Trust and Transparency: Building Better Business and Policy Worldwide

Trust and Transparency: Building Better Business and Policy Worldwide

Saturday, May 21, 2016 - 12:00pm

CAMPAIGN: GRI Global Conference 2016

CONTENT: Article

“Delivering a better future is not just an option, it’s a necessity. There is no Plan B,” urged Lise Kingo, Executive Director, UN Global Compact, as she opened the fourth and final plenary of the 5th GRI Global Conference. Lise Kingo’s speech set the stage for a lively debate on the importance of trust and transparency for building better businesses, stronger economies and a more sustainable world.

“This is such an exciting time for sustainable business. The SDGs offer huge potential for driving sustainability reporting and trust in business. The SDG framework is the lighthouse guiding us towards a better future. We all know that business has a crucial role to play in this transformation towards a more sustainable future, and the SDGs open up enormous opportunities for business to be a force for good, creating the future that we all want.”

The UNGC is starting to see business leaders tune in to the SDGs, with many companies already reporting on them, but there’s still a long way to go, according to Lise Kingo: “Reporting is at an all-time high, but systems are still corrupt, human rights infringements are still taking place, and environmental assaults are all too frequent, even by companies viewed as ‘role models’ by consumers and investors.”

How can we build and measure trust?
“Trust can only be built when companies commit to doing business right,” advised Lise Kingo. “To build trust, companies need to look beyond the bottom line. They must first do business responsibly, and then find ways to innovate around sustainability and the SDGs. Transparency must play an essential role in this, and the GRI Global Conference has shown us excellent examples of how reporting and measurement builds transparency and trust.”
The UNGC and GRI have a long-term partnership to scale up their collective impact through ,global initiatives such as the SDG Compass – a guide for companies on how they can align their strategies as well as measure and manage their contributions to the realization of the SDGs. “We now need to move from adoption to action; we need companies to gear up to give life to the 2030 agenda,” urged Lise Kingo in her closing remarks.
Who can best safeguard transparency?
There is greater transparency of information than ever before, yet recent scandals demonstrate that more needs to be done to prevent the misuse of this information. What changes are needed to bridge this gap and enable better decision making by business leaders?
Elizabeth Yeampierre, Executive Director at Uprose, spoke passionately about the need for communnities to be brought in as essential stakeholders into the decision making process. “We have to learn to share information, resources and power. This is one of our biggest challenges. NGOs are integral to decision making. Local knowledge is integral to communities, and people with the answers come from very different places than you might expect. We want to change the way businesses operate and the relationships they have with NGOs.”
Jermyn Brooks, who sits on the Business Advisory Board of Transparency International called on organizations to increase their storytelling, to talk about their challenges and to involve communities. “NGOs can help form the multi-stakeholder panels needed to ensure the community focus is there. These different viewpoints are essential for helping companies understand in greater depth the issues they may otherwise overlook. It is the role of civil societies to challenge companies.”
Richard Howitt, Member of the European Parliament, spoke of the need for regulation to play a part in the “smart mix” leading us towards more transparent economies: “The launch of the latest edition of ‘Carrots & Sticks’ this week has shown a doubling of initiatives internationally over the past three years. Regulation is empirically part of the mix. If we want to turn reporting into decision making, we need governance.”
Is it really possible to measure trust?
Building trust with stakeholders can be perceived as intangible and immeasurable, and during the debate, panelists took end-of-the-spectrum viewpoints. Magdalena Gerger, President and CEO of Systembolaget AB emphatically believes you can, and must, measure trust: “Businesses cannot achieve anything without a good degree of trust, which can only be built over time and by informing and including all stakeholders. Organizations first need to set goals for measuring trust, then they can build it. Trust is very much a component of achieving the SDGs, and it has to be measured.”
Dorah Nteo, Strategic Executive Director - City Sustainability, City of Tshwane, holds a very opposite viewpoint: “Trust is too intangible to measure, it depends on a whole range of variables. We cannot have a universal measure of trust, it really depends on individual companies and recipients. It is impossible to impose a single definition or measure on every company.”
Roel Nieuwenkamp, Chair of the Working Party on International Investment, OECD, shared his experience on transparency and trust: “We are living in a time of high distrust and high transparency, and we all need to work much harder on building trust. The OECD sees the dark side of CSR issues: corruption and child labor in the supply chains, for example. Almost all of these issues occur when trust with local communities, trade unions etc. is broken. Due diligence in the supply chain is vital for identifying the risks of serious issues, and then building trust in suppliers.”
Closing the debate and the plenary, GRI’s Chief Executive, Michael Meehan, pointed to the future: “We are experiencing a historical moment in time for sustainability. We are all part of one single sustainability disclosure community, united by the shared intention to drive vision to action. I trust that this Conference has sparked new ideas, new initiatives and partnerships.”
Quoting a famous Japanese proverb, Michael urged delegates to return to their work with a renewed sense of purpose and enthusiasm, capitalizing on the defining moments of the past three days: “Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes the time. Combine the two and you can change the world.”

GRI™ is an international independent organization that has pioneered corporate sustainability reporting since 1997. GRI helps businesses, governments and other organizations understand and communicate the impact of business on critical sustainability issues such as climate change, human rights, corruption and many others. With thousands of reporters in over 90 countries, GRI provides the world’s most trusted and widely used standards on sustainability reporting, enabling organizations and their stakeholders to make better decisions based on information that matters. Currently, 38 countries and regions reference GRI in their policies. GRI is built upon a unique multi-stakeholder principle, which ensures the participation and expertise of diverse stakeholders in the development of its standards. GRI’s mission is to empower decision-makers everywhere, through its standards and multi-stakeholder network, to take action towards a more sustainable economy and world.