May 26, 2019

How to create Sustainable Markets

By Professor Andre Nijhof and Nika Salvetti (PhD candidate).

In February 2016 a new index was launched: The Access to Seeds index. It is another example of a movement that started in 2004 with the development of the Access to Medicine Index. Instead of just “naming and shaming” an index creates a platform for collective dialogue surrounding issues in a certain sector and independently ranks the performance of the main players. This proves to be an effective way to counter a race to the bottom that is apparent in so many international value chains and transforms it into a competition towards good practices. The first Access to Medicine Index was published in 2008 and ranks the world’s 20 largest research-based pharmaceutical companies according to their efforts to improve access to medicine in 107 low- to middle-income countries. Every two years a new index is published and this has become very influential in the pharmaceutical industry. Can the Access to Seeds index do the same for the agro food sector in developing countries?

The future will unwrap the answer, but we are convinced that these indices are signs of a new phase in the area of sustainable development that has important implications for international diplomacy. Over the past 10 years more and more organizations – both public and private – developed sustainability ambitions and implement this in their way of working. That’s an important step to be able to contribute to the Global Goals set by the United Nations. However, the next step is how to create sustainable markets.

This next step is crucial because, at present, many markets still drive unsustainable practices. As long as that is the status quo, corporate social responsibility initiatives can result in some good practices but will never grow from the margins to the mainstream. This will require the development of sustainable markets. What is needed to transform our current markets into markets that stimulate and reward sustainable products and services?

Based on economic theory we know that markets can function if two conditions are met: Freedom of Choice and Full Transparency. But whose choice are we referring to? Economic theory refers to the customer of projects and services. But what about products for beneficiaries without purchasing power? And what about costs for society without a price tag attached to it? In the sustainability era, ‘the customer is king’ can no longer prevail in sustainable markets.

And how can we create Transparency so that other stakeholders – next to and sometimes together with engaged customers – can stand up for these effects on society? That’s where more and more mechanisms are initiated to stimulate sustainable markets. Transparency International, the National Contact Points of the OECD, True Value and True Price measurements and the initiation of indices like the Access to Seeds index seem to be first line answers.

This development has important implications for international diplomacy. How can international it ensure freedom of choice and transparency? For example by making local information available so it can be used in these indexes and adequately informing all parties about these issues. But most of all, by understanding these issues do not only relate to national interests. They are first of all embedded in a common interest to protect our planet and create fair living conditions for all its citizens. The more international diplomats voice this common interest, the more chance we have on reaching the Sustainable Global Goals.


About the authors:

Prof Dr André Nijhof is full professor in Sustainable Business and Stewardship and is visiting professor at Chang Gung University in Taiwan and the University for Peace in Costa Rica.

Nika Salvetti is a PhD candidate and practitioner in the field of CSR, Sustainability, Social Responsibility where she worked on in different developing countries such as Bangladesh, Uganda, Guatemala, as well as in Costa Rica, the overall Balkans and Middle East.


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