On 6th April 2022, the African Organisation for standardization (ARSO), in collaboration with UNFSS, launched the African Continental platform on Voluntary Sustainability Standards. The platform will promote the development and implementation of sustainability standards, assist Small and Mid-size Enterprises (SMEs) in their implementation, and encourage the establishment of national platforms in ARSO member countries.
The launch was conducted virtually and discussed the importance of an established multi-stakeholder platform for collectively assessing VSS’s impact on Africa’s sustained trade growth and sustainable development. Participants of the launch included NSBs, Governments, the Private sector, SMEs, scheme owners, donors and non-governmental and international organizations.
ARSO is Africa’s intergovernmental standards body formed by OAU (currently AU) and UNECA in 1977 in Accra, Ghana. ARSO was tasked to develop and implement the African Ecolabelling Mechanism (AEM) Programme. Subsequently, with the support of the German government and through GIZ, ARSO implemented the AEM programme and developed the Africa ECOMARK Certification Scheme under African Conformity Assessment Programme (ACAP). Currently, ECOMARK Africa consists of four certifications covering Agriculture, Fisheries, Forestry and Tourism.
“Africa is not only a major player in international trade arena but also has a very high volume of intra-regional trade, thus the platform will be crucial for fostering sustainable trade” Dr. Bernice Mclean, The African Union Development Agency AUDA NEPAD
The ECOMARK Africa (EMA) certification scheme:
EMA is a sustainability certification scheme wholly owned by ARSO and is a registered trademark in WIPO, EUIPO, UKIPO and South Africa trade office. The EMA has established a recognition system for sustainability standards which functions as a quality assurance mechanism. The mandate of EMA is: to promote the Eco-Mark Africa label in Africa for sustainably produced goods and services; certification of goods and services; assist African producers to access local, regional and international markets for sustainably produced goods and services; and promote SMEs to get certified and access markets.
“Use of EcoMark to differentiate products will foster the development of green regional value chains and enhance the competitiveness of the products being traded under the AfCFTA”, Dr. Stephen Karingi, UN Economic Commission for Africa.
The African Continental platform on Voluntary Sustainability Standards:
United Nations Forum on Sustainability Standards (UNFSS) has supported several emerging countries to develop multi-stakeholder platforms and initiatives for VSS, and established the National Platform and Initiative Cooperative Network (NPICN). The NPICN typically provides a neutral forum to collect and exchange information on national standards, assess the needs of decision-makers and other stakeholders, and link national demands with international expertise. Currently, there are platforms in Brazil, China, India, Colombia, and Mexico; and Initiatives in Indonesia, Malaysia, South Africa, and Vietnam.
In February 2021, UNFSS and ARSO agreed on a capacity building programme on sustainability standards and the establishment of an African Continental Voluntary Sustainability Standards Platform, similar to the ones already established by UNFSS. The Continental platform for VSS will serve as a mechanism to strengthen the capacities of public and private entities in Africa in terms of sustainability, being an initiative that will contribute to the African Strategy for the promotion of sustainable consumption and production of goods and services as well as the implementation of the SDGs.
The African platform is the first Continental platform on VSS. Dr Hermogene Nsengimana, ARSO Secretary-General, highlighted that the platform is imperative to combat multiple sustainability issues and would serve the following objectives:
- Encourage and cooperate with national governments of the AU to launch national platforms on sustainability standards
- Promote the EMA certification scheme for sustainably produced goods and services
- Promote Voluntary Sustainability Schemes in Africa
- Promote companies, including SMEs that are certified under the EMA scheme
- Link sellers of EMA certified goods to buyers in the regional and international markets
- Interact, establish linkages, share experiences and updates with trends and technology
The launch included a session guiding through the digital navigation of the platform. The platform was officially launched by Dr Stephen Karingi, on behalf of the Chief Guest, Secretary-General, UN Economic Commission for Africa – HE Vera Songwe – UNECA. Dr. Karingi congratulated ARSO, UNFSS, GIZ and partners, for the commendable work on the platform. He highlighted that VSS will be imperative for harnessing the gains from the African Continental free trade area, which is one of the flagship initiatives under the African Union Agenda 2063.
The African Continental platform on Voluntary Sustainability will therefore serve to promote the cooperation with national governments of the African Union to launch national platforms on sustainability standards; Promote the Eco Mark Africa (EMA) certification scheme for sustainably produced goods and services and Promote Voluntary Sustainability Schemes in Africa. This will strengthen and work as a part of the UNFSS National Platforms and Initiatives Network which has national platforms in Brazil, China, India, Colombia, and Mexico; and Initiatives in Indonesia, Malaysia, South Africa, and Vietnam. Find out more on the platforms here: https://unfss.org/npic-network/
For more information on the African Continental Platform on Voluntary Sustainability Standards: https://ecomark.arso-oran.org/