Governments must do more to empower sustainable businesses
Policymakers must take responsibility to help businesses meet sustainability standards by being transparent and building trust, according to panellists at the International Trade Centre’s (ITC) inaugural Trade for Sustainable Development Forum.
Delegates discussed the role of policymakers in mainstreaming the use of sustainability standards at the session entitled ‘From consumer conscience to sustainability standards – what role for policymakers?’ on 1 October at WTO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.
‘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,’ said ITC Executive Director Arancha González in her welcome remarks. ‘For that, we need serious investment of financial and technical resources to meet those standards.’
The proliferation of standards, codes of conduct and other sustainability initiatives makes them difficult to understand and implement. Many small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) of developing countries face challenges in adopting sustainability standards, as they often lack information or lack the means to comply.
To level the playing field, SMEs need tailored information about market opportunities and standards. ITC’s Standards Map, a database of sustainability standards around the world, can bridge that gap, said Mark Henderson, a policy officer of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Trade.
Ronald Saborío Soto, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Costa Rica to the WTO, said that it is important to get information to exporters in order for them to comply.
‘More exporters are willing to invest in certification because efforts are rewarded with greater competitiveness, production efficiency, a stronger image and higher prices that markets are willing to pay,’ he said.
Governments set the example for businesses and consumers, said Dominik Ziller, Deputy Director-General for Global Cooperation at Germany’s Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. ‘If you want to have sustainable supply chains, if you expect consumers to buy sustainable products, you have to set a good standard,’ he said. ‘Our government doesn’t buy anything that isn’t sustainably produced.’
Mr. Ziller added that policymakers must address lack of enforcement and corruption. ‘They can support capacity building and auditing to combat corruption,’ he said. ‘Otherwise, standards will be worth nothing.’
Panellists agreed that governments must work with non-governmental organizations and businesses to ensure widespread compliance to sustainability standards, from producing to sourcing sustainable goods.
‘We need to include a wide range of stakeholders, not only those delivering goods but those that are affected and those without formal rights,’ said Julia Marton-Lefèvre, Director-General of the International Union for Conservation of Nature. ‘The process needs to be transparent and inclusive.’
Multinational corporations such as Nestlé, Unilever, Mars and IKEA are committing to buying from sustainable sources. Nandu Nandkishore, Executive Vice President of Nestlé S.A., said that his company focuses on creating shared value by building trust with stakeholders through compliance with standards and codes of conduct.
‘The only way a company can be sustainable and create value for shareholders over a long period of time is if you simultaneously build value for the community in which you operate,’ he said.
‘No one disagrees with the principle of living in a sustainable world,’ said moderator Lanre Akrinola, Editor of This is Africa, in closing the opening session. ‘But what and on whose terms?’
The Trade for Sustainable Development debate continues all day tomorrow at the World Meteorological Organization.