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Private sector chief urges focus on sustainable supply chains

by Ryan Gilkes
4 min read
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The head of Barbados’ Private Sector Association has suggested that sustainable supply chains be used to advance the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs).

Speaking at the launch of the UN Global Compact Network Caribbean and its Sustainable SME and Supply Chain Programme on Wednesday night, Tricia Tannis noted that two-thirds of large companies’ environmental, social and governance (ESG) footprint lies with their suppliers.

“SMEs are not a fringe group,” Tannis said. “They dominate 75-80 per cent of businesses in the Caribbean and represent about 50 per cent or less of global trade. Therefore, they are a significant constituent we need to consider.”  

 The business leader suggested a focus on aligning SDG objectives with corporate profit motives, which also needed to draw a clear line between sustainable practices and business profitability. To this end, she has called for the mapping of sustainable development goals to boardroom objectives, to make it clear how sustainable practices can benefit the bottom line.

 She declared: “Nobody essentially hires staff, opens brick and mortar or e-commerce to achieve 17 sustainable development goals. They do so for a return on investment, they do so for profit making and therefore if we don’t draw that linear line between following the sustainable development goals and the ten pillars that come out of those sustainable development goals, we are constantly going to be losing the audience. . . therefore one of the first things we have to do after the launch today is to continue to map the sustainable development goals towards boardroom objectives. Now that sounds horrible I suppose in this audience. It’s shocking that businesses actually focus on profit. It’s really shocking but that is the pragmatic reality.

“Okay, we’ve just launched a global compact that is primarily focused on engaging businesses that are primarily focused on making a profit. The question is, how do we sustainably generate profits that essentially are going to be done in a way that is compliant with the goals? And, if we don’t have a way to actually show them the benefits of doing so and how that translates into the profit agenda, again we are at risk of losing the audience.” 

Tannis proposed three key suggestions to drive the sustainability agenda and support small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

Firstly, raising awareness of the SDGs among SMEs, as there is a “general lack of awareness in Barbados and the region” about the global compact.  Tannis said efforts must be made to “speak the language of the SMEs” as many define sustainability as “survivability” post-pandemic.  

“We have to find a way to right-size the messaging…and ensure we bridge the programme…to where they are at and not the other way around,” she said.

Secondly, aligning SDG objectives with corporate profit motives by mapping the goals to “boardroom objectives” to show how sustainable practices benefit the bottom line.  

“If we don’t draw that linear line between following the sustainable development goals…and how that translates into the profit agenda, again we are at risk of losing the audience,” Tannis warned.

Her third suggestion was exploring UN compact-driven financing options like “data-driven financing and incentive-based funds” to benchmark SMEs globally and demonstrate enhanced shareholder value from sustainable practices in other regions.

She said: “I would make a recommendation that we look at dashboard and data-driven financing and the creation of an incentive-based fund such that we can help draw that straight line that I previously referenced. We can help to say globally this is how we’re benchmarking SMEs across the world and whilst this is the launch of the compact here, the compact has been launched across the globe and there is enough data at this stage to be able to demonstrate the benefits through international benchmarking of what has happened in other countries, other regions as to what has happened with that profit agenda and how it has benefited and enhanced shareholder value.”

 She added that by showing how sustainable practices have enhanced shareholder value in other regions, SMEs can be convinced of the tangible benefits. (RG)

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