Impact of sustainability standards symposium in the Hague


On 18 June 2019, a large international symposium on the impact of sustainability standards took place in The Hague organized by the ISEAL alliance. In which way do standards have a positive impact on economic, social and environmental issues? How strong is the evidence of impact? Experts have engaged with the government, business community and civil society in a conversation on the lessons we can learn from existing sustainability initiatives and how can we incorporate these into concrete actions. The symposium closed with the launch of a new website from ISEAL: Evidensia.

Integrated approach to create more sustainable value chains

The Dutch government has been working on creating more sustainable value chains for many years with a growing agenda. The Netherlands, after all, is a big consumer and that comes with responsibilities. The Netherlands focuses on the garments sector, palm oil and cocoa and work within these sectors through an integrated approach; working from the demand side to the supply side and from farmers in the production country to the retailers here in Europe. In addition, the Dutch agenda is always executed in partnerships, with civil society, the private sector and with other governments.

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The Global Sustainability Standards Symposium took place in The Hague.

Relevance of sustainability standards

These three types of actors, civil society, the private sector and governments have all acknowledged the relevance of sustainability standards. They recognise the important role that certifications and voluntary standards have played and still play. Voluntary sustainability standards have greatly contributed to increased productivity of farmers, increased quality, sustainability and improved livelihoods for producers, workers and their families. A less obvious and less clear effect of standards their systematic impact. Changes that led to an enabling environment for increased sustainability in value chains. Think of stakeholder collaboration, farmer’s cooperation, knowledge development, investments as well as changed public perception in reaction to the activities of sustainability standards. The symposium focussed on the evidence of certification at farm level, but also how the systematic impact can be mapped.

Certification and beyond

Voluntary sustainability standards alone cannot solve all problems in the value chain. This is reflected in the “certification and beyond agenda” that many parties here have already adopted, including the Dutch government. We keep the strengths of certification, such as transparency and assurance, while supporting additional interventions in order to bring sustainable supply chains a step further. This includes new interventions, such as landscape approaches and technological innovations that could aid certification and above all, help the farmers to generate a living income.

Common denominators in these new interventions are:

  • the wish to lower the cost for producers;
  • increase transparency for value chain partners and consumers;
  • and enhance the impact of standards.

New website sharing impacts evidence and information

The symposium closed with the launch of a new website, Evidensia. This site contains research into the effects and impact of sustainability supply chain tools and approaches. As a key source of evidence and information, Evidensia aims to lead to more informed action and decisions based on credible evidence.