By Ebere Onwudiwe
On Wednesday last week, I participated in a very instructive Lafarge Sustainability Webinar that discussed how to move forward corporate social investments, shared value, and the development of the Nigerian nation. When I saw the list of panelists for the webinar, I knew right away this was going to be serious. Led by Lafarge Africa’s CEO, Mr. Khaled El Dokani and Mrs. Folashade Ambrose-Medebem, its director of Communication, Public Affairs & Sustainable Development, there was no better statement of an authoritative event.
Other distinguished panelists included the representative in Nigeria of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Mr. Mohammed Yahya, and the special adviser to the president on Social Investments, Mrs. Maryam Uwais. They discussed, among other riveting issues, how stakeholders can, in concert, deliver the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Nigeria by 2030.
That’s thinking ahead, the type that brought to my mind two great men with big hearts, Mr. Kofi Annan, former secretary-general of the United Nations, and the Reverend Leon Sullivan, founder of The Sullivan Principles. Kofi Annan left an ideal global legacy of promoting the development of the poor peoples of the world, the so-called bottom billion these days, while Leon Sullivan championed corporate social responsibility (CSR) before it became a serious part of the business vocabulary in Africa.
As the secretary-general of the United Nations, Annan worked to improve the lives of ordinary folks around the world. The United Nations Millennium Declaration in 2000 that committed world leaders to come together to fight the scourge of disease and hunger, illiteracy, and gender discrimination was achieved under his focused leadership. This led to the creation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the forerunners of the SDGs of today. In 1999, Annan linked up with Rev. Leon Sullivan, the towering African-American Baptist minister, civil rights leader, and anti-Apartheid activist to globalise the Sullivan Principles.
The Sullivan Principles were corporate codes of conduct developed in 1977 to apply economic pressure on apartheid South Africa before Annan joined him to expand the codes for multinational companies to adopt globally. It was this fusion of forces of conscience that led to the new global Sullivan Principles.
The seventh of these eight global principles specifically require companies to work with governments and communities in which they do business to improve the quality of life, including the educational, economic, and social well-being of their workers. It is in this sense that the global Sullivan Principles are related to both CSR and the concept of shared values – the idea of “doing well by doing good.”
Many companies that believe in the universal advancement of human rights and social justice around the world have been observing this code with different levels of dedication. Some of the most committed multinational and local companies implementing corporate social responsibility can be found right here in Nigeria. One such company is Lafarge Africa Plc., the cement manufacturer headquartered in Lagos that conducted the SDGs webinar.
What I got from that event on Wednesday was a sense of elevation of the commitment to CSR and shared values from mere promises to a strategic necessity. Three executives of the company, including its CEO, were present in the webinar, answering questions from participants on corporate social investments, shared value, and national development.
The efforts of Lafarge and other companies in Nigeria to invest in the improvement of the health, education, skills, and capabilities of our citizens promote sustainable development in Nigeria in a way that goes beyond the moral pressure of the global Sullivan Principles to induce multinational companies to do well by the citizens of their host countries.
This also serves the objectives of Kofi Annan’s MDGs and its offspring, the current SDGs, which Nigeria is trying its best to implement under the severe budgetary constraints of COVID-19. The country has prioritised Goals 1 (No Poverty), 3 (Good Health and Well Being), 4 (Quality Education), 5 (Gender Equality), and 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth) of the SDGs.
It is a shame that despite this prudent policy of cutting our dashiki according to our cloth, Nigeria still leads the world in extreme poverty, for example. This is the more reason why the government must do all it can to encourage the private sector to keep making the market work for the poor by becoming true development agents of sorts in a way that benefits the bottom billion without hurting the bottom line.
Ebere Onwudiwe is a distinguished fellow at the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Abuja. Please send your comments to this number on WhatsApp: +234 (0)701 625 8025; messages only, no calls.