e.g. Abrams,
1951; Verkerk et al., 2001).
Future Research on the SDGs
Future research on the SDGs can relate to existing scholarly work in responsible management in a
number of ways. First, the extensive work on cross-sector partnerships (Selsky & Parker, 2005) can
provide much-needed insights into how SDG17 can be addressed. While we have gained a good deal
of knowledge about business–NGO and business–government partnerships, we know relatively little
about specific partnership projects that involve corporations and UN agencies (for an exception see
Reed & Reed, 2009). The SDGs are likely to create a diverse set of partnership projects, many of
which will involve UN agencies. Currently, we know little about the functional and power
relationships within such partnership agreements. We also need to know more about what exactly
motivates UN agencies to become involved in such projects (for example, access to knowledge and
finances). Another important area of research is how the (often bureaucratic) internal processes of the
UN system influence partnership projects. Are they perceived as impeding project success (for
example, because of delayed decision processes) or are they accepted as a way to ensure legitimacy
Second, future scholarly work needs to put more focus on data partnerships that are supposed to
support the implementation of the SDGs. For instance, global IT giants like Twitter have started to
work with the UN in different ways to produce more timely development data. Consider the following
brief example. The UN Global Pulse initiative analyzed large amounts of tweets commenting on the
price of rice in Indonesia. The analysis showed that the quantity of tweets on the topic followed the
official inflation for the food basket in the country, indicating that social media data can be used as a
predictor of price trends on local markets (Flyverbom, Madsen, & Rasche, 2017). Such collaborations
raise interesting new questions, such as: In what ways do these partnerships change the
epistemological foundations of development data? What are the motives behind “data philanthropy”
by large IT giants? In what ways can such partnerships produce real-time development data, which
can supplement more traditional data sources (for example, household surveys)? How can such
partnerships ensure the privacy of the used information? Answering questions like these will allow
us to better understand how the SDGs can contribute to the emerging responsible management
Finally, another fundamental research challenge will be to study how the SDGs shape managers’
enactment of responsible business practices. In order to study such enactment processes we need to
know more about how managers learn about sustainability, responsibility, and ethics against the
background of the SDGs. The “Agenda 2030” is as much an agenda for sustainable development as
it is an agenda for responsible management learning. Such learning can happen in explicit and implicit
ways (Laasch, 2016), and future scholarly work needs to explore what can support and inhibit relevant
learning practices among managers.
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Figure 15.1 The UNGC’s ten principles
Business should support and respect the protection of international human rights; and
make sure they are not complicit in human rights abuses.
Business should uphold the freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to
the elimination of all forms of forced and compulsory labor;
the effective abolition of child labor;
the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.
Business should support a precautionary approach to environmental challenges;
undertake initiatives to promote greater environmental responsibility; and
encourage the development and diffusion of environmentally friendly technologies.
Business should work against all forms of corruption, including extortion and bribery.
Figure 15.2 UN Global Compact: active and delisted participants (2000‒2017)
Sources: UN Global Compact (2017). Total delisted companies retrieved from own data (2005–
2009) and UNGC Monthly Bulletins (2009‒2017).
Figure 15.3 The UN Sustainable Development Goals
End poverty in all its forms everywhere
End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and
decent work for all
Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
Reduce inequality within and among countries
Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat
desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss
Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and
build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development