Responsible Business Conduct (RBC) has been a concept that not only has been transforming the way the corporate world does business but has also transcended the day-to-day decisions a multimillion company should take. I remembered the time I couldn’t find a job, after going to grad school, since I had a master’s degree in a concept people didn’t truly understand. What is sustainable development? What is responsible business conduct? What is responsible management? Those were questions that I would receive in each interview I would do, while I was hoping others managed to see the importance this concept has for our future (while simultaneously trying to get hired). Some years ago, companies didn’t realize their actions truly had negative impacts on their activities, not just on people, but also on the planet.
The concept of Responsible Business Conduct represents the actions an enterprise can make to contribute in a positive way, to economic, environmental, and social progress while achieving sustainable development. We used to think that if a company had a “CSR Department” or a “Volunteering Program” would be enough, but time has shown us that the corporate world needs serious changes to sustain in an inclusive and sustainable manner. Enterprises have realized that their actions have impacts and that consumers care about the image an enterprise represents. It took years for fast fashion companies to recover after the Rana Plaza factory complex disaster in Bangladesh, which killed more than 1,100 garment workers, mostly young women. What did the international community learn from those horrific images? That all businesses regardless of their legal status, size, structure, ownership, sector, should behave in a responsible way. The concept of RBC now represented a set of values that would eventually not just dictate a variety of actions a multinational enterprise needs to practice but also established a set of norms that would eventually formulate important public policies, decisions, and even laws.
As the international business environment transitioned to a more responsible “conduct” economy, and it likes to put it in italics since it’s a concept we’re still determining and creating multinational enterprises; throughout their job creation perspective, investment, and human capital development, have been primary contributors to the development and economic growth of the whole international community. In a complex and globalized world, multinational enterprises’ activities often uphold distinctive environments that can have negative repercussions in economic, social, and environmental matters. Multinationals need to represent high standards within their business conduct and appropriate these types of principles in their overall frameworks.
While the RBC concept suffered a powerful transition, enterprises realized they had to adopt the robust 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into their framework, to achieve sustainability, and the 2030 Agenda. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals not just represented a global vision on what we need to focus on to achieve sustainability, but also was a global shoutout that we are all interconnected, and to achieve sustainability, there needs to be urged targeted goals. These indicators helped track humanity´s progress towards well-being while encompassing distinctive trade-offs and transition channels. These goals are all interconnected and have caved the path on new ways to not just create public policy, but the way enterprises do businesses.
SDG 5 is gender equality and women’s empowerment. As Multinational Enterprises started their transition to adopt the 17 SDGs and principles of Responsible Business Conduct into their framework and ambitions, the business community´s motivation and intent to advance in women’s economic empowerment started growing significantly. Now we can talk about a concept that has been widely recognized by governments and businesses around the world, as its own substantial right, which is a critical driver to sustainable and inclusive development. And as happy I can be to say we are currently living in the decade of women; surprisingly (pretends to be shocked) businesses are still not generating gender equality opportunities that respond to our specific needs and policy dimensions.
Women historically have been disproportionately affected by adverse business practices, where gender impacts every (yes, every) aspect of business, whereas we can say, it is still treated as a niche. This not just prevents a company from developing a sustainable and inclusive agenda but prevents progress on women’s economic empowerment, which has direct implications on poverty, economic growth, and sustainable development. In these unprecedented times we are living, women are participating even more in the formal economy, and are accountable for more than 40% of the global labor force. We are currently experiencing impressive growth in women in leadership positions and experiencing an outpouring of growth in female entrepreneurship. As Christine Lagarde, the head of the European Central Bank once said: “women’s empowerment is not just a fundamentally moral cause, it is also an absolute economic no-brainer.”
Then why is gender still a blind spot for many multinational enterprises? Why are women´s contributions and needs often overlooked? Why do we still have to fight every day to close the notorious gender gap? Women have been facing unique barriers throughout the years in most countries, where restrictions have been part of our path since I can remember, and guess what – we´ve grown resilient from them -. Achieving gender equality is a movement, which requires systematically strengthening within the integration of gender perspective policies, frameworks, conducts, and alliances, where Multinational Enterprises need to tackle the common barriers towards this substantive progress. Every time a woman reaches a leadership position, it is more likely to integrate sustainability aspects which can recreate an inclusive and developed economy. It’s easy, I see it as a win-win coalition, where businesses start a groundwork to create gender-equitable work, while economic inclusivity thrives into a more resilient and sustainable future.
Within a gender perspective scope, Responsible Business Conduct encourages multinational enterprises to understand what women’s economic empowerment means by granting them the knowledge, tools, and power to achieve their goals and aspirations. MNEs need to ensure women can achieve their full potential by granting them leadership positions, ending discrimination, and providing them equal pay in integrated matters. The awareness of these gender norms and the systemic changes that come along with them should be visible in key performance indicators, employee engagement, and substantial policy frameworks. We are currently living in a space of time where businesses, governments, NGOs, and society are listening to what we have to say, which marks the perfect momentum to achieve and strengthen women’s economic empowerment. Let’s identify opportunities, improve policies, and recognize significant partnerships that can boost these principles into our day-to-day chores.
This is the time to make it happen. It’s now or never, so let’s make it happen, because if it is not now then, when?
Pilar Porras is a Costa Rican governmental advisor. She holds a Masters’s Degree from the UN Mandate Univery for Peace in Responsible Management and Sustainable Economic Development and a Bachelor’s Degree in International Relations. Pilar is passionate about social development themes and environmental work. She is also a sustainability consultant and has focused her work on sustainability principles to reach Sustainable Development Goals in both public and private sectors. Ms. Porras is also an entrepreneur, currently creating a sustainable brand, loves yoga, and spending time on the beautiful Costa Rican beaches. Pilar cares about social justice, human rights, and environmental development all while focusing on inclusiveness and sustainable issues.