Uplifting the impact of sustainability standards dialogue with the newly established Academic Advisory Council

Can academic professionals contribute to society outside the classrooms?

One of the ways to heighten political dialogue exchanges on the growing array of global challenges including global warming, resource depletion and social inequality is to bring together policy makers and academic experts from different disciplines and perspectives. In this way, knowledge can be co-created to pursue global public goods such as sustainable development.

In recent years, Voluntary Sustainability Standards (VSS) had an increasing influence over export opportunities for developing countries in international trade. VSS are considered a market-based tool to transform commodity production, global supply chains and consumption patterns into more sustainable ones. To many, VSS may be catalytic to achieve win-win-win outcomes for trade-induced economic growth, environmental sustainability, social development and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). However, small producers and businesses in developing countries and their governments are not always technically, financially or institutionally capable to reap the developmental benefits arising out of VSS.

Moreover, the economic pitfall caused by the COVID-19 pandemic aggravated this long-standing challenge for developing countries to even consider sustainable development as a quid pro quo to revitalise their economy. Rethinking socio-economic models that do not compromise the health of humans and of entire ecosystems have become one of the most significant political decisions, now more than ever.

Thus, UNFSS and the Leuven Centre for Global Governance Studies (GGS) of the University of Leuven, with the support of the Research Foundation of Flanders (FWO / International Coordination Action) and the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), joined forces to establish the Academic Advisory Council on VSS.

“The whole exercise of the Academic Advisory Council is to bring together economists, scientists, lawyers who do think about the world in a very different way but who have all the things to teach each other. These complementarities are also something we are very keen on to elicit through all the work we are doing on VSS”. – Bernard Hoekman, Professor and Director of the Global Economics at the European University Institute; and co-chair of the Academic Advisory Council.

Connecting Academic Experts with Policy Makers

The Academic Advisory Council (AAC) is a multi-disciplinary academic expert exchange platform that brings together the knowledge and different theoretical approaches of VSS and their impact on developing countries. The AAC is established to function as a think-tank which is composed of renowned academic experts from around the globe with a wide variety of academic backgrounds, ranging from public international law, global governance, international political economy, economics and public management, to human rights and sustainability studies. This type of multi-disciplinary approach reflects the implicit knowledge of the complexity and multi-faceted nature of analyzing VSS effectiveness and the challenges associated therewith.

The scientific objective of the AAC is to understand the effectiveness of VSS and the determinants of their effectiveness. Currently, different disciplines approach questions related to the effectiveness of VSS from different angles. The AAC’s objective is to bring these different perspectives into one overarching network on the effectiveness of VSS, thus contributing to a comprehensive understanding of VSS effectiveness.

The first annual AAC meeting was held virtually on 25 June 2020 with over 25 renowned VSS academic experts participating from within Europe, as well as from the United States, Mexico, Brazil, India, Singapore, South Africa and Japan. The discussion was also of interest to the AAC observers representing the World Trade Organization (WTO), State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), ISEAL Alliance and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). During this occasion, the AAC members presented a wide array of their work related to the multi-disciplinary approaches of VSS. The draft of the 4th UNFSS Flagship Report on “Scaling Up VSS through Sustainable Public Procurement and Trade Policy” was also presented and discussed during this meeting. You may download the summary report here.

Among other global challenges, the COVID-19 pandemic emphasised the urgent need to build more sustainable and resilient societies. Governments have a crucial role to play in this perspective, and VSS can help them achieve their sustainability commitments. As a starting point, the 4th UNFSS Flagship Report explores the role of governments as potential drivers to facilitate the use of VSS. This report will be launched during the fall of 2020.

You may visit https://unfss.org/academic-advisory-council/ to learn more about the Academic Advisory Council.

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.

%d bloggers like this: