Private Sector Leadership is Needed to Advance Justice for All


“By ensuring that everyone, regardless of his or her circumstances, has a path toward equal justice, a trustworthy legal system promotes social cohesion. Business has an interest in promoting this goal. The rate at which societies fall apart, and chaos ensues, accelerates exponentially when people have no stake in the social order, or at least believe they do not. Companies–no matter how strong or profitable–simply cannot operate in such an environment.” – Kenneth C. Frazier, Chairman and CEO, Merck & Co., Inc.(1)

By the Pathfinders for Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies, National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA), Responsible Business Initiative for Justice (RBIJ), Global Citizen

The world is in chaos. With escalating crises rooted in an awakening to racial injustice and a global pandemic, it is hard to imagine what else might emerge in 2020 to further upend our lives. These realities are exposing just how deep the fault lines of racial and economic injustice run in our communities. But rather than despair, we must take advantage of this moment to reshape the very systems that have created these disparities — perhaps none as damaging as those found in our justice systems.

We are witnessing an historical inflection point — and it is at these moments that allies can turn their friendship into leadership to help create change. Today, we turn to our partners in the business community — who have to face both the impact of COVID-19 on employees and consumers, and the demand by those same individuals to act to end racial injustice — and encourage them to join our effort to advance justice for all.

In 2019, the global justice community — led by the Task Force on Justice — came together to push forward the aspirations of SDG16 and its call for equal access to justice. This community of justice leaders have primarily hailed from governments and civil society, and, notably, leaders from the business community have also participated in these efforts. That should come as no surprise. Indeed, the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was developed in a multi-stakeholder environment by governments in partnership with civil society, citizens, and the business community in recognition that the ambition behind the agenda required collaboration across society. With the business community’s refocusing of its purpose beyond profits, as the Business Roundtable made clear in 2019, corporations standing up for justice is imperative.

During COVID-19, we have seen businesses not only changing their own practices to ensure their employees and consumers are safe, they have been leveraging their position to assist others. In the justice arena, both Ben & Jerry’s and Business Leaders in the UK have spoken out clearly on the increased threat incarcerated populations are facing, and have called for early release or pre-trial diversion for individuals at increased risk of falling ill. The business community has also spoken in support of the equal access to justice community’s increased needs during the pandemic. For example, the National Legal Aid and Defender Association’s Corporate Advisory Committee, in letters to the US Congress, has advocated for increased federal funding for civil legal aid, as part of the emergency supplemental funding passed in response to the pandemic.

And now, in response to the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers and the widespread protests against racial injustice in the United States and across the globe, some in the corporate community are responding more directly in support of racial equity and justice than they have during past, sadly similar, moments. Many private sector actors are making some of the clearest statements on the importance of racial equality through press releases, Op-eds, and social media posts.

More importantly, the private sector is taking action. They are:

  • infusing resources into social justice organizations, like Bank of America’s pledge of $1 billion to, “help local communities address economic and racial inequality accelerated by a global pandemic,” and Lloyds TSB investing £2.5 million to, “help specialist charities influence change in the criminal justice system,”
  • taking new steps to improve diversity and inclusion in their ranks, like VISA,
  • prompting dialogue on race, like Yorkshire Tea and PG Tips,
  • calling for policy and legislative reform on justice issues, such as police reform, like Business Roundtable, and
  • changing their business practices to limit the ways their products and services create disparities in society and the justice system, like Amazon’s decision to freeze the sale of facial recognition software to law enforcement and the campaign by Tony’s Chocolonely, along with 49 other Dutch companies, calling for a new legal framework for due diligence to ensure more transparency and equality in the supply chain.

Harnessing the will to make real progress on racial justice — both through changes to business practices and by leveraging the corporate community’s influence before policymakers — has the potential to create lasting change and catalyze action in justice systems across the globe.

That’s why Pathfinders for Justice is launching a new initiative on the role of the private sector in advancing justice for all.

To deliver justice for all by 2030 in a world where billions of people are not yet able to obtain justice, we must resolve justice problems, prevent injustices from occurring, and use justice systems to create opportunities for people to participate fully in their societies and economies. In order to do so, actors from across all sectors of society — including the private sector — must work together through an alliance of international and regional justice partners, drawing on the advantage created through partnership and our collective influence. Entrepreneurs, corporate giants, and global philanthropists have committed to tackling some of the greatest justice challenges across the world. This effort aims to unite and mobilize those private sector leaders to, “support the movement for justice for all in partnership with governments and civil society,” as called for by the Task Force on Justice: Justice for All Report and help implement the Shared Strategy for 2020–2030.

The new initiative — led by a Steering Committee comprised of the Pathfinders for Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies, the National Legal Aid and Defender Association, the Responsible Business Initiative for Justice, with the support of Global Citizen, as part of a broader partnership with the Pathfinders for Justice — will work with business leaders to develop a call to action directed at the private sector to advance justice for all. The work will benefit from an analysis of the ways in which the private sector community has responded to challenges around justice, including the response to racial injustice that has swept the globe.

The call to action will be made in the Fall of 2020 around the time of the UN Secretary-General’s global call to accelerate action on the 2030 Agenda at the first annual SDG Action Platform and the Responsible Business Summit. When the world comes together in September, we will be reminded that there are only 10 years to go, and that the setbacks of 2020 have pushed the farthest behind even farther. The time to step up to the challenge and demonstrate meaningful corporate leadership, inspire hope through action, and encourage others to commit to justice for all is now.

(1) Source: Ken Frazier (CEO, Merck) article: Kenneth C. Frazier, Why Big Business Should Support Legal Aid, 148 Daedalus 150, 155 (2019)