The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2020 launched in early July finds growing food insecurity, deterioration of the natural environment, and persistent inequalities remain. Now, due to Covid-19, the world is facing unprecedented challenges.
Our current situation means our focus should be (and is) on meeting immediate needs. And this may continue for a while. However, we should not lose sight of our long-term ambitions.
Refocus for the long-term on the SDGs
Already, this crisis has no doubt set back years of international development work progress, particularly affecting the world’s poorest. This makes what we’re trying to address through the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) even more pressing.
This is a critical time to move forward together on deep-seated poverty and inequality issues. The SDGs provide a very good framework to address these. And, sustainability systems have shown how they can contribute to meeting the global goals.
Creating a shared vision of sustainable production and consumption
We need all actors in every supply chain to work together. Sustainability standards have proved to be valuable partners in this journey: helping to bring together stakeholders and create a shared vision of what sustainable production and consumption looks like.
ISEAL members come together to help address inequality and other global challenges, for example, through working groups on living wage, living income, and gender.
There is increasing evidence that collaborations between governments and standards systems have brought benefits for producers, consumers and the environment. A review for ISEAL carried out by Aidenvironment identified 15 cases where the involvement of voluntary standards influenced or resulted in changes to public policy that promoted sustainable production, natural resource management and responsible trade.
Looking at SDGs 1 (no poverty) and 8 (decent work), there are many joint initiatives underway. Standards are helping to coordinate efforts to support small producers to introduce better practices. For example, through its ‘improvement partnerships’, Bonsucro provides a framework for industry or company schemes that are working with specific groups of farmers and mills to improve sugarcane production and processing. Improvement ranges from water stewardship and soil management, to decent working conditions.
Ben & Jerry’s worked with Fairtrade, Sustainable Food Lab and Barry Callebaut on a pilot project to improve the livelihoods of cocoa farmers through Fairtrade pricing, improved farming practices and access to livelihood improving assets in Côte d’Ivoire. Activities responding to SDG 5 (gender equality) included providing cookstoves for households, which reduce health risks and save money on cooking fuel; shade trees, which help prolong the lifespan of their cocoa plantations; and training. In addition, Ben & Jerry’s is working with Fairtrade to further promote the women’s groups in the co-operatives through bespoke business support.
The Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) is a standard that looks at the management of water resources and contributes to several SDGs, including SDG 6 (ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation). In recent years, AWS has partnered with Olam, a major commodity trader, to see how the AWS Standard can provide new ways of managing and monitoring resource use in Eastern Africa. Because of the complex nature of water management, this inherently means adopting a ‘landscape perspective’, which includes focusing on relationships with local water-related stakeholders and addressing shared challenges with others in the catchment.
Deepening relationships for the longer journey
These examples demonstrate how constructive partnerships with sustainability standards are helping to reduce the hurdles to achieving sustainable practices. However, the effects of any crisis will always have a greater impact on the least resilient.
The pandemic will eventually move on, but the need to focus on inequality, poverty alleviation and climate change will be even greater.
The UN Director General has called for a ‘Decade of Action’ to achieve the SDGs by 2030. The Coronavirus pandemic has made us stop and think: what must each of us — companies, governments, civil society — do differently, better, to achieve the SDGs. No one actor alone can solve such deep-seated challenges. And, current events have shown how connected we are.
When we start to move forward with our long-term planning, we need to build on those relationships and harness the determination for the longer journey.