EU step closer to Dutch strategy on sustainable trade

The EU is to step up its efforts to make trade more sustainable. At an international conference organised by the Netherlands, agreements were made on fleshing out a European agenda for responsible business conduct in global value chains. ‘The products in our stores are often the result of an enormously complex process,’ said foreign trade and development minister Lilianne Ploumen. ‘Our mobile phones, for instance, are made up of parts from more than 50 different countries. The EU is the world’s biggest market. Together, we have the leverage to make all these value chains fairer and more sustainable. After all, 500 million Europeans demanding fair products make more noise than 17 million Dutch consumers.’

The Netherlands sets an example in responsible business conduct (RBC) or corporate social responsibility (CSR), with various branches of trade and industry developing voluntary CSR agreements. Dutch companies and civil society organisations have also been working with government to initiate dialogues on fair gold and putting an end to land grabbing in developing countries. During the Dutch EU Presidency, the minister will strive to get similar initiatives off the ground in the rest of the EU. ‘A European strategy would benefit the environment and the lives of millions of people in developing countries enormously. The problem is that European policymakers, companies and civil society organisations sometimes work along separate tracks. The Dutch consensus model is an excellent example of how things can be done differently.’

The Netherlands kicked off its campaign for a European sustainability policy today at the conference ‘EU and Global Value Chains’. The conference, at the EU Presidency venue in Amsterdam, introduced 300 senior European policymakers to the Dutch strategy on sustainable value chains – a strategy characterised by voluntary agreements between companies and civil society organisations, as alternatives to legislation. Ms Ploumen sees scope for major improvements in the textiles, palm oil and gold industries, and in the agriculture and finance sectors. Besides European commissioners Malmström (trade) conference participants included German parliamentary state secretary Thomas Silberhorn (economic cooperation and development), international NGOs, trade unions, companies and EU policymakers.

The Sustainable Trade Initiative, a Dutch Foundation, and umbrella organisations from eight European countries declared their commitment to 100% sustainable palm oil by 2020. Denmark, Germany, United Kingdom, France and the Netherlands supported this initiative and will endorse it at European level. These five countries also agreed to work at EU level towards eliminating deforestation, one of the problems as a result of palm oil production.

‘This is only the beginning. It proves that we can scale up our Dutch policy on aid and trade to European level,’ the minister said. ‘Today, the EU affirmed its commitment to more sustainable global value chains. It’s important now that we maintain this momentum and achieve concrete results.’ Ms Ploumen will present the conference outcomes at a combined meeting of European ministers for trade and for development on 2 February 2016. The outcomes will receive further follow-up during the entire Dutch EU presidency.