DIE/MGG Report: South-South and Triangular Knowledge Cooperation on Sustainability Standards

South-South and Triangular Knowledge Cooperation on Sustainability Standards

Voluntary sustainability standards (VSS) are exerting a growing influence on domestic markets and global value chains. Three main factors drive the evolution of product-specific labels and certification schemes. First, more affluent consumers – be that in advanced economies or among the expanding middle-class in developing and middle income countries – increasingly look out for “clean” or “green” goods and services, which meet certain social, labour, environmental and health criteria (Pande, 2017). Second, the corporate sector has discovered the value of VSS for supply chain management, competitive advantage and reputational protection. Finally, responding to societal concerns and political targets, not least so with regard to implementing the Agenda 2030, public procurement in South and North has begun to incorporate sustainability considerations.

This text addresses the burgeoning interest of the South in voluntary or, as some say, private sustainability standards. It highlights multi-stakeholder efforts to establish national VSS platforms, assisted by the United Nations Forum on Sustainability Standards (UNFSS). South-South and triangular knowledge cooperation within the Managing Global Governance (MGG) Network has played an important role in facilitating such progress. In conclusion, we discuss challenges for VSS at the national and the international level and formulate appropriate policy responses.

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The United Nations Forum on Sustainability Standards (UNFSS) is a joint initiative of 5 UN Agencies (FAO, ITC, UNCTAD, UN Environment and UNIDO) that seeks to address these challenges. It is a demand-driven forum for intergovernmental actors to communicate among each other and engage with key target groups (producers, traders, consumers, standard-setters, certification-bodies, trade diplomats, relevant NGOs and researchers) to address their information needs and influence concerned stakeholders. It aims to provide impartial information, analysis, and discussions on VSS and their potential contribution to facilitate market access, strengthen public goods and achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Most importantly, the UNFSS focuses on potential trade or development obstacles VSS may create, with particular emphasis on their impact on SMEs and less developed countries.

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