Australian SDGs Hub for Business


SDG 3 encompasses many major health issues, including reproductive, maternal, newborn, child health, infectious diseases, non-communicable diseases, mental health, road traffic injuries, universal health care, environmental health consequences and health systems.

Despite excellent progress on some health-related goals during the last decades, enormous challenges remain.

The World Health Organization estimates that every year 5.9 million children die before their fifth birthday, 2 million people are newly infected with HIV, 9.6 million with tuberculosis and 214 million with malaria. It further estimates that more than 10 million people fail to reach 70 due to cardiovascular diseases and cancer, while 4.3 million people die from air pollution caused by cooking fuel.1

As for unhealthy behaviours, an estimated 1.1 billion people smoke tobacco, 1.8 billion drink contaminated water and 946 million defecate in the open.

Where a person is born has an enormous bearing on outlook. Newborns in 29 high-income countries have an average life expectancy of 80 years or more. But newborns in 22 sub-Saharan African nations have a life expectancy of less than 60.1

With an estimated 53% of deaths globally not registered, there is significant uncertainty in relation to a number of health indicators. Strengthening country health information systems is needed for the reliable tracking of SDG3.1

Australia ranks among the top six countries globally in terms of life expectancy, but there are enormous disparities between its Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians have a life expectancy about 10 years shorter than non-Indigenous Australians.2 Some of the key chronic health issues facing Australians generally include hypertension, osteoarthritis, high cholesterol, depression, anxiety, and asthma.3


How is this relevant to business?

Health and well-being is critical to the sustainability and prosperity of business. This is relevant at all steps within a supply chain, including a company’s own workforce, the people working for suppliers and ultimately those who work in distribution channels, the customers and people who may be affected by the method of disposal when a product is thrown away.

Businesses have a responsibility not to harm human health. There is also a strong business case for supporting health, as a healthy population is more engaged, more productive and contributes to economic growth. Populations that enjoy good health and well-being are also the most fertile for businesses wanting to build markets.

“Health systems oriented towards universal health coverage, immensely valuable in their own right, produce an array of benefits: in times of crisis, they mitigate the effect of shocks on communities; in times of calm, they foster more cohesive societies and productive economies.” (The Economists’ Declaration on Universal Health Coverage)


What can business do?

Businesses undermine world health ambitions when they neglect or are negligent in respect of workplace health and safety or use suppliers who do the same. Other health-related failures include pollution and inefficient or wasteful use of natural resources and energy. Some end products are blatantly unhealthy, such as cigarettes.

As an absolute minimum, businesses should adhere to laws governing workplace health and safety and ensure their operations do no harm to workers or the communities in which they live.

They should scrutinise their supply chains for harmful practices and help suppliers reach minimum standards related to health and well-being. Improvements in societal health delivers magnified benefits to the business community. It is in the private sector’s own interests to find opportunities to make a positive impact. A few examples follow.


The United Nations Global Compact is scheduled to launch its Health is Everyone’s Business Action Platform in September 2017. The platform will provide compelling arguments for why health and well-being are imperative for sustainable business, including the business case and opportunities across value chains and supply chains. The platform invites businesses across all sectors to make health and well-being an imperative.


Act Responsibly

  • Provide workers with a safe work environment
  • Identify and address risks to health arising from workplace activities
  • Reduce and mitigate the environmental impacts of business activities
  • Ensure the safety of products and services
  • Pay a living wage and consider introducing flexible working arrangements as these can significantly improve employee well-being
  • Adopt and promote employee assistance programs offering easy to access, confidential and quality counselling and support services

Find Opportunity

  • Work with suppliers in the value chain to improve working conditions and explore ways to provide healthcare and insurance options
  • Review the business continuity management strategy and identify opportunities to assist the local community in times of emergency
  • Invest in workplace health and well-being programs
  • Collaborate with governments and other businesses to identify opportunities where expertise or services can be provided to improve community health, nutrition and knowledge outcomes. For example, join the UN Business Action Hub to discuss, share information and take action to advance the SDGs
  • Support community awareness programs like RUOK? and physical activity (e.g. sponsorship of a sports team)
  • Engage with GBCHealth, a coalition of companies and organisations committed to investing resources to make a healthier world for their employees, their communities and the world at large


Links between Goal 3 and the UN Global Compact’s ten principles

Human Rights & Labour (UN Global Compact Principles 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)

The World Health Organization’s constitution enshrines the “highest attainable standard of health as a fundamental right of every human being.” The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights also recognises the “right of everyone to the enjoyment of just and favourable conditions of work which ensure, in particular … [s]afe and healthy working conditions”. Other business-related health impacts may also be human rights connected (e.g. environmental impacts of business activities that have health implications, consumer safety in relation to products).

Environment (UN Global Compact Principles 7, 8, 9)

The state of the environment is intrinsically linked to the health of humankind. Business activity can harm the environment and human health (e.g. contamination of waterways, air pollution, toxic products), but it can also contribute to the environment, human health and sustainable development (e.g. removing toxins from products, switching to renewable energy, adding nutrients to food).

Anti-Corruption (UN Global Compact Principle 10)

Corruption undermines health in the same way that it distorts access to many of life’s necessities. Within the healthcare system, corruption impedes individuals from accessing medical attention and medications. It can push people to jeopardise their health (e.g. black market in human organs). On a bigger scale, corruption is behind the siphoning of funds destined for hospitals and other health facilities, undermining campaigns against health challenges such as malaria and HIV/AIDS.


1 World Health Organization (2016),

2 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2016),

3 University of Sydney (2017),–new-res.html


By 2030, reduce the global maternal mortality ratio to less than 70 per 100,000 live births

By 2030, end preventable deaths of newborns and children under 5 years of age, with all countries aiming to reduce neonatal mortality to at least as low as 12 per 1,000 live births and under-5 mortality to at least as low as 25 per 1,000 live births

By 2030, end the epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and neglected tropical diseases and combat hepatitis, water-borne diseases and other communicable diseases

By 2030, reduce by one third premature mortality from non-communicable diseases through prevention and treatment and promote mental health and well-being

Strengthen the prevention and treatment of substance abuse, including narcotic drug abuse and harmful use of alcohol

By 2020, halve the number of global deaths and injuries from road traffic accidents

By 2030, ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services, including for family planning, information and education, and the integration of reproductive health into national strategies and programmes

Achieve universal health coverage, including financial risk protection, access to quality essential health-care services and access to safe, effective, quality and affordable essential medicines and vaccines for all

By 2030, substantially reduce the number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals and air, water and soil pollution and contamination

Strengthen the implementation of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in all countries, as appropriate

Support the research and development of vaccines and medicines for the communicable and non-communicable diseases that primarily affect developing countries, provide access to affordable essential medicines and vaccines, in accordance with the Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health, which affirms the right of developing countries to use to the full the provisions in the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights regarding flexibilities to protect public health, and, in particular, provide access to medicines for all

Substantially increase health financing and the recruitment, development, training and retention of the health workforce in developing countries, especially in least developed countries and small island developing States

Strengthen the capacity of all countries, in particular developing countries, for early warning, risk reduction and management of national and global health risks





Safe Work Australia provides various resources on workplace health and safety and the Australian Department of Health’s Healthy Work Initiative provides resources on delivering workplace health programs.

Australia’s Mentally Health Workplace Alliance is a national approach by business, community and government to encourage Australian workplaces to become mentally healthy.

The Australian Human Rights Commission’s Workers with Mental Illness: A practical Guide for Managers publication provides information on how to support workers with mental illness and about how to develop and promote a safe and healthy work environment.

The GBCHealth initiative provides a range of tools and resources for business.

Additional Goal 3 related resources are available in the UN Global Compact’s library.

For more goal-related tools, go to the Inventory of Business Tools webpage on the SDG Compass website. Businesses can explore and find commonly used tools when assessing their impact on SDGs.