Making standards work for the people, places and issues that matter

At the Global Sustainability Standards Conference last year, Dr Nyagoy Nyong’o, Executive Director of Fairtrade Africa, spoke about how sustainability standards have shaped the thinking of producers, businesses, communities and other actors across the value chain. We reflect on her remarks and how they have shaped our thinking for the 2018 conference in Brazil.

Helping small enterprises and communities thrive

In her closing speech at the 2017 Conference, Dr Nyong’o introduced us to Victor Biwott, a Fairtrade smallholder tea producer from Nandi Hills in Kenya. Victor explained how working with standards allowed his company to move from being outgrowers for a multinational company to owners of their tea value chain: enabling empowerment, organisational growth, greater market access and increased income. Fairtrade helped him to become a leader and an influencer with his destiny in his own hands.

Victor said that “Fairtrade has shaped our thinking”; he has seen the changes that standards bring to his community. Certainly, the impact and benefits of standards can go beyond the smallholder or small enterprise. They allow for companies like Victor’s to invest money in education in their community and empower future generations. They create communities that are resilient in the face of challenges like climate change, market shocks and shifting societal patterns. And, as Dr Nyong’o said in her speech, resilient communities are able to thrive.

Driving effective change

According to Dr Nyong’o, the power of standards to have positive influence and shape the communities in which they are applied comes from trust that is built over time. Grassroots driven evolution is an important factor and leads to stronger community-based processes. Communities are empowered to address issues that are important to them, seen through the formation of committees on gender, health and safety, and environment. Another example is ECOOKIM – a union of small producer organisations in Cote D’Ivoire – which, with support from Fairtrade Africa and its partners, has introduced youth inclusive community-based monitoring and remediation committees to help combat child labour.

Indeed, it is through partnerships and collaborations that standards can address the important issues and drive effective change in communities. Dr Nyong’o highlighted examples such as the Global Living Wage Coalition and ISEAL’s Living Income Community of Practice, which take a collaborative approach to tackling some of the world’s most pressing issues. Effective change is also driven through evolution and innovation, seen in the UTZ and Rainforest Alliance merger, the ASC-MSC Seaweed Standard, and Fairtrade and the Gold Standard’s Fairtrade Climate Standard.

Shifting focus to the global south

Dr Nyong’o challenged the audience to innovate with a global view. We need to ensure that global standards work for both the global north and global south as we recognise that the shift of future consumers is to the south. It is also where we find many of those affected by the negative impacts of unsustainable growth. To achieve this, she urges us to work more with national and regional standard setting bodies in the global south.

Dr Nyong’o’s speech reinforced the importance of focusing on the people, communities and places at the heart of what we do. And, we know that many of the conversations we are having about driving effective change would be enhanced by having more input from those making change happen on the ground.

It is, therefore, a natural step for ISEAL to bring the 2018 Global Sustainability Standards Conference to the global south for the first time to enable a better representation from these important stakeholders. In Brazil in May, we will hear from the producers, smallholders and small enterprises about some of their most important issues, such as deforestation and decent work, and discover how standards can improve the user experience and add value. We will explore how we can strengthen standards and collaborations to ensure that they work for the people, places and issues that matter.


The Global Sustainability Standards Conference is the leading annual global event for those who support the uptake of credible sustainability standards and certification. The 2018 conference will take place in São Paulo, Brazil, on the 22-23 May with the ISEAL Community Day on 24 May.