We can’t make social, economic, technological or environmental progress without protecting people

Week of 1 February 2021

We can’t make social, economic, technological or environmental progress without protecting people

“Leave no one behind” is a fundamental element of achieving transformative societal change. People are at the heart of every aspect of our society and our economy, so there is no way to advance without ensuring peoples’ well-being—from respecting human rights, to creating inclusive economies and decent work, to putting communities at the center of environmental protection and climate action. The World Benchmarking Alliance points to three enablers for social transformation: 1) respecting human rights; 2) providing and promoting decent work; and 3) acting ethically – and will be assessing 2,000 companies on their performance against these enablers starting this year.

Social transformation is at the center of systems change

Non-profit organisation the World Benchmarking Alliance (WBA) has launched its Social Transformation framework which is the center of the system transformation model (more on this below). Social transformation “seeks to achieve universal human development by respecting human rights, promoting equality and empowering people to pursue the opportunities and choices they value.” The framework will form the basis of a new benchmark to assess what the SDG2000 (WBA’s list of the 2,000 most influential companies to achieve the SDGs) are doing to respect human rights and put people at the center of sustainable development.

System transformation is needed to achieve sustainable development

WBA “develops free and publicly available benchmarks that measure and incentivise company contributions towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).” In support of this objective WBA identified seven “system transformations” needed to achieve the SDGs, with social transformation at the center. The seven system transformations are:

    1. Social transformation
    2. Financial transformation
    3. Decarbonisation and energy transformation
    4. Food and agriculture transformation
    5. Digital transformation
    6. Urban transformation
    7. Circular transformation

Key takeaways

We’ve summarised some of the main points of the social transformation framework below:

    • “Companies are crucial for the social transformation”: Business plays an important role as a “catalyst for human development”—but the WBA believes that our existing capitalist systems “are leaving too many people behind.” Because of the outsize role that companies play in development, they also have a significant role to play in making sure that sustainable development leaves no one behind.
    • Three key enablers for social transformation: WBA identified three enablers that “provide a foundation on which opportunities for positive impact can be built. These are: 1) Respecting human rights; 2) Providing and promoting decent work; and 3) Acting ethically.
    • Twelve high-level social expectations: To achieve social transformation, companies should meet a set of expectations within each of the three enablers. The diagram below sums up the twelve social expectations of business:

Next steps for the framework

WBA is pursuing three workstreams “designed to incentivise companies to meet the 12 societal expectations, enabling and underpinning the social transformation and ultimately supporting the achievement of the SDGs”:

    • Embedding the ‘leave no one behind’ principle in all the systems transformations
    • Creating and leveraging social spotlight benchmarks, and
    • Supporting and building on the work of Allies and other pre-existing initiatives 

Starting this year, WBA’s core set of 2,000 companies will be assessed on their performance against a set of core social indicators, which show how much progress companies are making to advance the 12 societal expectations:

To learn more about the Social Transformation Framework and the assessment methodology, you can read the full report: WBA, Social transformation framework: To measure and incentivize companies to leave no one behind (January 2021). For a shorter overview, WBA has also published a summary of its framework and approach.