CSR Europe investigates what sustainable trade means for business

Source: EurActiv.com, 23 October 2003

CSR Europe has invited key stakeholders to explore the concept of sustainable trade and what it means for the business community.
Globalisation, WTO and the Doha round of trade negotiations… What do all these mean for business? How is trade linked to sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)? What is the difference between conventional trade and ethical trade? How does sustainable trade affect competitiveness? A two-day event (16-17 October) organised by CSR Europe aimed to clarify these linkages. The first day focused on a business-to-business dialogue (closed session) while the discussion on the second day took the form of an open stakeholder consultation.

The speakers identified a number of issues that influence the sustainability of international trade, including:

Increased competition due to globalisation and ensuing trade tensions;
Strong pillars for global economic governance (WTO, IMF, World Bank) but lack of a strong international environmental or social pillar;
The current ‘in-between’ situation of developing countries in the multilateral trading system (incorporation vs. marginalisation);
Focus on trade vs. local capacity building;
National competitiveness vs. social policy objectives;
Women working in non-permanent employment or performing long working hours;
The role of business in tackling the ill effects of globalisation;
The effects of corporate lobbying.
The speaker from the Commission highlighted a number of EU initiatives to promote sustainable trade in a post-Johannesburg trade agenda, such as:

Supporting non-governmental initiatives, including the launch of a European Sustainable Trade and Innovation Center (a private initiative, whose aim is to bring together private and public sector partners looking for sustainable development solutions worldwide);
Setting up a "trade helpdesk", an Internet-based starting point for exporters of sustainably produced goods to find information on relevant legislation, suppliers, etc.
Devising action against illegal logging through a voluntary licensing system (to prevent the export of illegally produced wood into the EU);
Working with the ILO on social issues;
Conducting sustainability impact assessments (a tool used by the EU to factor sustainability considerations into its trade negotiations).
The speaker pointed out that, ultimately, the most important factor determining the success of sustainable (or fair) trade initiatives is consumer choice.

Next steps:
The ‘official’ minutes of the meeting will be made available by CSR Europe in the coming weeks.