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Business, justice and the new global economy

December 2016 – This new report from CISL provides a framework for business leaders, to help them incorporate considerations of justice into their decision-making and interactions with stakeholders and policymakers as they embrace the changes that will be required in a new global economy.

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About the report

The benefits of global economic growth and industrial innovation have enhanced the quality of life and wellbeing of billions of people, but the benefits have not been equally shared, leading to widespread and growing inequality. In parallel, industrial development and rising population and consumption have contributed unintentionally to degradation of ecosystems, depletion of natural resources and the challenge of climate change. These environmental impacts are also uneven in their consequences for societies, with poorer communities often the most affected by resource challenges and least able to adapt to climate change.

There is growing recognition – reflected in the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement – of the need to transition to an economy which addresses these fundamental unsustainabilities and inequalities and encourages business practices which deliver positive social and environmental outcomes. The scale of transition required to achieve this will bring seismic upheaval to industries, communities and livelihoods across local, regional and national economies. This will create winners and losers within and between societies, raising significant issues of justice and equity.

Managing the coming economic shifts in ways that minimise social disruption, hardship and disaffection and promote public buy-in is everyone’s interests. Businesses, consumers and citizens all stand to benefit. Yet many businesses are ill-equipped to address these issues and lack a rigorous and systematic approach to understanding, addressing and communicating their approach to supporting just and fair outcomes for stakeholders.   

This report aims to contribute to bridging this gap. It serves as a resource for business leaders, providing a framework to incorporate considerations of justice into their decision-making and interactions with stakeholders and policymakers as they embrace the changes that will be required in a new global economy. Our aim is to stimulate new ways of thinking and operating, which encourage proactive considerations of justice as society undergoes the transition to a sustainable economy.

The report is divided into three sections:

Part 1: Business and justice in a changing world explores the social impacts of economic shifts, the need to transition to a sustainable economy and the implications of this for businesses seeking to operate in a fair and just way.

Part 2: Key dimensions of justice and the implications for business provides a framework of six key dimensions of justice to underpin and inform decision-making, providing examples of businesses risks and opportunities.

Part 3: Justice and the transition to a zero carbon, climate-resilient economy explores the need to consider justice in the process of transition to a zero carbon economy and in measures to adapt to the physical impacts of climate change.

The report draws on three academic working papers: Justice in the transition to a low carbon economy, The nature of transitions: Implications for the transition to a low carbon economy and The multiple meanings of justice in the context of the transition to a low carbon economy, which look at the nature of justice and its application during economic transition. It also draws on nearly 30 years of CISL working with companies through its executive education for sustainability leadership and business and policy groups. The paper complements the CISL’s Rewiring the Economy plan, which sets out ten collaborative tasks for business, policy and finance leaders to lay the foundations for a sustainable economy: that is, an economy which delivers positive outcomes for people and societies as envisaged by the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Citing this review

Please refer to this review as University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL). (2016). Business, justice and the new global economy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership.

Published: December 2016 

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Author and acknowledgements

This report was authored by a cross-organisational working group. The working group was chaired by Lindsay Hooper and received editorial support from Polly Ghazi. Members of the working group include Eliot Whittington, Mike Peirce, Dr Louise Driffill, Dr Kayla Friedman, Dr Tom Herbstein, David Webb, James Cole and Sandrine Dixson-Declève.

The report is informed by three working papers authored by Dr André Silveira, Postdoctoral Researcher, CISL and Dr Paul Pritchard, Fellow, CISL.

The editorial team wish to thank members of the Advisory Council 1 (AC1) of the EU Green Growth Platform for their input and support.


The opinions expressed here are those of CISL and do not represent an official position of any of its individual business partners or clients.