Targets 16.a and 16.b are referred to as “means of implementation” (MOI) targets denoting that they are foundational to the realization of all targets under SDG 16. By way of distinction, the preceding “outcome” targets are listed numerically and the MOI targets are listed alphabetically. Notwithstanding that the MOI targets are conditions precedent to the outcome targets within SDG 16 — as has been emphasized throughout this Framework — all of the targets within SDG 16 are inextricably connected to each other and to the SDGs more broadly. And while there does appear to be some duplication, it is worth briefly explaining the scope and relevance of these MOI targets as they relate to businesses.
What does Target 16.a mean for businesses?
This MOI target is particularly relevant across all targets and is most similar to access to justice and the rule of law (Target 16.3); effective, accountable and transparent institutions (Target 16.6); and responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making (Target 16.7). This target reinforces the need for building the capacity of national institutions consistent with international cooperation and conventions. It also acknowledges the interlinkages between the capacity of national institutions, such as independent National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs), and the drivers of violence and terrorism.
Businesses have a strong interest in this target as it goes to the heart of global governance which — as outlined in this Framework — comprises institutions, laws and systems at the municipal, national and global levels. To be sure, building capacity of relevant national institutions provides the necessary conditions of clarity, certainty and consistency for businesses to operate responsibly, profitably and sustainably. These institutions include the executive, judicial and legislative branches of a functioning democracy and independent regulatory bodies, including anti-corruption or fair labour commissions, consumer protection or environmental protection bureaus; national human rights institutions; law enforcement agencies; births, deaths and marriages or intellectual property and land registries; securities exchange commissions; and more.
Moreover, instances of crime, terrorism and violence — including armed conflict and civil war; bribery, corruption and illicit financial flows; human and wildlife trafficking, violence against women and children; and gun violence (Targets 16.1, 16.2, 16.4 and 16.5) — present significant challenges to a business’ operations and reputation. For all of these reasons, businesses have a strong interest in the establishment of national institutions that foster peaceful, just and inclusive societies.
Businesses should also consider whether they have within their own organizations the right priorities, functions and responsibilities to embrace transformational governance. For instance, how are businesses structuring their own governance frameworks to ensure that there is adequate oversight of organizational culture, strategies, policies, operations and relationships in order to adequately manage financial, legal and reputational risks and environmental, social and governance risks.
How should businesses implement Target 16.a?
As noted throughout this Framework, businesses must “do no harm” as a minimum baseline. This includes demonstrating respect for the UN Global Compact Ten Principles of human rights, labour rights, the environment and anti-corruption and adhering to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs). To do so, businesses should have the necessary systems in place to manage any actual or potential risk to the business and to the societies in which they operate and serve — as referred to in the UNGPs as material and salient risks respectively. This approach includes adopting thorough risk management, due diligence and compliance practices; establishing robust escalation and mitigation procedures; and cultivating authentic relationships with communities, employees, regulators and investors.
Businesses must also ensure they are not impeding the ability of Governments to establish, and exercise discretion over, core public institutions nor the ability to enact and enforce laws that are necessary to protect the public interest within a given jurisdiction. This expectation includes not lobbying against the protection of indigenous rights or the environment or adding stabilization clauses into foreign investment contracts that allow a business to be exempt from changes in legislation that may impose new restrictions or penalties. And similarly to Targets 16.2 and 16.4, businesses should collaborate with law enforcement agencies wherever possible to counter organized crime, transnational crime or any other forms of crime — in compliance with national law and consistent with human rights.
Further, businesses can make a positive contribution by advocating for the establishment or strengthening of the aforementioned national institutions to promote peaceful, just and inclusive societies. This may include the strengthening of existing mandates and/or the participation in multilateral institutions that seek to protect people and the planet. Finally, responsible businesses can contribute expertise and technical resources to assist Governments in building capacity and monitoring the impact of these national institutions.