Hello everyone, I’m Dominic White, Head of International Development Policy, WWF-UK
How can joint advocacy between civil society and business help to drive the policies needed to achieve the SDGs?
Joint advocacy between civil society and business can add a more consistent, coordinated and compelling voice to policy debates around key social and environmental issues and achieve a more transformational impact than any one organization or sector can achieve on their own. Adding a business or ‘economic’ argument to social or environmental arguments can be particularly effective in getting the attention of relevant policy makers and politicians.
Joint advocacy includes efforts to change the “rules of the game” – either legislation or regulations around a specific sustainability challenge – for example, the Ethical Trading Initiative, major retail companies and others advocating for implementation of the UK”s Modern Slavery Act. It also includes joint efforts to get governments to implement fiscal and other market-based incentives to mobilize private resources for the SDGs – for example the joint letter to the UK Prime Minister signed by dozens of the country’s best know companies and their CEOS and coordinated by the UK’s Stakeholders for Sustainable Development (UKSSD) platform. Another approach is joint efforts to raise public awareness about sustainable development issues and encouraging citizens to engage with their local political leaders on these, for example work done by the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition to get American citizens, business leaders, civic leaders and military leaders to advocate for supporting America’s international development budget.
some good examples can include:
- advocacy for Modern Slavery Act in the UK which was certainly a collaboration of business, NGOs and trade unions. There was a consensus reached that driving the race to the top is a good thing for society and business.
- case of Oxfam and ETI working together to increase minimum wage in Myanmar in 2014 illustrates how a research done by NGO can get a greater impact and tangible results when business steps in and supports the case.
- Bangladesh Accord 1 was also a result of hard multistakeholder engagement.
Ruth - Could you tell us a bit more about how Oxfam’s Behind the Brands has helped to shift attitudes and practices?
Agree Rachael , often sadly economic and social issues are seen as two seperate aspects that are in conflict. Yet we know that sustainable development is not possible unless both happen together requiring both arguments to be heard.
Hello - sorry to be late. Simon Wright, Save the Children.
Behind the Brands relied on the power of competition to create a race to the top. Companies were benchmarked against peers , using a scorecard it was clear where the companies were doing well and where they were not. It also opened up discussions about common problems and allowed companies to engage each other and civil society about how to tackle for example gender equality.
Exactly. The good thing is, because that can be the norm, we can also grab some additional attention when we are able to work in concert.
The CARE USA and Mars example in our report really demonstrates how “unlikely bedfellows” advocating together can get the attention of policy makers and enable them to re-conceptualise the issue.
Agree with Rachael and Ruth about the need to keep holding partners to account even when also building a collaborative effort on public advocacy. Finding the right governance and communications structures for accountability, both within the coalition and beyond it is essential.
We are usually far more credible and influential together than alone, especially where we combine to present all 3 dimensions of sustainable development (environmental, social, economic). None of us know everything and team work can be add to more than the sum of the parts – diverse views and opinions make for more sophisticated policy positions. A united front between business and civil society can often compel governments to act where either party alone may not otherwise.
Example: WWF convenes the Leather Buyers Platform, which includes 10 companies including Tescos, Next, Asos, John Lewis, Matalan etc, importing 70% of the leather from the Kanpur tanneries. Under current practice pollution has serious social and environmental impacts. The Platform of companies lobbied the Federal Department for Industrial Policy and Promotion to support a vision for sustainable leather wear in India. This is a relatively new initiative in terms of verifiable impact – although some waste water improvements are already underway.
WWF worked with M&S and Woolworths in South Africa to promote private sector water stewardship in national water policy. Some of these changes are happening but policy yet to be bedded down.
In the UK WWF has worked with Coke on diffuse pollution, unsustainable abstraction and future Agricultural policy re Brexit. Sustainable water policy is good for people and the environment and fundamental to business survival. Coke hosted joint sessions at party conferences, technical roundtables with policy makers that supported these policy recommendations.
There are many discussions about whether it is better to praise the best or criticise the worst. As always, it is good to have both, to wield a stick and carrot. But the same organisation may find it hard to do both roles.
In our new report: Advocating Together for the SDGs - we have identified some great examples of joint policy advocacy.
To support the programme goals of established business – NGO delivery partnerships, great examples include Save the Children and GSK advocating together for Universal Health Coverage, Oxfam and Unilever advocating together for greater recognition of unpaid care work and women empowerment and Anglo American and International Alert advocating together for the VPs on Security and Human Rights.
To address near-term policy threats, opportunities and milestones – great example include Mars’ work with CARE USA to make the case for US overseas development assistance, ETI’s work to improve labour rights and working conditions and the We Are Still in Coalition advocating for continued US commitment to the Paris Agreement.
To address long-term systemic challenges 2030 Water Resources Group on water security and the US Global Leadership Coalition are great examples
It is definitely difficult, which is why advocacy collaboration is rare. It requires a trust between partners that is mature (long lived) that is welcoming of both criticism and praise.
I agree that governance and communication structures are important. I believe working together helps in this sense too. From the early days of GSK’s partnership with Save the Children, joint advocacy has played a valuable role in strengthening alignment between our organisations and increasing our understanding of one another’s positions to help us find common ground to progress.
Thanks for all the great insights and examples. Let’s move onto the next question:
Joint advocacy can be more compelling and demonstrates to governments that there are multiple interests and reasons for needing policy change.
One core challenge is managing the diversity of views on specific issues; neither civil society nor business is one coherent voice – there are many different priorities and sub-issues at play all the time. That can mean that WWF can sometimes find more common ground initially with some businesses than some other CSOs; equally some CSOs may be justifiably wary or sceptical of engaging with business and we can help build those bridges.
Business and CSOs can be speaking different languages, or feel comfortable speaking on different topics – business in particular can be wary of speaking out on e.g. human rights issues; civil society often struggle to prioritise shareholder imperatives. So coming up with joint statements that are powerful or compelling, not too vague or high-level, relies on finding people that can help speak both languages and see both perspectives.
Another challenges is recognising that we don’t have to agree on everything. Civil society need to present strong business cases to be taken seriously, but also have the important role of being the critical friend. The key is being explicit about what you disagree on as much as agree on.
It is important to recognise your respective strengths as a civil society actor; the expert, the facilitator, the whip? Knowing when to take the lead and when to take the back seat as it is not about taking the credit. Much of the business advocacy work WWF undertake is about facilitating the environmental conversations between business and government. In 2015, ahead of Paris, we had 80 businesses sign their own letter called Business Backs Low-Carbon Britain. No WWF branding was present – the letter was just ‘facilitated by WWF’ in small print at the bottom. WWF sent it to the Prime Minister and arranged meetings between business and ministers to discuss policy ambition, but this was a business led initiative. We then spun it off in the US and they took it to far greater heights, where it eventually became “We are still In”, delivering thousands of business signatures to the White House following the announcement to step back from the Paris Agreement.
In fact, we got numerous requests from supportive policymakers to engage in this kind of joint advocacy more frequently, as they saw it as an effective way to move their fellow policymakers who are on the fence.
One of the other lessons from Behind the Brands and similar benchmarking efforts was engaging investors in the process - especially in the findings and outreach.