Washington International Law Journal


Avi Sharma


The UN Sustainable Development Goals (“SDGs”) aim to create a more peaceful, just, and environmentally sustainable global community. The SDGs target seventeen areas that demand immediate action by the international community, including the eradication of poverty, gender equality, climate change mitigation, and resilience building. Unfortunately, the world’s most powerful nation-state actors are unlikely to make the costly investments required to achieve the goals laid out in this ambitious UN document. In fact, this article argues that nation-state actors have powerful disincentives to play a leadership role in advancing the SDGs. The question then becomes: if nation-states are unable or unwilling to make these investments, who will? This article shows that Multinational Corporations (“MNCs”) have a unique capacity to address critical global challenges—not because they are more efficient, agile, or altruistic than other kinds of institutional actors. Rather, MNCs have the potential to make an impact on issues from gender equality to sustainable development because they have a different incentive structure than nation-state actors. Unlike nation-states that answer to constituencies that are fundamentally parochial in their outlook, MNCs answer to stakeholders who are disposed toward more—rather than less—global engagement. More specifically, this article analyzes the incentives that MNCs have to invest in the SDGs. It does not attempt to resolve political and ethical questions raised by the privatization of the intergovernmental responsibility to protect human and natural resources on a global scale. It does argue that in the face of critical global challenges, this private sector intervention is preferable to government inaction.

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