More than 60 business and civil society leaders recognize inequality as a systemic risk and lay out a roadmap for private sector action

New report identifies ten catalytic actions that business can take to address rising inequality.

Published: 3 May 2023
Type: News

Geneva, 3 May 2023: The Business Commission to Tackle Inequality (BCTI), a cross-sector, multi-stakeholder coalition of leaders and their organizations convened by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), today revealed its flagship report Tackling inequality: An agenda for business action. This report provides new analysis into the critical role of the private sector in addressing inequality, and the powerful reasons why business must act with urgency.  

In its report, the BCTI recognizes that the high level and structural nature of inequality in our world today represents a systemic risk that poses an existential threat to our society and economy. The BCTI identifies how inequality is eroding trust in our political and economic systems, fueling civil unrest and polarization, constraining economic growth, and undermining our collective capacity to tackle complex global challenges. 

“Today we are clearly seeing the consequences of inequality unfold around the world,” said Ilham Kadri, CEO of Solvay and Co-Chair of the BCTI. “But inequality is not a fact of nature; it is a product of our systems and practices, which we can change.” 

Against this backdrop, the BCTI’s Commissioners have spent the last 18 months identifying the most powerful tools that businesses across all sectors have at their disposal to distribute value and opportunity more equitably and to head off the risks posed by mounting inequality. Recognizing that there are certain business models and practices that have contributed to widening social and economic gaps in recent decades, at this critical juncture, the BCTI outlines concrete actions that individual companies can take to ensure they are fulfilling their potential to help close these gaps and deliver enhanced outcomes for people.  At a high level, these actions are:

  1. Implement the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights 
  2. Make essential products and services more accessible and affordable 
  3. Create a diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace and value chain 
  4. Prepare people for the future of work 
  5. Provide safe, secure and sufficient work 
  6. Pay and promote living wages and incomes 
  7. Support and respect worker representation 
  8. Support effective public policy 
  9. Adopt responsible tax practices 
  10. Realize the just transition to a net-zero and nature positive economy 

“This report is a call to action to business leaders,” said Peter Bakker, President and CEO of WBCSD and a Co-Chair of the BCTI. “It provides a clear and compelling case for business action to tackle inequality, as well as a comprehensive, credible and impactful action agenda that business leaders can leverage to help build a world of opportunity for all.”  

The BCTI’s report underlines how tackling inequality helps companies to mitigate a series of compounding operational, reputational, regulatory and financial risks. It also highlights how business efforts to address inequality should be seen as crucial investments in sustained business success, and have the potential to unlock significant market opportunities.  

“Our current economic model is leaving hundreds of millions of people behind.” said Alan Jope, CEO of Unilever and a Co-Chair of the Commission. “Tackling this inequality will accelerate economic growth. For example, simply paying living wages could add US$ 4.56 trillion to global GDP every year through increased productivity and spending. Ultimately, businesses thrive when societies thrive too.”  

The Commission’s flagship report also lays out a sustainable business transformation framework to support companies in identifying, assessing and strategically integrating meaningful measures to address inequality-related risks and opportunities. 

“Businesses can play a transformative role in tackling inequality by fashioning innovative business models that support sustainable livelihoods,” said Sanjiv Puri, Chairman of ITC and a BCTI Co-Chair. “At ITC, our experience on the ground has underlined how imperative it is to develop inclusive value chains, strengthen climate resilience and build capabilities for tomorrow, especially for farmers and rural communities.” 

The BCTI’s report highlights how corporate efforts to address inequality must be built on the twin pillars of collaboration and stakeholder engagement. Inequality is a systemic issue and therefore requires a systemic, multi-stakeholder response. It will be critical for the private sector to work closely with policymakers, investors, NGOs and others to drive change at scale. In addition, any serious private sector endeavor to tackle inequality will need to be rooted in efforts to proactively engage with stakeholder groups that are, or may potentially be, affected by business activity, and to embed their perspectives into business decision-making. 

“Business has a powerful role to play in reducing inequality and making it possible for all people to live the kinds of lives they aspire to,” said Sunny Verghese, Co-founder and Group CEO of Olam Group and a BCTI Co-Chair. “Olam has seen this through our efforts to improve incomes and living standards in smallholder farming communities. Collaboration across industry, with government, and other stakeholders is vital to delivering more opportunities to more people.”  

The BCTI also emphasizes that inequality-related risks are also inextricably linked to the climate emergency and to nature loss. The planetary crisis is having profound impacts on people, and if left unchecked stands to further undermine human health, disrupt access to essential products and services, and destroy livelihoods – hitting the most vulnerable in our communities the hardest. At the same time, the transition to a net-zero carbon and nature positive economy will only be successful if it is equitable and inclusive, and delivers opportunities for workers and communities around the world. 

“Addressing inequality is not only a moral obligation but a business imperative to ensure long-term economic growth,” said Lynn Forester de Rothschild, Founder of the Council for Inclusive Capitalism and Co-Chair of the BCTI. “Crucial to that growth is a just global transition to net-zero which will help address growing inequality by putting people at the center of the transition.”  

The BCTI’s Commissioners call on all business leaders to leverage the action agenda in its flagship report and to prioritize the most impactful opportunities for their organizations to drive transformative change in people’s lives.  

“We are at a step change moment for business, government and other organizations to work together to create a more just and equitable society for all,” said Jonas Prising, Chairman and CEO of ManpowerGroup and BCTI Co-Chair. “The practical steps outlined in this BCTI report provide a roadmap to create a future that is better for the many, not the few.” 

Throughout 2023, the BCTI will be sustaining its efforts to advocate for the implementation of this action agenda – catalyzing and coordinating efforts to advance the tools, standards, and collaborations that can support the global business community on this journey. 

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