‘The Fourth Industrial Revolution cannot function without high quality data, statistics and knowledge products, as these are fundamental for evidence-based policymaking and monitoring inclusive and sustainable industrial development.’ Fernando Cantu Bazaldua, Chief Statistician, UNIDO
This was the guiding theme for an international working group tasked with launching a new index, which will measure the environmental, social and corporate governance performance of public and private sector entities. For its first meeting on 4 September 2020, I joined several other international experts to discuss the potential uses of the index and the technical and political challenges of building such an index.
My first suggestion was to involve topic experts – i.e. people with deep knowledge of what is driving or hindering progress. That is critically important because they can explain how and why industry is not only part of the problem but also part of the solution, while also highlighting differences between or within world regions.
The index should also focus on mechanisms, processes and interactions, both positive and negative. Example#1: the link between industrial pollution and access to drinking water in countries with lax environmental protection. Example#2: how customers and impact investors increasingly reward ‘responsible’ business, thus ensuring greening and inclusiveness go together.
An open, unresolved question is whether the Fourth Industrial Revolution is likely to make economies more inclusive (something not discussed at the meeting but certainly on the broader agenda). In general, inequalities are reduced through more equal opportunities in education, better pay and personal and government-based support systems, rather than by technologies. In some countries, such as India, software engineers can make a good living thanks to education, but wealth is captured in most countries and most sectors by those in positions of power, be they capital owners, shareholders, predatory funds or high-paid executives.
It is clear that access to clean drinking water and clean air can be achieved via technologies. But equal access to good education and job opportunities remains a political issue, dependent on politicians’ ability to collect taxes from citizens and business. Above all, inclusiveness in work lies in the growth of companies and initiatives that take a people-first approach and which obey the laws, pay the taxes and pay fair wages in the countries where they are based or from which they source.
A ranking of countries in itself will not make this clear unless special attention is given to what truly drives inequality and unsustainability (and how best to tackle these chronic problems). Ultimately, satisfying our immaterial needs — via good work and having a sense of place and purpose — is just as important as satisfying our material needs.
The opinions expressed here are the author’s own; they do not necessarily reflect the views of UNU.
o Dr. Sorin Cohn-Sfetcu, ISO 56008 Project Leader for Innovation Measurements, International Organization for Standardization (ISO)
o Mr. Geoffrey Hamilton, Chief Cooperation and Partnership Section, United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE)
o Mr. John Marshall, CEO, World Ethical Data Forum
o Mr. René Kemp, Professorial fellow at UNU-MERIT and Professor of Innovation and Sustainable Development at MSI, Maastricht University
o Mr. Valentin Todorov, Senior Manager, UNIDO
o Mr. Nathan Fabien, Chief Responsible Investment Officer, UN Principles for Responsible Investments (UNPRI)
o Mr. Jose Pineda, Senior Researcher, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
o Ms. Kate Field, Global Head Health, Safety and Wellbeing British Standards Institution (BSI)
o Ms. Maria del Sorbo, Monitoring, Indicators & Impact Evaluation Unit, Joint Research Center (JRC) of the European Commission
o Mr Rakesh Agarwal, Chief Risk officer & Accounting Expert for Reliance Industries Limited (RIL)
o Mrs Denise Jiménez, Director of Sustrategies