Business & UN

Making business work in 2021

  • 17 December 2021

We’re concluding our year with a round-up of key achievements on behalf of 45 million businesses in over 100 countries. From helping businesses weather the COVID-19 crisis to preparing a resilient rebuild, we’ve had a busy year making business work for everyone, every day, everywhere.

From leveraging our real economy expertise to drive an effective response to enabling greater inclusion in the global trading system, here are 6 ways we’ve worked to enable peace, prosperity and opportunity for all this year.   

1. Shaping an effective response to COVID

In January, ICC published ground-breaking research, showing that unequal access to ​COVID vaccines carried greater downside risk to a global recovery than ​previously estimated and​ called on the G7 to follow through on commitments to back proposals to provide financial support to help poorer nations recovery from pandemic impact. ICC was widely cited in the media following a call to the European Commission to reconsider export controls on vaccines. In March, ICC Secretary-General John W.H. Denton AO and Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of UNICEF, joined forces to pen a joint op-ed highlighting the urgency of addressing barriers to the distribution of vaccines. 

ICC represented business at the ACT Accelerator high-level meeting for Finance Ministries and called on the G20 and other world leaders to forge a comprehensive global action plan to bring the pandemic to an end. On the eve of the G20 Summit in Rome in October, ICC called on leaders for a major step change in approach to boost access to vaccines in the developing world and stave off the looming threat of an emerging market debt crisis, pointing to vaccine inequality as the root cause of supply chain disruptions slowing global growth.  

Given the impact of the pandemic on young people everywhere, ICC has also been working throughout the year to provide young people with the required tools and resources to succeed in the global economy of the future. 

Calling on the European Commission and other international organisations and governments to act promptly, ICC was also at the forefront of efforts to introduce digital health passes as a way to restore global mobility and reopen the economy. 

2. Enabling sustainability

ICC made the business case for a deal on emissions trading at COP26 climate negotiations, calling on governments for practical plans that work with the real economy. During COP26, ICC published the findings of an extensive survey of companies’ experience operating under the 60 different carbon pricing regimes in force today throughout the world and issued a white paper identifying a roadmap to boost the sustainability profile of US$700 billion export finance market. ICC also convened a major virtual conference on the margins of COP26 bringing together a diverse network of over 10,000 participants from the public and private sectors to align their climate ambitions and actions for the next decade. In September, Pavan Sukhdev, CEO of GIST invited participants of the 2021 SDG Business Forum to test SME360X, an ICC GIST platform to help smaller businesses reap both the environmental and business benefits of measuring and managing sustainability. Earlier in the year, having welcomed plans to create a pan-African Green infrastructure Investment Bank, ICC Secretary General John W.H. Denton AO joined African ministers of Finance and leading institutional investors from Africa and around the world to discuss how best to support green investments in Africa. 

This month, ICC published a major independent report based on real world case studies, highlighting the need for an overhaul of global trade rules to accelerate the adoption of circular business models.   

In support of other sustainability goals, ICC and the World Food Programme launched a global partnership to engage the business community and foster strategic collaborations at regional and national levels. 

3. Making trade work for all

In June, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala made ICC her first port of call to engage with the business community upon commencing her role as Director General of the World Trade. The exclusive briefing saw participation from close to 2,000 members of our network from over 120 countries.  

In March, ICC officially launched the Digital Trade Standards Initiative (DSI) – a collaborative cross-industry effort to enable the standardisation of digital trade and later in the year announced the formation of new Industry Advisory Board (IAB) to support the initiative.  

The 2020 annual report of the Global Alliance for Trade Facilitation was published in March, highlighting three new projects and showcasing how the Alliance has trained more than 200 customs officials from 11 Latin American and Caribbean countries in remote validation techniques as part of a regional project. 

In May, ICC launched TradeNow, a suite of digital products and services to tackle the global trade finance gap in all its breadth and complexity. Under the TradeNow campaign, ICC announced a partnership with TradeFlow Capital Management to unlock trade finance for SMEs, named Ecuador as the first market to pilot the TRADECOMM MSME financing platform, powered by Finastra, to tackle the growing trade finance gap, and published the 2021 ICC Trade Register Report, revealing performance of short-term trade and supply chain finance assets from 2019 and 2020.

In an open letter published in July, ICC Secretary General John Denton called upon trade ministers to conclude an agreement fisheries saying that making the tough decisions and compromises needed would restore faith in the trading system while ultimately making our shared ocean economy more sustainable in the long term. 

Most recently, ICC welcomed an historic agreement by 67 countries to conclude negotiations on services trade set to make domestic regulatory systems more transparent, predictable and efficient. ICC Secretary General John W.H. Denton AO joined WTO Ambassador José Luis Cancela to launch the Trade4MSMEs which features a suite of practical ICC tools and knowledge to guide and enable small businesses and policy decision makers. 

4. Fostering innovation and entrepreneurship

From the global expansion of our Centre of Entrepreneurship and announcing winners of the 2021 Corporate Startup Stars competition, ICC has been working to equip entrepreneurs and small business with the tools and knowledge needed to thrive in the global economy of the future. In March, ICC also published a guide to the policy frameworks that create and nurture robust innovation ecosystems. 

5. Maximise the benefits of digitally enabled trade

In 2021, ICC continued to recognise and advance the use of digitalisation and technology in achieving an inclusive and durable post-COVID rebuild. 

In January, ICC issued a joint industry statement calling for advancement of the WTO framework on data flows, saying that COVID-19 had underscored the indispensable role of e-commerce in our lives while in April ICC welcomed a G7 Ministerial Declaration on the digital and technology agenda to ‘build back better’. ICC alsojoined a multistakeholder initiative calling for concerted action at all levels to bridge digital divides. 

In line with our campaign to enable the digitisation of five million micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises in Africa, ICC announced a partnership to support women-led SMEs on the continent including through co-developed trade and information portals called “e-Trade Hubs”.  ICC announced a partnership with B2BeeMatch to empower women entrepreneurs globally through a tailored matchmaking platform for entrepreneurs and SMEs, supported by ICC’s Centres of Entrepreneurship. 

In June, ICC joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) and International Trade Centre (ITC) today to launch the Digital Champions for Small Business initiative to help small businesses go digital and increase their participation in international trade.   

Addressing a World Customs Organization conference on cross-border e-commerce, ICC Secretary General John W.H. Denton AO said digitally enabled commerce is the future of trade and called for efforts to be made to configure the ecosystems needed to make 21st Century trade work for everyone, everywhere, every day. 

Ending the year on a digital economy high note, ICC has welcomed a statement by the Trade Ministers of Australia, Japan and Singapore announcing significant progress in the ongoing e-commerce negotiations within the World Trade Organization. 

As the leading voice of business at the annual Internet Governance Forum through our Business Action to Support the Information Society (BASIS) initiative, ICC also made the business case to keep the Internet open to everyone, unfragmented and safe at this year’s event in Katowice, Poland.   

6. Resolving disputes worldwide

Claudia Salomon made history on 1 July 2021, becoming the first female President of the ICC International Court of Arbitration, a move which went on to win a best development in international arbitration award. Among other key achievements for ICC Dispute Resolution Services in 2021, the ICC Court announced in January that it had filed a record number of 946 new arbitration cases in 2020, while in May ICC was named the world’s most preferred arbitral institute in a major global survey. 

Read ICC Dispute Resolution in 2021: Our year in review