The European Union’s international partnerships, development cooperation, trade and economic diplomacy strategies all refer to the important role that the private sector plays in achieving sustainability and poverty reduction objectives. Yet in practice, they often translate this into policies to support trade and investment by European companies in European Union (EU) partner countries, with the assumption that this will trickle down and create decent jobs. Yet, little attention is paid to the fact that most of these companies have prioritised maximising the extraction of resources instead of generating long-term positive societal and environmental returns.

This report makes the case for sustainable and inclusive businesses as key qualitative partners for the EU in its external action. Firstly, sustainable and inclusive businesses are driven by a social and environmental mission allowing them to create, rather than capture, value. Secondly, they are directed by participatory decision-making and inclusive governance, shifting power to people who are often left out of business decisions affecting them, such as employees, producers, community groups or environmental and consumer organisations.