Summit for Sustainable Supply Chains in Zürich: Annual ISEAL Alliance Conference

Global Sustainability Standards Conference © ISEAL Alliance
The “Global Sustainability Standards Conference” in the World Trade Center in Zürich will close in a few hours. About 400 representatives from companies, NGOs, authorities and academic institutions have been discussing the future development of private voluntary sustainability standards during the past three days.

The event was organised by the ISEAL Alliance, an association of 21 labelling and certification organisations. The State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), who supports the ISEAL Alliance, was the event’s main sponsor.

Products with a special quality label such as fair trade bananas, FSC wood or UTZ coffee, have become an important part of the green economy in the past three decades and increasingly shape today’s international supply chains. However, considering global challenges such as scarcity of resources, global warming, migration or dire poverty, even already established labels need and want to advance so they can continue to play a leadership role in sustainable development issues.

That is why roughly 400 experts from 40 countries gathered at the “Global Sustainability Standards Conference” in Zürich from 27 to 29 June 2017. The event was organised by the ISEAL Alliance. This London-based organisation was founded in 2002 to strengthen sustainability standards for the benefit of people and the environment.

Sustainable trade: key objective of Swiss economic policy

SECO has supported the ISEAL Alliance for about 10 years. In her opening speech, Secretary of State and SECO director Ms Marie-Gabrielle Ineichen-Fleisch said that the encouragement of socially and environmentally compatible trade was one of the cornerstones of Switzerland’s foreign trade policy. “Labels and standards are an effective marketing instrument to reinforce sustainability along the international supply chains.” The ISEAL conference, which is held every year, was the most important forum to discuss significant trends and challenges in this area. She concluded: “This exchange is a contribution to help keeping sustainability standards fit for the future.”

The most important results

The conference with the title “The Future of Trust” presented a large variety of topics. The International Trade Centre ITC Geneva and the Swiss Research Institute of Organic Agriculture FIBL presented the latest figures on the development of 14 globally relevant voluntary sustainability standards, such as UTZ, FSC, Organic, or Fairtrade International. The market research shows a clear trend: the production volume and number of certified products from practically all standards have increased over the past five years.

The "Stop talking, start acting!" breakout session focused on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals for 2030; it showed the role businesses can play to achieve the global goals as well as the contribution that acknowledged voluntary sustainability standards make in that context. The Swiss chocolate industry, for example, is leading the way. At the conference it announced the creation of the Swiss Platform for Sustainable Cocoa, with the objective to join forces and increase the number of products that contain cocoa from sustainable sources and to show this increase.

The recently announced merger of the two well-known standards Rainforest Alliance and UTZ led to animated discussions among conference attendees. Karin Kreider, Executive Director of ISEAL Alliance, said: “This decision is highly symbolic. As a global membership association of sustainability standards, we are working on increasing the collaboration between standards. Mergers are possible, but not the only measure.”

Prestigious companies and organisations having attended the conference include: IKEA, Nespresso, UTZ, Rainforest Alliance, Chopard, Fairtrade Max Havelaar, Lindt, WWF Switzerland, PepsiCo, Helvetas, Swisscontact, and the C&A Foundation. Greg Priest, head of IKEA’s sustainability policy, has been a committed promoter of the ISEAL Alliance for many years and is member of the ISEAL stakeholder council. In his widely viewed key note speech he said: “I would also like to see more companies become part the ISEAL community as a first great step in taking a more engaged approach.”