In Thailand, as elsewhere in the world, the private sector has an essential role in addressing poverty and inequality, promoting sustainability, and working collectively to build a better world, despite the challenges of COVID-19.
The United Nations and members of the Global Compact Network of businesses in Thailand are already working in exciting and practical ways towards a more sustainable post-pandemic world. For example, one company is manufacturing ‘biocups’ from palm trees rather than plastic cups from oil, another is trialing electric motorcycle taxis in a neighbourhood of the Thai capital, Bangkok and yet another is aiming to recycle 500 billion bottles a year by 2025.
Some companies are working with the government and other organizations on environmental legislation, while others are investing in IT education in schools so that the next generation of Thais are skilled in the basics of coding and artificial intelligence.
Strong partnerships for a fairer future
All are contributing to the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs, the 17 interlinking targets agreed by the international community to eliminate poverty, provide health care for all, create a fairer and more equitable society, and protect the planet’s biodiversity and natural environment.
To reach those goals by the 2030 deadline will require strong partnerships among all stakeholders, and remarkable innovation.
Progress towards the SDGs will determine the welfare of people and communities across the world, including in Thailand. Yet, a recent survey here found that there is relatively low awareness about the SDGs, especially among young people who are so crucial to the future of sustainable development.
Clearly, more needs to be done to raise awareness that the SDGs are fundamentally about people and communities, not some rarified theoretical concept.
The UN estimates that 50 baht (US$1.60) per day per person would achieve the SDGs in Thailand. To achieve that benchmark, partnerships are essential. The UN’s work depends on building strong partnerships with and between governments, the private sector, NGOs, civil society and the general public, including young people. These coalitions must be based on the principles of inclusiveness and equality, ensuring that no one is left behind.
Societies bound together
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us clearly how our societies are bound together, and our welfares are interdependent. We must be committed to a recovery that includes all people and restores progress towards the SDGs.
In Thailand, the United Nations is working closely with the Global Compact Network Thailand, which brings together nearly 60 business leaders from across the country, representing major companies that form the backbone of the Thai economy.
Members of the network have already pledged to invest 1.2 trillion baht (US$38 billion) in projects which will help to put the SDGs into practice, projects which, crucially, will have a tangible and positive impact on people’s lives. But more needs to be done.
Business leaders in all types of companies can help to affect change in their own board rooms, offices and factory floors and in the wider community. As we raise awareness about the importance of the SDGs to Thailand and its citizens, these leaders need to be better informed about how to implement the goals and the barriers that still must be overcome.
Fulfilling social responsibility
Many people in the private sector are passionate about addressing development challenges in Thailand and recognize that sustainability is not just good for the corporate “bottom line” but can help companies prosper in the future and adapt to major shocks like the COVID-19 pandemic. They also understand their shared social responsibility towards future generations, to their children and grandchildren.
For leaders in the private sector to fulfill their social responsibility, they must not only steer their own enterprises, but also help to affect positive change for society as a whole, addressing both sustainability and equality.
In other words, we need more “change agents”, who are aware of the global and local challenges. With determination and partnerships, raising awareness among these change agents can contribute to the resilience that we need to overcome the challenges thrown up by this pandemic while we continue to make progress towards the SDGs.
We cannot lose sight, however, of the fact that the pandemic is occurring in the context of other crises that are affecting our region and humanity as a whole; social inequality and discrimination, climate change and environmental degradation, and further afield conflict and humanitarian emergencies.
UN Thailand is building its response to these multiple challenges around three main pillars: strong partnerships with a shared responsibility to advance and implement the SDGs and, in the context of the pandemic, building back better for a greener and more equitable “new normal”; innovation, in terms of technology, but also around business models and jobs, including upskilling and reskilling workers; and inclusivity, ensuring that no one is left behind as the country moves forward.
This response must be global, regional, but also at the national and community level.
This year marks both the 75th anniversary of the United Nations and the 20th anniversary of the Global Compact. This is a remarkable opportunity for us together to unite and set out the pathway for Thailand and its people to realize the SDGs.