Business Leaders Unite for Justice


It’s said that the worst of times brings out the best in people. We have seen a number of businesses rise up and do the same. Amid the uncertainty and socio-economic shockwaves following the COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses are rising to the occasion to create real change and find ways to meet the justice needs of their customers and communities.

Last month, the Business Leaders for Justice Coalition met for the first time to explore how to close the growing justice gap and help the 5.1 million people that currently lack access to justice. This gap is both a reflection of and contributor to extreme poverty, structural inequalities, and disparities in power — all of which will widen as the long term impacts of the pandemic emerge. Sustainable Development Goal 16 articulates the goal of “justice for all,” and to do that, all sectors must come together. The Business Leaders for Justice Coalition joins this growing global movement committed to driving bold action to confront this challenge and advance justice for all worldwide. The activities of the coalition are organized around six justice imperative principles, which in turn provides a platform for businesses to collectively advocate on issues that matter to their communities and the people they serve.

Three business and justice leaders reflect on this historic moment for justice

Amid ongoing protests, a global health crisis, and an unfurling economic downturn, we sat down on 14 January, 2021 with Jo-Ann Wallace, the President and CEO of the National Legal Aid & Defender Association, Celia Ouellette, CEO of the Responsible Business Initiative for Justice, and Trish Patton, Vice President of Human Resources at The Body Shop, to discuss the role of business in advancing justice in a conversation led by the Pathfinders’ Maaike de Langen. They discussed what this moment means, the ambition of this initiative, and the promise of progress — with over 100 business and justice leaders in attendance.

At the event, we heard about The Body Shop’s launch of a second chance program for individuals coming out of prison. The program has had a considerable impact: empowering people and advancing justice for all. Trish highlighted the fact that fair and inclusive hiring practices can, “change the environment of the community by preventing reoffending,” and demonstrate that companies can, “still make a profit while being a force for good.” Such examples can be powerful in building a solid and compelling business case for just communities.

“We have so many beautiful stories that come out of this hiring process… shop owners see how they, as a business, can positively influence social justice and that’s empowering.”

Trish Patton, The Body Shop

Jo-Ann began by explaining that the Business Leaders for Justice coalition provides a unique space for business leaders to exchange ideas, share expertise, and join forces with the global justice community. This vibrant community is especially vital in the COVID-19 era as all sectors are needed to solve the justice problems that matter most to people. These include fair and inclusive workplaces, accessible public services, and justice systems that put children and women first in family and housing disputes. She explained that, “civil legal aid and public defenders are on the frontline, but every sector, including business, have to ensure that individuals have equal access to justice and that the rule of law is preserved for all.”

“I have witnessed firsthand the impact that the corporate community can have to be a voice for change.”

Jo-Ann Wallace, NLADA

Jo-Ann also stressed that in the midst of growing uncertainty consumers and employees are increasingly turning to businesses for leadership and action. The recently launched Justice Principles identify concrete opportunities for businesses to pursue more daring and intentional action on justice issues. “Trust in institutions is at an all-time low, but people are turning to businesses — with 86% of people saying that they want CEOs to take the lead on social issues,” she said.

Leading the Responsible Business Initiative for Justice (RBIJ), Celia shared that businesses can be a powerful engine for change when they work together to tackle injustice. RBIJ recently led a coalition of businesses to support a ban to life-without-parole sentences for children in Ohio. “Businesses can make positive change and work towards justice for all within their own companies and within society,” she said.

“Creating a coalition that not only supports businesses interested but highlights leaders in this space — it’s not just practical it’s inspirational. When JP Morgan announces an ambitious criminal justice reform policy agenda, it not only shows other businesses the way, they inspire a race to top.”

Celia Oullette, RBIJ

“Businesses have a huge platform to increase the visibility of issues, and massive leverage to influence systemic change. They also have the ability to create change through internal policy,” Celia shared. It’s not only the ability to lead the way, but to work with other businesses to provide insight, shared knowledge, and a space to workshop ideas. The power of the coalition is that it connects business leaders with the global movement for justice led by countries and champions, provides proven insights into solutions that work, and highlights the pathways that business leaders can take to make a meaningful impact on people’s lives. The work of RBIJ’s partner, The Body Shop, provides a powerful example of this work.

Opportunities to share challenges and lessons learned are invaluable, especially at a global scale. The coalition aims to create a space where businesses can share their initiatives and their results, and where the community can support and learn from each other. Trish expressed interest in working with other businesses to show them how open hiring can impact social justice, social mobility, while impacting communities positively. “This is my passion, I’d love to be a thought partner with other leaders to help get this going,” she said.

Justice on the horizon

2021 will be a year of transition, healing, and recovery. It will mark a new normal that will enable communities, countries, and businesses to work together to shift from a world where justice is only available to the privileged few, to one that is moving towards protecting human rights and providing justice for all. A world where justice systems help individuals in crisis, address systemic inequities, revitalize disadvantaged communities, and rebuild the bonds of trust with the communities they serve.

Because and despite our shared challenges, businesses are rising up to the challenge to discover ways to address peoples’ justice problems. In closing remarks from Global Citizen’s Liz Agbor-Tabi, we heard how the Business Leaders for Justice Coalition aims to provide the support, commitment, and expertise to turn the dream of a more just and fair world into a reality for all. By taking bold steps to help their employees, customers, and communities, business leaders can build just societies that work better and effectively for all people over the long term.

How to Join

Business leaders who join the coalition are able to share the concrete actions their businesses are taking to drive justice forward in services, workplaces, and communities at global and regional levels, while connecting with countries and justice champions to advance justice for all. Joining this initiative takes one simple step: committing to the Justice Imperative Principles. This is the moment to continue to rise up, share your stories, and inspire others as we work towards justice for all!

The Business Leaders for Justice Coalition Steering Committee is led by the Pathfinders for Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies, hosted at New York University’s Center on International Cooperation, with Global Citizen, the National Legal Aid & Defender Association, and the Responsible Business Initiative for Justice.