Building a Sustainable Future for Trade: A Multi-Dimensional Assessment of VSS in Global Sustainability Governance and Due Diligence for developing countries.

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Note: This meeting is by-invitation only, which will be held within the premises of the World Trade Forum (13-14 October 2023). Participation in this meeting does not guarantee a spot in the World Trade Forum. To register for the World Trade Forum, please visit: World Trade Forum | WTI

The UNFSS Academic Advisory Council (AAC) annual meeting brings together an international mix of academic and policy experts from various disciplines and backgrounds to consolidate the knowledge on Voluntary Sustainability Standards (VSS) and contribute to a comprehensive understanding of VSS effectiveness.

The UNFSS AAC meeting in 2023 will focus on exploring the synergies between due diligence and voluntary sustainability standards (VSS) within the context of global sustainability governance. Through a multi-dimensional assessment, the discussion will delve into the potential of these approaches in driving sustainable trade.

To achieve sustainable and inclusive growth, it is vital that sustainable business practices are adopted throughout GVCs. Companies are increasingly placing voluntary sustainability standards (VSS) at the centre of the sustainability approaches governing their GVCs. VSS prescribe a set of social, economic and/or environmental requirements that economic actors can voluntarily comply with in order to make their production and processing practices more sustainable. VSS have been proliferating over the past few decades and have emerged as important tools to address sustainability challenges such as biodiversity loss, climate change, pollution and human rights violations.

As regulatory initiatives are adopted, and due diligence becomes a top priority, discussions are now focused on the implementation of due diligence requirements. These discussions are raising concerns about the potential role of VSS in these developments and the impact these initiatives will have on developing countries.

These debates center around various aspects of VSS in global sustainability governance and raise numerous questions on the role of these instruments in advancing sustainable trade. The AAC meeting will address these concerns and assess the interplay of VSS and Due Diligence under the realm of global sustainability governance and consequent impacts on developing countries and sustainable trade at large.

This will be discussed through 3 sessions that include a mix of academics, practitioners, and policymakers to share scientific evidence and policy considerations on VSS as tools to promote sustainable development.

Summary Report 

The UNFSS co-organized its second AAC meeting together with the Leuven Centre for Global Governance Studies, the German Institute of Development and Sustainability (IDOS), and the European University Institute (EUI), hosted at the Irish College in Leuven. The meeting was conducted in a hybrid format and some participants joined in-person and some joined virtually.

The meeting brought together an international mix of academic (members of the AAC), practitioners (members from the UNFSS National Platforms) and policy experts from various disciplines and backgrounds to consolidate the knowledge on VSS, and discuss the contributions of VSS to sustainable development, centered around the theme for discussion: “Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) analysis of VSS”, structured around the internal and external dimensions of VSS, with a development related lens. This provided an avenue for cross fertilization of thoughts on the issue at hand. This year’s AAC meeting discussed the SWOT framework of VSS. On the internal dimension, the AAC meeting explored the strengths and weaknesses of VSS in advancing the sustainability agenda, especially in developing countries, with a specific focus on VSS institutional design, how they work, how they have evolved over time, and how they try to adopt to new challenges and circumstances. Further, on the external dimension, the AAC meeting explored the opportunities and threats that VSS face as a private governance tool that interacts with other regulatory initiatives. This is also imperative to be understood as there is an increasing interest in making value chains more sustainable, and from a regulatory perspective, there is an emergence of new regulatory tools, like the EU due diligence legislatives, which can have interactions with the VSS systems.

Download SWOT Publication on VSS.


No Name Institution
1 Mercedes Araoz Fernandez Universidad del Pacifico
2 Axel Marx KU Leuven
3 Santiago Fernandez de Cordoba UNCTAD
4 Bernard Hoekman EUI
5 Archna Negi Jawarhalal Nehru University
6 Ariel Hernandez German Institute of Development and Sustainability
7 Benjamin Cashore National Univerit of Singapore
8 Clara Brandi German Institute of Development and Sustainability
9 Elizabeth A. Bennett Lewis & Clark College, Portland Oregon
10 Engela Schlemmer University of Witwersrand
12 Eric Lambin Stanford Woods Institute
13 Graeme Auld Carleton University
14 Hamish van der Ven University of British Columbia
15 Janina Grabs ESADE Business School
16 Jan Orbie Ghent University
17 Jorge Perez Universidad Anahuac Mexico
19 Li Li University of International Business and Economics
20 Lars Gulbrandsen Fridjof Nansen Institute
21 Robert Heilmayr University of California, Santa Barbara
22 Mercelo Olarreaga University of Geneva
23 Miet Maertens KU Leuven
24 Michida Etsuyo Institute of Developing Economies
25 Rachael Garrett ETH Zurich
26 Philip Schleifer University of Amsterdam
27 Thomas Dietz University of Muenster
28 Vera Thorstensen Fundacao Getulio Vargas, Brazil
29 Verena Bitzer Maastricht University
30 Ximena Rueda Fajardo Universitat de Los Andes
31 Niematallah Elamin UNCTAD
32 Ruby Lambert UNCTAD
33 Rupal Verma UNCTAD
34 Charline Depoorter KU Leuven
35 Aik Hoe Lim World Trade Orgnization
37 Elisa Tonda UNEP
38 Joy Kim UNEP
39 Nils Heuer UNEP
40 Beatriz Fernandez UNEP
41 Rogerio O Correa INMETRO
42 Dolores T Brito INMETRO
43 Vivian Xia CAS
44 Manish Pande QCI
45 Rituparna Mukherjee QCI
46 Aderina Uli BSN Indonesia
47 Dulbert BSN Indonesia
51 Bernardo Calzadilla UNIDO
52 Elisabeth Tuerk UNECE
53 Geir Ulle FAO
54 Shemina Amarsy ITC
56 Hermogene Nsengimana ARSO
57 Eri Uchimura MOFA Japan
58 Martin Peters SECO
60 Ewa Synowiec EC
61 Luc Fransen (Philip Schleifer) uVA
62 Eva Boonaert (Axel Marx) KU Leuven
63 Lara Helsen KU Leuven
64 Matteo Fiorini OECD
65 Daniel Bloemers EC
66 Julia Somogzi EC
67 Cemre Balaban OECD
68 Joshua Wickerham ISEAL
69 Stavros Papastavrou UNIDO
70 Lauro Locks WTO
71 Patrick Jean GILABERT UNIDO
72 Serra Ayral WTO

Download Summary Report


AAC Members
No. Name Affiliation
1 Archna Negi Jawaharlal Nehru University
2 Ariel Hernandez Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik
3 Axel Marx KU Leuven
4 Bernard Hoekman European University Institute
5 Benjamin Cashore National University of Singapore
6 Clara Brandi Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik
7 Charline Depoorter KU Leuven
8 Elisabeth Bennett Lewis & Clark College
9 Engela Schlemmer Witz University
10 Eric Lambin Université catholique de Louvain
11 Eve Fouilleux CIRAD
12 Hamish van der Ven The University of British Columbia
13 Lars H. Gulbrandsen The Fridtjof Nansen Institute
14 Li Li University of Internatioanl Business and Economics
15 Janne Bemelmans KU Leuven
16 Jorge Pérez-Pineda Universidad Anáhuac Mexico
17 Marcelo Olarreaga University of Geneva
18 Miet Maertens KU Leuven
19 Mercedes Araoz Universidad del Pacífico
20 Niematallah E.A Elamin UNCTAD
21 Rachael Garrett ETH Zurich
22 Philip Schleifer University of Amsterdam
23 Robert Heilmayr UC Santa Barbara
24 Shaila Seshia Galvin Graduate Institute Geneva
25 Santiago Fernandez de Cordoba UNCTAD
26 Thomas Dietz Munster University
27 Vera Thorstensen Fundação Getulio Vargas
UNFSS Steering Committee Representatives
28 Bernardo Calzadilla-Sarmiento UNIDO
29 Dorina Nati UNIDO
30 Elisabeth Tuerk UNECE
31 Emilie Vandercandelaere FAO
32 Geir Ulle FAO
33 Joseph Wozniak ITC
34 Nils Heuer UN Environment
35 Ruby Lambert UNCTAD
36 Steven Stone UN Environment
Invited Guests
37 Charlotte von Essen GIZ – Germany
38 Danielle Cantin Natural Resources Canada
39 Deryck Omar CROSQ
40 Dolores T. Brito INMETRO
41 Elena Antoni Trade Impact
42 Eva Nakamura APEC SCSC/Market Access
43 Frauke Rinelli Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik
44 Franziska Rau GIZ – Germany
45 Fulgence St Prix CROSQ
46 Hussalmizzar Hussain Standards Malaysia
47 Julia Schmidt BMZ – Germany
48 Karin Kreider ISEAL
49 Luca Maiotti OECD
50 Liu Xin CAS
51 Manish Pande QCI
52 Martin Peters SECO
53 Michida Etsuyo IDE Japan
54 Mattia Di Ubaldo University of Sussex
55 Nicolas Hachez OECD
56 Rupal Verma Central European University
57 Rogerio O Correa INMETRO
58 Sandra Pfuelb GIZ – Germany
59 Thalyta Gomes Ferraz BRICS Policy Brazil
60 Tino Clemens BMZ – Germany
61 Viktoria Vandercandelaere GIZ – Germany
62 Vikrant Shirodkar University of Sussex
63 Vivian Xia CAS
EUI listening participants
64 Arianna Bondi EUI
65 Pralok Gupta EUI

Download Summary Report
Download Concept Note
Download Meeting Programme


Research Institutions Organizations
Archna Negi Jawaharlal Nehru University Vidya Rangan ISEAL
Ariel Hernandez German Development Institute (DIE)/University of Duisburg-Essen Christian Robin SECO
Axel Marx Leuven Centre for Global Governance Studies, University of Leuven Anna Müller WTO
Benjamin Cashore National University of Singapore Philippe Pelletier WTO
Bernard Hoekman European University Institute Belinda Cleeland ISO
Clara Brandi German Development Institute (DIE)
Charline Depoorter Leuven Centre for Global Governance Studies, University of Leuven UNFSS Steering Committee
Engela Schlemmer University of Witwatersrand Ahmad Mukhtar FAO
Eric Lambin Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, Stanford University Joseph Wozniak ITC
Eve Fouilleux French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD) Dominika Dor UNIDO
Graeme Auld Carleton University Karin Monaco UNIDO
Helga Willer Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) Beatriz Carneiro UN Environment
Jan Orbie University of Ghent Santiago Fernandez De Cordoba Briz UNCTAD
Jorge Pérez-Pineda Universidad Anáhuac México Siti Rubiah Lambert UNCTAD
Junji Nakagawa University of Tokyo Niematallah Elamin UNCTAD
Lars H. Gulbrandsen Fridtjof Nansen Institute Cecilia Heuser UNCTAD
Maja Tampe Escuela Superior de Administración y Dirección (ESADE) Anja-Katharina Von Moltke UN Environment
Marcelo Olarreaga University of Geneva
Matteo Fiorini European University Institute
Philip Schleifer University of Amsterdam
Shaila Seshia Graduate Institute of Geneva
Stefano Ponte Copenhagen Business School
Thomas Dietz University of Münster
Vera Thorstensen Getulio Vargas Foundation (FGV)
Verena Bitzer Maastricht University