Understanding the Impact: Public vs Private Companies and the SDGs

By: ESG Team | June 19, 2024

Understanding the Impact: Public vs Private Companies and the SDGs

With sustainability being imperative, it's essential to examine how public and private companies align with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This article, leveraging insights from SESAMm's TextReveal, dives into the behaviors of both sectors across industries, exploring their impact on achieving a sustainable future. Join us as we unravel the complexities of corporate contributions to the SDGs, highlighting key differences and challenges public and private entities face in their journey toward sustainability.

What are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals? 

The 17 UN SDG objectives, introduced in 2015 with the target of achievement by 2030, are geared towards building a sustainable society. Initially designed for governments, certain companies can contribute significantly to these goals through their products or conduct. However, our focus here will center on identifying behaviors that counter these 17 objectives.

The analysis of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) adverse behaviors, as identified by SESAMm's TextReveal, offers a comprehensive comparison between public and private companies within various industries. The focus is to discern disparities in SDG behaviors within the same sector and pinpoint the predominant SDG goal breaches in these industries.

Excluding Goal 2 ("End hunger") due to its alignment with state-related initiatives, the analysis concentrates on corporate-impactful goals.

Public and private sectors face challenges in meeting SDGs, particularly Goals 1 ("End poverty") and 16 ("Peace & justice and strong institutions"), with issues in labor rights and governance. However, public companies are more aligned with Goal 8 ("Decent work and economic growth") across industries, facing a range of controversies from biodiversity to management issues. In contrast, private companies focus on Goal 11 ("Sustainable cities"), dealing with climate change and customer relations risks.

Both sectors show high breaches in Goal 1 ("End poverty"), indicating widespread controversies related to labor rights, human capital, and governance-related pay issues, spanning senior board compensation, tax strategies, and potential anti-competitive practices.

Goal 16 ("Peace & justice and strong institutions") is significant in both sectors but particularly in the Financials and Information Technology for public companies and in Financials, Fossil Fuels, and Health Care for private companies. This goal involves human rights, labor rights, human capital, and governance-related controversies.

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Sector-Specific Trends

Public Companies 

Goal 8 ("Decent work and economic growth") is prominent across all industries, especially in Utilities. The range of controversies includes biodiversity, human rights, labor rights, human capital, supply chain social management, and governance issues like senior management structures and anti-competitive practices.

Private Companies 

Goal 11 ("Sustainable cities") is notably significant in Consumer Staples and Utilities. Risks are primarily associated with climate change, atmospheric pollution, waste management, fundamental human rights, human capital, customer relations, anti-competitive practices, and influence strategy and communication.

These findings highlight the profound impact of SDG-related risks on economic growth and stability across various sectors. Industries like Information Technology, Industrials, and Consumer Discretionary exhibit heightened susceptibility to SDG adverse behaviors, underscoring the necessity for vigilant risk management to ensure economic prosperity and security.

Industrial UNGC Use Case

What is the UN Global Compact? 

The United Nations Global Compact (UNGC), established in 2000, outlines ten principles across four main pillars: human rights, labor standards, and anti-corruption. These principles are critical in guiding companies toward ethical and responsible behaviors.

UNGC public companies-1

Figure 1: UNGC for public companies.

UNGC private companies

Figure 2: UNGC for private companies.

The analysis reveals distinct patterns in breaches of UNGC principles. Private companies in the industrials and fossil fuel sectors show a notable correlation with anti-corruption breaches, emphasizing the importance of due diligence in these areas. In the fossil fuel industry, public companies primarily breach environmental principles, while private companies show more breaches related to anti-corruption along with environmental concerns.

Public utilities companies exhibit more environmental breaches, including issues like gas leaks and unauthorized discharges. In contrast, private companies in the basic materials sector experience more environmental breaches, marked by incidents such as plant explosions and non-compliance with environmental regulations. Public companies in this sector, however, tend to have more anti-corruption breaches.

Private industrial companies also display a significant number of anti-corruption breaches involving various legal challenges. In the consumer staples sector, public companies primarily face human rights breaches, including forced labor and privacy violations. The private consumer discretionary sector also shows a high number of human rights breaches, particularly related to privacy and diversity and inclusion.

Overall, public companies across various sectors tend to have more frequent or severe UNGC breaches compared to private companies. This highlights the different challenges faced by public and private entities in adhering to the UNGC principles.


Significant variations in sustainability strategies emerge when looking at public and private companies through their SDG performances. Public companies prioritize economic growth and grapple with environmental and governance concerns, while private companies focus on creating sustainable cities, addressing climate change, and fulfilling social responsibilities. Both sectors encounter obstacles in eradicating poverty and ensuring justice, highlighting their crucial roles in promoting global sustainability objectives. This analysis underscores the essential proactive approach needed from both public and private entities to tackle sustainability challenges effectively.

Download the full report to discover how different sectors navigate regulatory pressures and sustainability challenges with real-world examples to guide your strategy. 

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Reach out to SESAMm

TextReveal’s web data analysis of over five million public and private companies is essential for keeping tabs on ESG investment risks. To learn more about how you can analyze web data or to request a demo, reach out to one of our representatives.