From the G7 to the G20: Building momentum towards responsible business conduct

Marta Bordignon, Co-Founder, Human Rights International Corner

"Group photo G7 2017" BY Italian Presidency of the Council of Ministers licensed under CC BY 3.0 IT.

Lessons learnt from the 2017 G7 Summit - why strong leadership will play a significant role in driving responsible business at the G20.

Under the Italian Presidency in Taormina from May 26-27, the 2017 G7 Summit was a key opportunity to build momentum in the run up to the G20 Summit in Hamburg this July. Held under the theme of “Building the Foundations of Renewed Trust”, the Summit also marked the first international debut for many of our newest world leaders; including Paolo Gentiloni (Italy), Donald Trump (USA) and Emmanuel Macron (France). The combination of three new summiteers, several domestic concerns and some recently adopted isolationist trade policies steered potential disagreements among the Seven on relevant points, such as climate change.

In spite of its political and diplomatic issues, the G7 Summit called for more independence and responsibility for European countries and less interdependence amongst the seven present. In this regard, the next Environment and Labour Ministerial Meetings (set to take place respectively on June 11-12 in Bologna, and on September 30-October 1 in Turin) should support and set up new strategies and actions in relation to the most discussed and sensitive topics, where a common consensus is still lacking. Nevertheless, considering the final document released and insights of the two-day negotiations, the business and human rights movement can learn some key lessons from the G7 Summit, with pursuing the goal to make business conduct more responsible. 

Official documents released after the G7 stand in contrast to the G20 Labour ministerial declaration, which brought forward much stronger language on responsible business conduct

According to the Italian Presidency’s mission, the three pillars of the 2017 G7 Summit were: (i) citizen safety, focused on security issues and human mobility; (ii) economic, environmental and social sustainability and reduction of inequalities, committed to implement the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, as well as to address food security, health, gender equality and climate change; (iii) innovation, skills and labour in the age of the Next Production Revolution (NPR), aimed at pursuing a fair transition to the new production era. These top priorities have been included in the G7 Agenda since its meeting in May 2016, and were heavily discussed during preparatory Sherpa meetings. Despite the strong dialogue carried out with stakeholders involved (including CSOs, in the light of the Civil7 meeting organized in Rome on April 20-21), negotiations have faced several constraints, due in main part to the existence of prior political disagreements and the ongoing electoral campaigns of some leaders.

Despite these obstacles, we can see core topics for responsible business conduct that echo in both the G7 and G20 process this year alike. One of the possible existing links between the 2017 G20 and G7 Summits could be to support fair employment worldwide, as well as efforts addressing the refugees crisis through creating better employment opportunites wordwide. Although the Italian Presidency strongly promoted a human rights-based approach during the negotiations, official documents released after the G7 Summit make no clear reference to the role that should be played by both states and companies in complying with human rights principles and norms. This stands in contrast to the G20 Labour ministerial declaration, which brought forward much stronger language on responsible business conduct, from a business and human rights perspective. 

The divergence between leadership commitment within the G20 Labour Minister’s setting and the 2017 G7 process, shows the importance of strong leadership in raising responsible business conduct as a core topic on the agenda

Contrary to the G20 process, this year’s G7 saw the ‘soft’ and informal nature of the gathering dedicate higher importance to the leaders’ individual statements, rather then building consensues. According to the final Communiqué, only a joint commitment "in promoting…global sustainable development" has been reaffirmed. In view of the upcoming G20, we can only hope this common pledge, expressed at the end of the two-day event in Taormina, could lead to a broader consensus among the Twenties in July, as indicated by the Labour minister’s declaration.

The G7 under Italian presidency this year was hindered by lack of political will from key players to address core demands put forward by others, such as on the issue of climate change. Based on this disagreement, the G7 process lost the momentum to build common ground on responsible business conduct and introduce strong business and human rights language in the final communiqué. The divergence between leadership commitment within the G20 Labour Minister’s setting and the 2017 G7 process, shows the importance of strong leadership in raising responsible business conduct as a core topic on the agenda, within the often informal fora of G7 and G20 Forums.

 This blog is part of an ongoing series encouraging dialogue on, and raising the visibility of the G20 Summit as a business and human rights opportunity.