Analysis

ISEAL meeting focuses on scaling up (June 2012)

May 2012

The ISEAL Alliance  held its annual conference on May 29-30 in Bonn, Germany, a meeting designed to allow standards bodies, companies, government bodies and NGOs to share information on developments in the marketplace for sustainably certified products.  Two key themes running through the discussions were also related.  Firstly, how will the sustainability standards community and large multinational buyers familiar with the so called international standards such as FSC, MSC, Fairtrade deal with the emergence of local voluntary standards in China, Indonesia, India and Africa?  Such standards are a natural phenomena in the wake of emerging ethical and eco consumer movement, albeit small, in these countries and their desire for home-grown systems.  Secondly, the official theme of the conference was “above the 10%” – how to increase the uptake of sustainably certified market share above single digits in the key markets such as forestry, coffee, textiles, agricultural produce etc.  There was discussion that the analysis, improvement and mutual recognition of the emerging national standards may present local producers with a more cost effective and streamline means of gaining certification acceptable to buyers, and hence increase market share above 10%.

 Some highlights are presented below.

  • New Standards: A relatively recent addition to the array of sustainability of standards out there is the Responsible Jewelry Council which recently launched a chain of custody certification, taken up initially by Swiss based precious metals group Metalor.  Fiona Solomon, Director of Standards Development within RJC noted the group’s standards cover the entire value chain, primarily for diamonds, gold and platinum products and the issues of concern to the markets were chiefly related to human rights and conflict issues.
  • Government involvement: A key debating issue was the impact increasing government interest in voluntary sustainable standards would have on their future.  If governments begin to use these standards (see an example in the US EPA’s recent initiative) will they be a target at the World Trade Association (WTO) level? 
  • Local Chinese awareness: In terms of local awareness of these standards in China, Solidaridad’s Martin Ma noted Chinese consumers of tea are highly aware of sustainability and health issues in their purchasing choices and a recent survey highlighted the recognition of various standards amongst the consumer: Green Food (a Chinese standard), 76%; ISO 9000, 66%; Organic, 54%.  Global standards such as Fairtrade and SA 8000 scored in the single digits in terms of consumer recognition. 

Overall the tone of the meeting indicated the uptake of sustainability standards is maturing and the movement is attempting to do the same.  Creating credible supply and capacity in a cost effective manner for the demand created seems the greatest need at present!

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