Civil society organisations (CSOs) recognise the importance of effectively engaging all stakeholders in the pursuit of sustainable development. The rise of private sector engagement is a trend that demands our close attention. In truth, for the most part, we have yet to see the positive impacts of private sector engagement; whether their efforts truly make a dent on poverty and inequality. However, we also believe that some members of the private sector – especially the national micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) – have the potential to become real partners for development, and create good, lasting impact for the benefit of communities. 

If they are to truly contribute towards sustainable development and help alleviate global poverty and inequality, private sector operations must demonstrate such objectives, and be open to monitoring efforts. They must be held accountable for their commitments and roles as development actors. 

Establishing PSE principles

The GPEDC recently developed the Kampala Principles, a set of principles for Private Sector Engagement (PSE) through development cooperation. Underpinning this initiative, and drawn from the effectiveness principles, are five mutually reinforcing principles: inclusive country ownership; results and targeted impact inclusive partnership; transparency and accountability; and leaving no one behind. 

The principles provide standards that businesses ought to abide by in their operations. Furthermore, their future operationalisation will provide criteria for the actions that each stakeholder group should take to ensure that the efforts of the private sector contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

To us in the development world, we appreciate this initiative as a significant first step to make sure that we are all working towards a common vision – sustainable and transformative development. 

Civil society’s role

Civil society plays a critical role in ensuring that PSE responds to the needs of those who are often in the margins of society.

At CPDE, we have relentlessly rallied CSOs around the world to exercise vigilance in holding the private sector accountable to communities, governments, and other regulatory and policymaking bodies. 

For us, it begins with learning to ask the tough questions: are private sector actors truly willing to accept responsibility for many cases of rights violations, environmental destruction, and other negative impacts of their operations? If so, how will they rectify these errors (or, in economic-speak, how will they try to internalize these ‘externalities’)? Moving forward, how can the private sector improve their accountability? Perhaps even more importantly, are these players keen on changing their business models, in order to create truly inclusive markets that endeavour to contribute to the achievement of SDGs? 

As we ask these questions, we also bring with us the demands of the people. For example, as articulated by trade unions, for: better business practices; the provision of decent work and living wages; the promotion of women-friendly workspaces; and, the reduction of companies’ negative impact on the environment.

Over the years, we have been equipping CSOs, campaigners, and advocates around the globe with the requisite knowledge and skills for waging awareness campaigns, as well as policy advocacy efforts around the notion of effective development cooperation. Through these efforts, our message of effectively engaging the private sector is amplified many times over, and brought to global, regional, and national policy arenas.

We believe that systems must be in place to make sure that both public and private actors are complying with existing frameworks. These include International Labour Organisation (ILO) and United Nations (UN) Conventions and protocols, UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, OECD Guidelines on Due Diligence, and now, the provisions under the Kampala Principles.

Furthermore, we advocate for involving communities and people’s organisations in the decision-making process for development, so that all risk factors can be addressed. For instance, CSOs have been pushing for a people-powered view of sustainable consumption and production, which puts people’s rights at its core. According to a research study by CSO IBON International:

‘[p]utting people’s rights at the centre of the whole production and consumption chain stresses that every aspect of the system should be guide[d] by the concept and principles of people’s rights….People’s rights highlight the role of a community or social group asserting their rights in a collective way to ensure a truly sustainable consumption and production system.’[1]

Through practices and policies that put emphasis on people’s rights, we can take care of the most vulnerable segments of our population, and reach the furthest behind first, as we pursue development initiatives.

‘Leaving no one behind’ and other Kampala principles

Leaving no one behind is the critical complement to the aforementioned guidelines in private sector engagement. We promote democratic ownership in view of what development means to a nation’s people. We define the success of development outcomes based on its impacts for all. We foster partnerships that include all sectors, while pursuing our crucial role demanding transparency and accountability, keeping in mind the welfare of those furthest behind and at the margins, who stand to suffer from any failures in accountability. 

We hope that members of the private sector will be truly open to hearing people’s voices, and consider our criticisms, inputs and recommendations to improve the way they do business. Moreover, we call on governments and multilateral bodies to strictly implement the pertinent laws and regulations governing the operations of businesses in development. For instance, we advocate for the institutionalisation of mechanisms to penalise companies whose interventions cause negative social, environmental, and economic impacts. 

Over the next period, we look forward to engaging with the operationalisation of the Kampala Principles. And CPDE will remain vigilant in making sure that the poor and marginalised are not be left behind in these development discussions, and that we are working toward truly sustainable, and transformative, development.  

[1]IBON International, 2019. People-powered Sustainable Consumption: A visioning & mapping study. Manila: IBON Books