‘Making sense of sustainability initiatives in international supply chains’ (en)
Remarks delivered by the Executive Director at the Trade for Sustainable Development Forum on 1 October 2014 in Geneva.
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Ladies and Gentlemen
I am pleased to welcome you to ITC’s first Trade for Sustainable Development Forum in what we foresee as an annual event. It will continue with more in-depth discussions tomorrow at the WMO and I urge you to attend as many of those sessions as you can.
It is fitting that we are here today to talk about sustainability initiatives as the theme of this year’s WTO Public Forum is “trade matters to everyone”. We can say the same about sustainable development: Sustainable development matters to everyone. It is at the core of International Trade Centre’s mandate and mission. That is why five years ago we launched the “Trade for Sustainable Development” initiative, to promote sustainable supply chains as a means to help developing countries small and medium enterprises (SMEs) add value to their products and services.
Many years on, the sustainability “landscape” has become a more challenging one. There is a proliferation of standards, codes of conduct and other sustainability initiatives which may create additional challenges, and sometimes burdens on consumers, multinationals, NGOs, governments, and particularly SMEs in the developing world.
To be sure, these sustainability initiatives can provide new trade opportunities, improve product quality, mitigate environmental degradation, improve compliance to social and labour standards, and boost the overall competitiveness of SME exporters.
But these benefits will only fully be realised if there is investment of financial and technical resources in identifying, understanding and meeting these standards. This is often more difficult for small producers in the developing world. However, this investment is not just an option; it is a major component of business. To meet the growing demand for goods and services that are framed by these sustainability parameters there is a need to take action to ensure they are a critical part of the business plan of any SME.
As we will discuss, national and international governments are moving ahead with sustainable public procurement commitments as are many multinational corporations such as Nestlé and Unilever. These commitments however risk being lost in the web of overlapping sustainability standards, codes, and sourcing policies. Certification costs are increasing and there is a danger that market inefficiencies could result. At the same time, the private or voluntary nature of these initiatives can also be a strength, fostering innovation and a more agile response to sustainability imperatives such as climate change and workers’ rights.
What can we, as development actors, do given this highly complex and fast-changing landscape? I see the need to preserve the dynamic nature of this field but at the same time make sure that these sustainability initiatives live up to their promise.
Today at the WTO and at tomorrow’s sessions at the WMO we, collectively, will hopefully provide some answers and insights into this and explore practical and implementable solutions to these challenges. Experts in the field who are working precisely in this area of sustainability and harmonisation will share their views and discuss their approaches, tools and models for convergence. And I do believe that “convergence of sustainability standards” is the big landscape to explore.
But to get there, we will first discuss conditions that enable the implementation of more responsible and sustainable strategies and solicit opinions from policymakers, suppliers and buyers as to their challenges and needs. We will finally close our forum tomorrow with the presentation of ITC’s “Trade for Sustainable Development Principles” which aim to bring companies and institutions around the need for transparent and harmonized sustainable trade practices that are aligned with the United Nations Post 2015 development agenda.
I believe that this Trade for Sustainable Development Forum will not only provoke rigorous debate and ideas but also propose innovative steps that we can take together with all our partners to support more sustainable trade and production. ITC is your partner in this endeavor and we commit to bring our tools, networks, and project teams to operate in an efficient and complementary way to achieve these goals. Transparent, harmonised and sustainable trade practices do indeed matter to everyone.