Expectations and Obligations of Governments and Nordic Collaboration

EØS- og EU-minister Elisabeth Vik Aspakers åpningsinnlegg på dag 2 av UN Global Compact Nordic Networks møte, 13. oktober 2016, Statoil, Fornebu.

Dear friends,

I understand all speakers are asked to choose one of the Sustainable Development Goals. My choice is Goal no. 17 - which points out a way to reach all the goals. Partnership is at the core of my job as Minister for Nordic Cooperation, and it is the reason you are here.

Let me at the outset congratulate The Global Compact Nordic Network on your valuable work. I understand you have your Annual General Meeting this afternoon, and I also understand that the greatest value in this network is created in between your annual meetings. The engagement each one of you in your own capacity show towards promoting responsible business conduct is admirable. I am glad to see you focus on sharing experiences and ambitions.

I am also proud and pleased that leading Norwegian businesses embraced this initiative from the beginning, and even spoke on behalf of the business community at the launch at UN Headquarters in the summer of 2000. The world has moved on since then, but the need for the commitment to the original ten principles and above all for putting them into practice is still there.

The successful process to focus on seventeen sustainable development goals that were adopted a year ago has given added importance to your work and your role. I am encouraged by the way Norwegian – and indeed Nordic – business has embraced these goals.

As Norwegian Minister for Nordic Cooperation I am particularly pleased that you have chosen to organize your network on a Nordic basis. This adds value in terms of numbers and the pooling of experiences, but it also adds value quite literally. Our Nordic societies share important, strong and future-oriented values that fortify responsibility.

Today, our Nordics societies face the same challenges and the same opportunities. First and foremost, we need to maintain and increase economic competiveness while leading the way for the green shift. This is a matter of responsibility and sustainability. This task requires a concerted effort from governments and businesses in each country, but Nordic cooperation adds value both in the public and private sectors. This will be a main priority for Norway when we hold the rotating presidency for Nordic cooperation next year.

The deep integration, through intra-Nordic trade, investments as well as ownership make for a good starting point. I believe that there is also untapped potential, for instance in utilizing the potential for innovation in cross border clusters.

The Nordic Prime Ministers are inspired to consider very carefully how our region best can respond to the 2030 Agenda for the Sustainable Development Goals. This is why the Nordic Council of Ministers are considering how to combine our collective competence and capacity to match the global needs based on a universal and holistic approach. Specifically, they have launched a study to map out national plans in support of the 2030 Agenda, identification of areas that lend themselves particularly well for integration with the Agenda and to come up with concrete recommendations for a holistic approach. A Group of Experts will report to the Nordic Council of Ministers next spring.

Norway and the other Nordic countries represented here have long and strong traditions for cooperation between government, organizations, business and industry. This has been a prerequisite for our peaceful and prosperous societies. Norway was among the first to report on the initial steps taken towards implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals during the High Level Political Forum in July this year. The report, presented by Prime Minister Solberg, documents that Norway ranks high in our international cooperation, and that the 2030 Agenda resonate well with Norwegian priorities. However, our review also informed us that while some of the goals have already been attained, implementation at home calls for new initiatives to reach the goals.

Furthermore, Norway commits to be a champion for global implementation of the Agenda. As a confirmation of to our resolve for action, Prime Minister Solberg is co-chairing the UN Secretary General' Sustainable Development Goals Advocacy Group with President Mahama of Ghana. The Prime Minister highlights the universality and right based approach of the Sustainable Development Goals as key innovative features of in the 2030 Agenda.

Norway and the Nordic countries are only a small part of the world. Our influence and impact however stretches far beyond our limited geographical part of the world. Norwegian authorities and organisations participate extensively in international cooperation. Norwegian companies conduct activities and invest all over the world. That is why we can and must make a difference globally by sharing our experiences through cooperation and leading by example in the way our companies conduct business abroad.

Norway will focus on building broader and better partnerships around the SDGs. We have seen that innovative private-public partnerships in the health sector have given excellent results. We are supporting stronger partnerships in other priority areas such as education, oceans, climate change and forests, as outlined in our review.

There is no doubt that progress towards achieving the SDGs will be faster if we have models of partnership in which the private sector is fully on board. The Norwegian prime minister earlier this year urged the private sector to put sustainability and the Sustainable Development Goals at the heart of business operations, and the response is encouragingly positive.

Achieving the sustainable development goals is cruical in order to meet the challenges we face, not least because of climate change and environmental degradation. We are all part of the problem as contributors to these challenges, but we are also part of the solution. Therefore, we need to focus on solutions to make the changes necessary to achieve the goals.

The way you do business matters. The private sector has a very large stake in the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. The private sector accounts for 60 % of the world's GDP and 90 % of global job creation. The Goals are not restrictions hampering your business. They are prerequisites for the survival of your business in the long run.

According to the Global Opportunity Report 2016 'global goals are golden opportunities'. One of the main messages is that the Sustainable Development Goals are the job description for business. The job description is to create both economic and social value without harming the natural environment.

UN Global Compact is also well aligned with the high expectations the Norwegian Government has to Norwegian companies. In general, we expect all Norwegian companies to act responsibly, regardless of whether they are owned by public or private investors and whether they conduct activities in Norway or abroad. Publicly owned companies shall be leading in exercising corporate social responsibility in their fields. The companies conducting activities abroad are expected to join UN Global Compact. All companies are expected to know its ten principles and work towards complying with them. The companies conducting activities abroad or having international supply chains are expected to know and follow the OECD guidelines for multinational companies.

We also have specific expectations in the same four core areas covered by the ten principles of UN Global Compact; human rights, labour rights, environment – including climate change - and anti-corruption.

Government itself is not exempted. This is why the Norwegian public procurement law has been amended. As of January 1st next year, Norwegian procurement must take environment, Human Rights and other social considerations into account. The Law also stipulates the possibility to limit by directive the number of links in the supply chains.

Taking into account a recurring topic during your discussions yesterday and today, the Norwegian Government specifically expects companies to follow national and international environmental requirements and consider that they should work actively to reduce their environmental impact beyond what is demanded by those requirements.

The sustainable development goals call for sustainable production and consumption, combating climate change and halting biodiversity loss, land degradation and deforestation. Sustainable natural resource management and climate change are priority areas for Norway, both at home and abroad.

A central part of responsible business conduct in the environmental field is choosing suppliers and developing value chains with high environmental standards. Norway has recently enacted commitments to combat deforestation and forest degradation and we adopted an action plan for biodiversity as a tool for achieving the Aichi targets. We are, naturally, particularly keen to address the need for responsible use and protection of our oceans and the marine environment. This is important for our national welfare, and for the global common good.

We consider reporting to be a main instrument for responsible conduct. All companies in Norway that are required to deliver annual reports with financial information are required to also include information on working environment, gender equality and effects on the environment. These requirements are not restricted to listed or large companies. Large companies are also required to disclose information on whether and how they integrate corporate social responsibility. This includes information on human rights and corruption in addition to the information just mentioned above. This information is to be provided on a comply or explain basis. Companies are not required to use specific systems, guidelines or formats for non-financial reporting.

Research on compliance with the requirements does however show that many companies are still lacking in their compliance with the requirements. They either leave out non-financial information or provide insufficient information.

The EU Directive on non-financial reporting will be implemented in Norway too. The expert group considering the need for revision of the Norwegian Accounting Act also considers the content and format for non-financial reporting, taking recent developments, including the EU Directive, into account. Those who comply with the non-financial reporting requirements usually follow UN Global Compact or Global Reporting Initiative.

The Norwegian National Plan of Action for business and Human Rights was launched almost a year ago, and points to a number og issues that challenge Government as well as business. The Plan follows the logic of the Guiding Principles adopted by the UN as well as OECD,

In the Nordic family we are used to being considered to be in the forefront of "doing good". Perhaps it is true what they say – that we consider ourselves not only "best in the world" but also "best for the world". Complacency is neither pretty nor constructive. If we hold leading positions in terms of acting responsibly in business, then this is a position that needs to be earned every day.

From a Government perspective, it is important that we convey our expectations regarding the way you do business. We set or influence the conditions under which you do business – but you take decisions for your companies and you identify your business opportunities and you make them work.

I am convinced responsible business conduct is a necessary qualification in order to truly support the Sustainable Development Goals. I believe we all agree responsible business conduct is a competitive advantage – especially over time. The "quick fix" by bending rules is not the Nordic way.

I think, however, that we also agree on the need for level playing field in international business.

Being in the forefront, as I know you are, has added value if it contributes to improve everyone's conduct. This Government will continue to be a driver in relevant international fora for standards that constitute such level playing field, and for these standards to be upheld in practice. It is important to us that you – whether you are in business or in the business of influencing business – let us know of issues that affect the level playing field and our joint ambition to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

In Norway, we have established a national KOMpact (before the Global one was launched) where business, civil society and academia are represented. We also have a national Contact Point in support of the OECD Guidelines. Please make the most of these and other avenues to call our attention to opportunities and needs to strengthen the levelling of the playing field.

I am pleased also to recognize private initiatives such as Business for Peace which I know is well known in the Global Compact and successfully held its annual Symposium in Oslo this spring.

Nordic cooperation in a Global Context is one of the main objectives for the Norwegian presidency next year. I look forward to working with you, and I wish you every success in your work today, and in the days and years to come.

Thank you for your attention.