Speech by Ben Knapen at the International Supply Management Congress

Your Excellency, ladies and gentlemen,

‘I am a coffee trader, and I live at 37 Lauriergracht.’

This is how one of the most important works of Dutch literature begins. First published in 1860, Multatuli’s novel Max Havelaar severely criticised the colonial system in the Dutch East Indies: business and government alike.

Had he been alive today, Multatuli would probably not have written a novel, but would have started an NGO instead. And, confronted with today’s issues, this NGO would probably work together with others to tackle them.

For this is the great shift in development issues: sectors are increasingly seeing the benefit of joining forces. Governments, companies, trade unions and NGOs.

I am proud that my country plays a pivotal role in promoting public-private partnerships. The success of our host today, the Dutch sustainable trade initiative, proves this. Seventy-five public-private initiatives in the fields of finance, water, food security and trade have now been launched, financed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the private sector. But there’s more. At the recent MDG Summit, high-level representatives of Dutch government and business jointly underlined the importance of public-private partnerships for the MDGs. They were not alone. Eleven donor countries, including the US and the UK, concluded that we cannot accomplish the MDGs without the private sector.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Lauriergracht is not far from here, in the beautiful centre of Amsterdam. I do not think there are coffee traders living there today. But we still drink coffee. Sadly, only eight per cent of global coffee production is sustainable. But in the Netherlands, almost 50 per cent of the coffee sold is produced sustainably.

Our country leads in other sectors as well. All the palm oil used by Dutch industry will be produced sustainably by 2015. Year in, year out, c ompanies like Unilever and AkzoNobel rank among the top five in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index. At the last MDG Summit, three out of ten winners of Business Development Awards were Dutch: Heineken, DSM and Shell. Recently, an Action Plan on Sustainable Trade was launched by over 60 companies, together with civil society organisations and the Dutch trade unions.

And, important at this time of year, almost all the chocolate letters being sold in Dutch supermarkets [for the feast of St Nicholas] are fair and sustainable. Last year, this was only 15 per cent. At first, Oxfam Novib did a good awareness job. But then the business community took its responsibility with remarkable speed.

So, in other words, cor porate social responsibility is becoming mainstream.


There’s still child labour in cacao plantations in Ivory Coast.

Exploitation of labourers in textile factories all over Asia.

Suicides among cotton farmers because of unbearable debts.

Deforestation in the Amazons.

Naturally, companies are responsible for their supply chains. But NGOs and trade unions can be partners in development. The same goes for government. My government does not aspire to be a cash dispenser; we want to trigger the multiplier effect by being a co-financer. We seek to be a facilitator for development, by using our embassies and good contacts with other players. We aim to stimulate innovation, using Dutch and international knowledge institutes.

And, of course, my government wants to promote broad-based engagement. Companies should work together on pre-competitive issues to speed up market transformation. And sustainability labels should be encourage d to work together as well. Because we all know that the Max Havelaar label is not the only fair trade label on the market today.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Sustainable trade is an essential element of my new policy on development cooperation.

Please allow me to explain.

As I said in my recent letter to the Dutch parliament, the Millennium Development Goals and Global Public Goods are key elements in my policy. My focus will be on those themes and areas in which my country can make a difference. Essential budget cuts give us an opportunity to make these reforms. But let me make one thing absolutely clear: The Netherlands is a reliable partner. An aid budget of 0.7 GNP keeps my country among the international front runners and enables me to invest in my priorities. Those are food security, sexual and reproductive rights and gender, security and rule of law in fragile states, and water. They imply a focus on MDGs 1, 5 and 7.

My most important tool for progress in these areas is economic growth. Only growth can help people to help themselves. But circumstances in developing countries are not conducive to private sector development. My goal is to change that.

But creating growth is one thing, making it inclusive is another. This is where sustainable trade comes in. Sustainable trade is about revenues for producer countries. About increasing income and labour rights for farmers and labourers. And about sparing the environment, including water reserves.

I believe that the Netherlands has the mindset and the global position to make a difference in sustainable trade. The Zaanstreek region, north of Amsterdam, is the world’s biggest processor of cacao. The port of Rotterdam is the biggest importer of soy and palm oil in the EU. We are home to leading multinationals, such as AkzoNobel and Rabobank. And we have a longstanding tradition of cooperation between government, civil society and business. A tradition continued in the successful Dutch sustainable trade initiative, with its impressive membership of more than 100 Dutch and multinational companies, 24 NGOs and two Dutch trade unions, each with at least one partner in developing countries. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation are also participating.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I’m proud to announce that my government is intensifying its partnership with the Dutch sustainable trade initiative. First of all, by stepping up economic diplomacy. Individual companies cannot resolve issues like export taxes, underdeveloped extension services or corruption; they require a government-to-government dialogue. Making obstacles disappear is helpful to individual companies and is likely to bring economic growth and development.

Obstacles may also exist at international level. In international trade or financial systems. And incoherent national or EU policies may hamper sustainable trade. We aim to tackle these issues in my own country, in the EU, in the World Trade Organisation, in the G20, and in the boards of the World Bank and the IMF.

That’s what I call Economic Diplomacy for Development.

But there’s more. I’m happy to tell you that my government is raising its grant to the Dutch sustainable trade initiative to 20 million euros a year, to implement the Action Plan on Sustainable Trade. This money will leverage private sector contributions. This is an example of new development cooperation: aid money to catalyse private investments in trade and economic development.

Your Excellency, ladies and gentlemen,

Bringing sustainable trade to the next level is my goal. I hope your companies and civil society organizations will join me on this mission. The coffee served at this congress – not fair trade – proves there’s work to be done.

I wish you a rewarding session. Thank you.