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Speech by Ms. Pratibha Mehta, UN Resident Coordinator at VCCI/UNIDO CSR Seminar: Meet to meet the SDGs

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Date: 5th April 2016 / 7th April 2016
Event: VCCI/UNIDO CSR Seminar: Meet to meet the SDGs
Venue: Liberty City Point Hotel (HCMC)/ Ha Noi Club Hotel (Ha Noi)

Mr. Nguyen Quang Vinh, Secretary General of Viet Nam Chamber of Commerce and Industry;
Representatives of private sector from Viet Nam;
Colleagues from UN system;
Ladies and gentlemen;

I am very pleased to be here today to discuss the Sustainable Development Goals, adopted by the UN Member States including Viet Nam in September 2015 and specifically, what business can do to contribute to their realization in Viet Nam. This is the first Meet to meet SDGs to share experiences and ideas.

Package of the 17 SDGs is a bold and ambitious global development agenda seeking to eradicate extreme poverty, end global hunger and malnutrition, ensure environmental sustainability, gender equality and rule of law.

The 17 Goals cover many issues of concern to Vietnamese people and business companies, especially in the current Lower Middle Income Context of the Country. Social cohesion, productivity and employment, competiveness, and environmental sustainability are all under pressure. Achieving inclusive growth that maximizes output by maximizing the potential of all workers is one of the core themes of SDGs and central to this is to ensure healthy and capable people to boost productivity. The SDGs, which emphasise reforms to boost worker efficiency through improved education and training, and decent work conditions, will be extremely valuable in guiding and benchmarking reforms.

The scale and transformative approach adopted by the SDGs, requires that everyone in government, businesses and civil society works together to deliver solutions and outcomes.

The UN clearly recognizes role of private sector in providing jobs and services and that business have the power to influence societies and change behaviours, attitudes and policies, and its partnership will be central to achieving the SDGs. Traditionally, policymakers have thought of businesses’ role in development rather narrowly, often solely in terms of Corporate Social Responsibility and philanthropy.

But now, new thinking is required on the contribution of business. I highlight three general dimensions from international best practices on how businesses are contributing:

The first is what is referred to as good corporate citizenship – given by integrity and accountability in business. Modern businesses are adopting good conduct in all they do, as the major actors within the economy – as good employers, responsible producers and consumers. By transacting with people fairly, building human capital, being clean and green, and by meeting their obligations as taxpayers, business can make an enormous contribution to development. This also applies to companies’ leadership role in encouraging better decent work ensuring rights of the workers and better and non-discriminatory social behaviour – within their workforces and in the community at large. Good corporate citizenship also embodies a new and expanded CSR that informs and engages on issues that affect the day-to-day lives of their workers and consumers, and the communities in which they operate.
The second is the role that businesses are playing is improving the delivery of goods and services, particularly public services, which directly help achieve individual SDGs. Through PPPs and private/public finance modalities, through more efficient management, innovative solutions, application of new technologies and cutting edge approaches, businesses are facilitating rapid scaling-up of public service delivery, essential for achieving the SDGs; and finding innovative ways for providing better quality services, at lower cost to the public budget. This not only applies to traditional public private partnerships for infrastructure, education and healthcare facilities, but also in new areas such as the application of new technologies to improving governance transparency tackling corruption and administrative services.  

Third, businesses, with the assistance of government, are engaging with Bottom of the Pyramid markets and suppliers. This refers to untapped or underserved consumers and workers within poor or remote communities. With the right infrastructure investments and risk management, business can drive and gain access to a cost effective workforce, which in turn helps distribute economic activity and brings the benefits of economic growth to all.

I want to now reflect on what this might specifically mean in Viet Nam:
Overall, the aim is to deliver triple wins – for Viet Nam’s people, its environment and for businesses themselves.

I begin with the role business can play in expanding livelihoods and reducing poverty in today’s Viet Nam. This is an area where the county excelled under the MDGs – rapid economic growth post Doi Moi saw poverty fall from some 58% in 1993 to around 7% today. Yet, as Viet Nam’s growth has slowed so too has poverty reduction, and as the economy has opened up, the vulnerability of near poor – the lower income groups has risen dramatically. The threat of falling back into poverty in an economically integrated Viet Nam in an uncertain world, is very real for many Vietnamese families. Securing these groups is also vital given they hold the greatest potential for productivity growth, and are the mainstay of Viet Nam’s consumer market.

People living in absolute poverty in Viet Nam are concentred in ethnic minority and remote communities. Business can play a role in widening its geographic footprint to serve and operate in these communities, reaping new human resources and expanding its consumer base. Moreover, business can directly contribute to building the resilience of low middle income groups by acting as good employer - promoting formalization of the economy and enabling greater participation in social insurance, and crucially by expanding workplace and vocational training of men and women.

Second is the impact of business on the environment and the climate. Last December, 195 countries, including Viet Nam, adopted the Paris Agreement on climate change, committing to national action to achieve low-carbon development and avoid dangerous implications of climate change. Businesses in Viet Nam are already facing rising costs from climate change, and remain at risk of severe business disruptions due to more frequent and extreme weather events, disasters and economic impacts on their customer base. For example, right now, severe droughts and high salinity in southern and central Viet Nam have hit agriculture production, forestry and fisheries very hard.
Delivering green growth in Viet Nam requires businesses to contribute and participate in a transformational shift toward low-emission production and consumption. Through bold and clear action, Vietnamese companies can deliver a prosperous and low-carbon economy – via improvements in energy and resource efficiency, by adopting cleaner technologies and production techniques, and by becoming greener consumers of inputs. Businesses adopting this approach will gain marketing advantages with consumers and a competitive edge in a world where green business is good business.

Third, are the wider developmental gains Vietnamese companies of all sizes can promote by engaging in global trade, and further boost their competiveness. This is especially important to Viet Nam given the new level integration that will take place via the TPP, the EU-FTC, and the AEC. Trade liberalization presents both opportunities and threats, but as Viet Nam’s past experiences has shown its overall impact has been positive.
But new FTAs are of a different order, and include developmental provisions relating to governance quality, labour rights, and environmental protection. These themes are strongly reflected in the SDGs. Success in trade in future and the avoidance of legal action, will require companies to achieve compliance with requirements and build their basic capacities to compete. This requires a step change in companies’ management capacities and conduct.

Business can also nurture smaller Vietnamese domestic enterprises by helping them enter business to also boost development of domestic private sector. Additionally, businesses can promote venture capitalism to support social enterprises and social entrepreneurs.

In conclusion, I would stress that there is no need for trade-off between business success and socio-economic and environmental success, but rather these are fundamentally bound-together and it is only by bringing socio-economy-environment together and working in partnership that will bring win-win-win outcomes for all. We look forward to hearing from you on what you can do to help Viet Nam meet SDGs by 2030.

Xin Cam on!