Ehab Abou-Oaf, regional president, Asia-Australia, Middle East and Africa, said “uncommon collaboration” was critical to meet the 17 UN objectives.
He was speaking at the Responsible Business Forum in Singapore, which is backed by the UN Development Programme.
There he laid down the challenge to competitors to share best practices when it came to food safety, sustainability and maximising supply chain efficiency.
“Uncommon collaboration is critical,” he told delegates. “This means not just collaborating with governments and NGOs, but within own industry and with competitors to enable change to happen.”
The 17 goals include almost 170 targets spanning health, poverty, nutrition, the environment, communities, industry, energy and education.
Yet even those with direct implications for food firms can’t be achieved by acting alone, said Abou-Oaf.
‘We are very conscious that we can’t do this by ourselves. We can certainly make a difference, but to make the improvements we want, we have to collaborate.”
He said Mars was already working will fellow companies through trade body Food Industry Asia, and had a track record of sharing experiences around food safety and crop efficiency with competitors.
He also pointed to an ongoing $120m venture with Danone to increase the productivity of smallholder farmers.
The Livelihoods Fund for Family Farming will make between four and five investments per year until 2025 The projects in Africa, Latin America and Asia, focus on low-tech, sustainable farming practices that are easy to adopt and quick to scale-up.
While clearly keen on collaboration, Abou-Oaf said Mars was also taking action internally to meet the UN’s objectives.
He pointed to September’s launch of the company’s ‘Sustainable in a Generation’ project as a prime example. This sets targets for climate action, water stewardship, waste management, land use and health.
Speaking at the time, Mars CEO Grant F. Reid said that while many companies had been working on being more sustainable, “the current level of progress is nowhere near enough.”
Abou-Oaf said the new project would encompass the entire supply chain to meet health and sustainability goals.
“Of course, this has to make sense because want to make money, stay in business for years to come, employ more people and have a more successful supply chain,” he said.
“But the only way we can stay successful is by having a plan that is far reaching and ambitious like this.”
He added that Mars would invest $1bn in the project – and pointed that as a privately-owned company it wasn’t doing it because of investor pressure.
“We are not doing this for Wall Street or to improve our stock price, but because we want to and because we know that it is good for business,’ he said.
“Being privately-owned gives us the freedom to take a longer term view, and there are short, medium and long-term benefits we will see from this $1bn plan.”