World Benchmarking Alliance (WBA)

Three months into 2021, the world seems to slowly be moving towards a return to normalcy. In countries everywhere, people are expressing cautious optimism about our ability to collectively tackle the COVID-19 pandemic thanks to the determination and ingenuity of the scientific community, which has provided newfound hope through vaccination technology. And while concerns around vaccine equity remain high, recent developments – such as the agreement between rival US pharmaceutical companies, Johnson & Johnson and Merck, to collaborate on vaccine production – have reinvigorated perceptions of trust in the ability of institutions, including business, to contribute to a sustainable recovery.

Indeed, business has never been better positioned to rise to the occasion. The recently released 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer startlingly reveals that across 27 countries, business is the only trusted institution, placing higher than NGOs, government, and media on issues that include driving economic prosperity, encouraging long-term thinking over short-term profits, and embracing sustainable practices.

The regional findings of the report are similarly revealing. Consider China for example, where trust in business remains remarkably high, despite dropping 12 points between 2020 and 2021. This data is critical given the central role that business has to play in rebuilding our global economy and achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This is especially important in China, which makes up around 19% of global GDP and will be central to ensuring that nobody is left behind in the pursuit of a more sustainable future.

At the World Benchmarking Alliance (WBA), we are building a movement to measure and incentivize business performance towards this future through the development of free, publicly available benchmarks. Our work is rooted in seven systems transformations and focuses on how the world’s 2,000 most influential companies (SDG2000) can drive progress on this agenda across their value chains. These companies are global in nature, spanning 80 countries, employing 102 million people, and representing $46 trillion in revenue. 246 are directly headquartered in China but many more have indirect impact in China due to their supply chains or other business operations.

The global nature of these companies requires us to work in partnership with others to ensure that our benchmarks are built on best available science, reflect societal expectations, and positively influence company behavior. That’s why we are built as a diverse, multi-stakeholder Alliance of over 200 organizations representing business and industry platforms, financial institutions, reporting platforms and standards setters, civil society organizations, research and academia, multilateral bodies, and sustainability consultancies. And while our Allies are global, they are currently concentrated in the global north. With only three organizations currently based in China, our ability to influence Chinese companies, or business engagement in China more broadly, remains limited.

Earlier this year, WBA updated our SDG2000 and included – for the first time – a mapping of how these companies engage with our Allies as network members, platform signatories, assessed or benchmarked companies, and framework or standards reporters. Our analysis found that while 87% of companies were engaged with at least one Ally, only 276 of the 2,000 companies currently engage with five or more Allies. In China, this discrepancy is even more pronounced, with only 5 of the 246 Chinese companies engaging with five or more Allies, despite all of them engaging with at least one Ally. This data suggests that most companies, including those based in China, are insufficiently aware of the role partnerships play in achieving a more sustainable future. Given the magnitude of these companies and their impact across the SDG agenda, a multitude of partnerships is needed, requiring both companies and Allies to step up their mutual engagement.

WBA has been proud to work with Friends of the Earth (HK) over the past 18 months on strengthening our engagement with companies in China on this agenda. As our first Chinese-based Ally, FoE (HK) has been instrumental in supporting our efforts in the region. This includes convening dialogues and roundtables with Chinese utilities companies, for example, on needs and opportunities for increased ambition and action using the methodology and benchmark data from WBA’s Electric Utilities Benchmark. It also includes more targeted policy and advocacy engagement, including submitting a joint statement of support for mandatory emission disclosure by companies in response to the public consultation of the National Energy Administration’s 14th Five-Year Energy Planning Development. These efforts have been critical to laying the groundwork for more substantive engagement moving forward, including around the development of our Oil & Gas Benchmark later this year and on efforts to ensure a just transition in China on the road to decarbonization.

These efforts need be replicated, however, to achieve impact at scale in the region. In recent weeks, WBA has been proud to welcome two more Chinese-based Allies, Ascent Partners and Green Light Year – both of who we forward to working with over the coming years to help guide, and hold to account, Chinese companies for their performance.

As we begin to emerge from the worst of the crisis and transition towards rebuild and recovery, collaboration will be critical to restoring our trust in institutions, empowering business to lead, and ensuring a just and inclusive future for all.

To learn more, please register and join our First Earth Forum on 22 April 2021!

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