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Address at the 2018 Business for Peace Roundtable

The Minister based his speech on the following text.

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Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,

It gives me great pleasure to address such a distinguished gathering of companies and organisations clearly committed to being 'Businessworthy'.

To be worthy of business means that companies have been given a social licence to operate.

The authorities, society and the market issue such a license to companies that are genuinely committed to people, the planet and profit.

They revoke this licence when companies fail to live up to the commitments they have made. When companies keep their social licence over time, this shows they have earned trust.

We are fortunate in Norway to enjoy high levels of trust in our society. However, this trust is not to be taken for granted. Let me come back to this issue after making a couple of other points.

First, business is crucial if we are to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

I am sure everyone in this room agrees, but I find this agreement often needs some explaining in order for its full relevance to be appreciated.

Involving the business sector in development cooperation is important. Whether business supports development projects by providing funding or engaging in partnerships, its involvement is always highly appreciated. In terms of impact, however, it is much more important to look at business practices and private sector investment.

The ripple effect of development projects is magnified when businesses grow to provide more jobs, and more opportunities. It goes without saying – but it should never go unsaid – that the jobs must provide a decent income and the opportunities have to stand the test of not undermining opportunities for the future:

  • This is why Norway promotes business development and job creation in low-income countries, and aims to make it easier for Norwegian companies to engage as partners in development cooperation.
  • This is why Norway emphasises responsible business conduct and a level playing field that supports the achievement of the global sustainable development goals.

And this is why I am here with you today, to promote 'businessworthiness'.

The business sector makes two crucial contributions to markets and development, namely finance and technology. I hope events like the one we are having today will help to promote understanding of the fact that investors cannot avoid risk; rather, they must look for the best risk management.

Similarly, technological gains are not measured in terms of science but in terms of sustainable and necessary improvements in goods and services. It is said that the proof of the pudding lies in the eating, but let us not forget that millions still need the pudding, no matter what it tastes like. As a partner in the work to achieve the SDGs, make it your business not to leave anyone behind.

To quote Mark Carney: 'The more we invest with foresight, the less we regret in hindsight'.

My second point concerns our commitment to the oceans. The perilous state of the oceans today illustrates all too clearly the need to mobilise business, society and government to take action.

We cannot expect to protect and sustainably use the oceans and marine resources (SDG 14) unless we make progress on responsible consumption and production (SDG 12).

In Davos this year, Prime Minister Solberg launched our plans for a High-level Panel on Building a Sustainable Ocean Economy. In 2019, Norway will host the Our Oceans Conference.

Norwegian companies – whether they are in the marine, maritime or energy sector – are implementing sustainable development at sea. Sustainability has been key to our fisheries even before the term was coined.

My second point is therefore that responsible production and consumption is key to sustainability in both an environmental and an economic sense. Ocean economies alone could create 40 million jobs globally by 2030, thus contributing to poverty reduction. These are the simple reasons why Norway supports the establishment of the UN Global Compact Action Platform for Sustainable Ocean Business.

For the same reasons, there is a need for more international cooperation to combat marine litter in the long run. An important milestone was reached last year when the UN Environmental Assembly agreed on the long-term goal to eliminate all discharge of litter and microplastics into the oceans. We will push for stronger, global commitments to achieve this goal.

The Norwegian Government has launched a development aid programme to combat marine litter and microplastics, which totals almost 300 million Norwegian kroner in 2018. It is our ambition that this contribution will help countries to step up their own efforts to combat marine litter, and help transform this major problem into a circular economy opportunity for businesses and governments alike.

Dear friends.

I started out by speaking about the underlying trust we enjoy in Norway with regard to responsible business conduct. That is not to say that we do not have a vibrant debate with critical views on the role of Government in setting the parameters for sustainability, the role of business in respecting basic rights and contributing to sustainability, and the role of civil society, media and others in identifying the most important and urgent issues.

The private sector must, of course, comply with the policies and parameters set by national and local authorities. In particular, in countries with weaker institutions, it can be tempting for business to take shortcuts. Care and due diligence must be taken to ensure such temptations do not undermine short- or long-term impact on development.

The role of business is not to provide services that the Government is responsible for, but to give hope for the future through decent jobs, sustainable production throughout the value chain, and goods and services that are needed.

At the core of this underlying trust is the belief that human rights are fundamental in any society – including our own. The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights set out the government responsibility to protect, the business responsibility to respect and the right of any victims to seek remedy for human rights violations.

The Norwegian Government explicitly expects any Norwegian company doing business abroad to know and apply these guiding principles, as well as the OECD Guidelines for responsible business conduct.

The true test of businessworthiness – and of business being worthy – is the ability to maintain trust over time. This means not only that businesses are true to their word, but also that they put their words into practice. The business sector needs to improve transparency and reporting, and to invest in meaningful stakeholder dialogue – not as a PR exercise, but as part of responsible business conduct.

I would like to thank Business for Peace for giving me this opportunity to share some thoughts with you, and look forward to hearing your views.

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