BUILDING COMPETITIVENESS

Business can bring innovation and competitive spirit to the task of creating sustainable development, says Li Decheng.
Li Decheng
Director General and
Executive Vice Chairman
China Enterprise Confederation
“Businesses have a valuable role to play by committing their innovation capacity and entrepreneurial mindset
to solving the great challenges facing societies globally, as defined by the Sustainable Development Goals.”
Li Decheng

When Chinese business executives talk about competitiveness, the world has learned to listen carefully. After all, the rise to prominence of Chinese businesses is unparalleled in scope and speed, so paying attention might be well advised.

And when Li Decheng talks, there might be extra reason to be alert. Not just because he is Director General and Executive Vice Chairman of the China Enterprise Confederation (CEC), the largest comprehensive business organization in China, but
also because when Mr Li talks of competitiveness he adds new perspectives to the discussion. For him, competitiveness is closely linked to sustainable development.

“Sustainable development should be a core competence of businesses. It should be at the centre of their efforts to be competitive, and it should be how they strive to distinguish themselves,” he says in a written response.

“Businesses have a valuable role to play,” he adds, “by committing their innovation capacity and entrepreneurial mindset to solving the great challenges facing societies globally, as defined by the Sustainable Development Goals.”

The CEC’s overall aims are typical for business confederations: support businesses, promote reform and development, raise the level of corporate management, enhance competitiveness and ensure continued growth. But the CEC was also the first major Chinese business organization to embrace corporate social responsibility.

When the UN Global Compact was introduced in China in November 2001, only six months after the global launch, the CEC was the host. In 2005, the CEC established an office to promote the Global Compact and the secretariat of the Global Compact China network is now located at the offices of the CEC.

To Mr Li, the Global Compact has been instrumental in the development of a shared understanding of the role that businesses can play in sustainable development.

“The primary contribution of the Global Compact is that it has created a broad platform for exchange and cooperation in the field of sustainable development. It has shaped a dialogue and created cooperation mechanisms for sustainable development
that include multiple interested parties, such as businesses, governments, international organizations, NGOs, academia and other stakeholders. The Global Compact provides a path and a framework for action,” he says.

He emphasizes the significance of the convergence of the different takes on what Corporate Social Responsibility is. Although the term Corporate Social Responsibility is broadly used, it has been consolidated. Mr Li points to the ISO standards for social responsibility in business as an example of the progress made in developing and operationalizing the concept.

“I believe this signals that the concern about sustainable development is increasingly spreading at all levels of the global community. In businesses, we see sustainability considerations gradually rising to the level of corporate strategy. We also see how social enterprises are emerging as a new type of business focused on sustainable development, and investments driven by sustainability concerns are also gaining momentum,” says Mr Li.

In China, the Global Compact has a membership of approximately 250 public and private companies. Mr Li believes this number will rise.

“The CEC will continue to promote the Global Compact to ensure faster and better development in China so that Chinese business can finally truly become the backbone of sustainable development both in China and globally.”


WHAT’S NEXT?
LOCAL FOCUS

For the next several years, the Global Compact should give special attention to meeting the needs of the local members, says Li Decheng.

“The UN Global Compact should spare no effort to expand the member base of the organization and to enhance the attractiveness and increase the relevance of services in order to improve member engagement,” he says.