By: Eleanor Radford, Senior Coordinator, Events, ISEAL Alliance
At the Global Sustainability Standards Symposium in Jakarta, Indonesia, businesses and producers heard how sustainability standards can be a tool to tackle the challenges of declining natural resources and access to global markets.
At the event on 3 May, more than 230 business leaders, sustainability experts and government representatives explored how incorporating sustainability standards and responsible practices into value chains can provide widespread economic, social and environmental benefits to businesses in Southeast Asia in sectors such as fisheries, palm oil, cocoa and forestry. They discussed the role of governments and businesses in supporting producers to achieve certification and position Indonesia as a sustainable sourcing destination.
Positioning Indonesia in global markets
The Global Sustainability Standards Symposium was opened by the Minister of Industry of Indonesia, HE. Mr. Airlangga Hartarto who said that sustainability standards would help Indonesian businesses to increase global market penetration and maintain Indonesia’s positive economic growth with full active support from government.
Welcome speeches from ISEAL Alliance, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the Swiss Ambassador for Indonesia, and the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce (KADIN) highlighted Indonesia’s role as one of the top ten manufacturing countries in the world. They recognised the challenges for companies, farmers and fishermen to adapt to sustainable practices but asserted that these changes, and the use of sustainability standards, are necessary to deal with Indonesia’s decreasing natural resource availability, increase the country’s productivity, improve farmers’ income and help businesses enter global markets.
The role of businesses and consumers
Globally we are witnessing an increase in the use of sustainability standards by businesses and a growth in ethical consumerism, according to a keynote speech from Wander Meijer, Asia Pacific Director from GlobeScan. Their 2016 survey carried out on behalf of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), showed that 72 percent of seafood consumers agree that in order to save the oceans, they should only consume seafood from sustainable sources.
Indeed, the growing demand from consumers is driving the uptake of sustainability standards, as discussed by a panel on the global trends driving sustainable value chains with representatives from Mars, Golden Agri-Resources, Louis Dreyfus Company, and GlobeScan. Consumption in Indonesia is increasing but the severe supply loss in some commodities means that industries are struggling to compete in global markets. Sustainability standards can help to address these challenges by increasing product quality and productivity.
The audience also heard that using sustainability standards requires a long-term commitment. Businesses must play a role in supporting farmers by providing training in how to implement sustainable practices, as well as communicating to consumers about the sustainability of their products.
Learning and improving
In a session on how sustainability standards can enhance business competitiveness, panellists from the Forest Stewardship Council, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), IKEA, Tetra Pak, OLAM, Cargill, and WWF Indonesia highlighted the role of businesses in introducing the benefits of certification ownership to farmers, such as the premium prices available for certified produce. Businesses must also help farmers learn about the criteria for achieving certification and provide feedback for improvements in working practices.
Certifications can also be improved with more support from the local and national government and the use of regulations. By recognising and supporting credible standards, the government can help to make certification more influential and increase understanding and uptake.
In a breakout session on implementing sustainability in the fishery and seafood sector, speakers from MDPI, MSC, WWF Indonesia, and USAID discussed challenges to certification such as the lack of good data, for example, on how many fishers there are and what they need. They discussed how improving technology and data is key to increasing access to certification. The government was urged to provide more support to increase industry understanding and market acceptance of standards and lead the development of technology for data collection.
Collaboration essential to achieving sustainable value chains
Standards have a role to play as capacity builders that can provide guidelines to smallholders on how to practice good agriculture. This was discussed during a breakout session on operationalising sustainability in landscapes and forestry, with representatives of Accreditation Services International,UTZ, the Sustainable Coffee Platform of Indonesia, the Cocoa Sustainability Partnership (CSP) and the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry (MOEF). They emphasised the importance of collaboration with partners, the need for national and international standards to work together, and the role of business and government to drive improvement; certification alone is not a silver bullet.
To close the Symposium, RSPO’s Darrel Webber encouraged businesses new to sustainability to take the first step towards sustainable value chains: in collaboration with other tools, sustainability standards are the go-to partner for improving sustainability in all links in the value chain.
Countering the decreasing natural resource availability is a key driver for companies to take up sustainability standards. Support from government is essential for giving legitimacy to standards and for leading the way to better research and data on industry needs. Meanwhile, businesses have a role to play in supporting farmers and fishers to understand the benefits and criteria of certification. With improved productivity and product quality, companies will be able to meet the growing consumer demand for sustainable products and support producers in reaching international markets.