We need more collaboration to achieve sustainability goals in global supply chains. This was one of the key messages that speakers emphasized in a hybrid session on the role and evolution of voluntary sustainability standards (NSVs) as tools to build a greener global trading system and more sustainable.
The event was hosted by the International Trade Center (ITC) as part of its annual Forum on Trade for Sustainable Development, and was held during the 2021 World Trade Organization (WTO) Public Forum September 28. He described some of the ways in which VSS have had a positive social and environmental impact, the challenges they face and the role of different actors in working together to improve them.
From the niche to the new normal
Session moderator Tyler Gillard, Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), opened the session by reflecting on how VSSs have progressed over the past 20 to 30 years towards their goal of improve the environmental and social performance of global supply chains.
âI would say that sustainability has moved beyond the window to enter the new normal,â said Gillard, arguing that we are now in a period of self-reflection when it comes to VSS. Amid a COVID-19 pandemic and looming climate crisis, Gillard said âwe are in a new paradigm, and it requires us to examine whether sustainability standards are delivering on their promises. Do they have the impact they set for themselves?
Market access and resilience
The first panelist to reflect on this issue was Pamela Coke-Hamilton, ITC Executive Director. âVSS is one of the key tools we have in our arsenal to work with [small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)] to help them grow and ensure they can access markets for certain products and services, âshe said. She also noted that VSS can improve the resilience of smallholder farmers to external shocks by helping them obtain higher premiums for their products, giving them more options to sell their products and building stronger relationships between buyers. and sellers.
Coke-Hamilton concluded by sharing the main findings of ITC’s new report on sustainability standards. These include the finding that there has been an increasing consolidation of standards requirements and an increase in SSVs embedded in free trade agreements (FTAs) and policies. The latter point prompted Gillard to note that VSSs may not be ‘voluntary’ for much longer, as actors such as the EU consider mandatory due diligence legislation in global supply chains.
Transparency and global benchmark
Jean-Marie Paugam, Deputy Director General of the WTO, underlined the difference between publicly supported standards, which are recognized by the WTO, and private standards, which are not. He said the WTO recognizes international standard-setting organizations as the âanchor point for public policy-making in terms of standards,â noting that they could become the mechanism for recognizing private standards within the organization. ‘WTO.
Paugam also stressed the importance of standard cards and their role in providing “a concrete response to what is really a blind spot in our system of governance over commerce.” Although central to implementation efforts, private standards face many challenges, ranging from incomparability to lack of transparency. Gillard agreed that aligning public and private standards with global benchmarks that reflect best practices could help alleviate duplication and fatigue caused by the multiplicity and misalignment of VSSs in supply chains.
Training, harmonization and access to financing
Afua Asabea Asare, Ghana Export Promotion Authority (GEPA), described the role of VSS in Ghanaian business development. She spoke about GEPA’s collaboration with ITC’s Trade for Sustainable Development (T4SD) program, which has involved providing training to SMEs on how to achieve certification and working with bank officials to help producers access finance.
Asabea Asare highlighted the need for harmonization and collaboration between different VSSs, given the challenges producers face in obtaining similar certifications from different agencies. Gillard highlighted the role governments need to play in coordinating national standards so that SMEs can better integrate into global supply chains, which in turn will help promote exports and grow the domestic market. .
Develop a convergence platform
Janet Mensink, Social and Labor Convergence Secretariat, The Netherlands, explained how manufacturers in the textile industry are audited 12 to 15 times a year for different VSS, with each audit costing considerable resources but not producing results shareable or comparable. The Social and Labor Convergence Initiative has emerged as a way to address this problematic landscape of competing standards in the sector, she explained.
Mensink said the initiative brought together actors from the private and public sectors to create a uniform framework for measuring working conditions, freeing up resources that can be redeployed elsewhere. She argued that once the project is scaled up, âwe will have the opportunity to generate data insights at an aggregate level and conduct data analysis that … [help] drive effective legislation. Gillard also recognized the need for common action globally, but cautioned that local adaptation would be essential to gain local buy-in.
VSS are here to stay
In conclusion, Coke-Hamilton acknowledged that SSVs are here to stay, and said that as they are increasingly integrated into national policies and international agreements, it becomes even more imperative that a technical assistance is provided to producers in developing countries. âWithout it, we will be leaving a lot out. And we cannot afford for that to happen.[SDG Knowledge Hub Sources] [WTO Public Forum 2021]