by Toby Quantrill, Head of Public Policy, Fairtrade Foundation
Twenty years ago one of the largest and highest profile global meetings in history took place in Rio, Brazil. The ‘Earth Summit’, organized by the United Nations, was designed to redirect the global economy and set society on a ‘sustainable’ pathway. Twenty years on, what does Rio+20 have in store for the millions of farmers and workers who are still not getting a fair deal from trade?
There is no denying that the Earth Summit event was ground breaking in its ambition. And that there have been lasting results. Agenda 21 (the ‘roadmap’ to a sustainable economy) included clear expectations for action by local governments that paved the way to the adoption and promotion of Fairtrade by local authorities, amongst many other progressive practices. The summit also put in motion the global process to negotiate an agreement to limit climate change.
However, if we judge success against the classic definition of sustainable development; ’to meet the needs of current generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’, then it would be safe to say the last twenty years would see humanity awarded an ’Epic Fail’. While billions of people go short of food, education, shelter and security we are significantly exceeding our environmental credit limits to satisfy the seemingly endless greed of a relative minority.
So will the UN event kicking off in Rio today (the UN Conference on Sustainable Development aka Rio+20) turn this situation around and get us back on track? Well, it is hard to find much optimism that this event will provide any significant break-through. Most commentators seem to agree that there is little hope of any substantial outcomes in terms of new commitments and indeed there seems to be some concern about even holding on to the (already inadequate) commitments made twenty years ago. In reality, and understandably, the attention of many global leaders is focussed elsewhere.
But this doesn’t mean that nothing of value can be achieved in Rio. The reduction in pressure to negotiate a major agreement can actually open space and opportunity for debate and discussion to explore new ideas and new directions which may lead to genuine shifts in future. The two ‘frames’ for such discussions are the creation of a ‘Green Economy’ and what that would really look like and the desire to develop a discussion on global ‘Sustainable Development Goals’, to replace, merge with, or sit alongside discussions about new Millennium Development Goals post 2015.
Many of the global environmental concerns being discussed at Rio impact directly on poorer producers. This is one of the reasons why the Fairtrade producer networks, led by Fairtrade Africa, have been active in global negotiations on climate change. Fairtrade will be engaging with the debate in Rio, through the ‘Corporate Sustainability Forum’ where businesses will engage with government and civil society to explore the ‘Green Economy’ concept and the role that business and other actors can play in advancing this.
It is very clear, to all of those with a stake in these debates that more is needed than good intentions and the standard ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ discussions. Businesses need to genuinely get to grips with the requirements of a sustainable economy, their place in it and their role in achieving it.
Oxfam’s analysis in the lead up to Rio shows that balancing the needs of development and the needs of environment is perfectly possible in theory – but will rely on a shift to a far more equal distribution of wealth and resources at global and national level.
In effect this is as much a political as a technical challenge. This is why it is so important for businesses to engage and contribute, not just in terms of shifting small elements of what they do, but engaging in fundamental debates about the kind of business model and approaches that can support a sustainable economy and what would need to change to enable them to shift. We know that a shift to Fairtrade alone cannot be enough, but it does provide an excellent starting point for such a discussion.
Fairtrade demonstrates that even large business can change a core element of how they work, improving the distribution of value in supply chains, supporting farmer empowerment and reducing the environmental impact of production. But Fairtrade also demonstrates that such changes can only work at scale when they have the support of the public and government. The question is how can businesses and government support, and learn from, Fairtrade to facilitate greater changes and apply Fairtrade principles to a much wider section of our economy?
If we ask this question now, in as many forums as possible, we’ll be well on our way to a more just system of global trade the next time global leaders gather for an Earth Summit.
- katelynninja likes this
- proseandpassion reblogged this from fairtrade
- phocai-lan-de-clocha reblogged this from fairtrade
- fairtrade reblogged this from fairtradeblog
- downnloads reblogged this from fairtradeblog
- downnloads likes this
- cameronneil reblogged this from fairtradeblog
- cameronneil likes this
- fairtradeblog posted this