Voluntary sustainability standards, also known as private standards, deal with occupational safety, environmental, economic, social or animal welfare issues. They have become a critical issue in international trade and the promotion of sustainable development strategies.
Against this background, five United Nations bodies - the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the International Trade Centre, the United Nations Environment Programme, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization and UNCTAD - have come together to launch the United Nations Forum on Sustainability Standards (UNFSS).
The UNFSS launching conference will seek guidance from public and private sector representatives on the key substantive issues, commodity groups and main target stakeholders for future Forum activities. More specifically, conference participants are asked to elaborate on the following issues:
- What are the priority themes the Forum should address?
- What are some key activities the Forum should undertake?
- What groups of commodities and goods should receive primary attention in UNFSS activities?
- What is the concrete expectation from a forum like the UNFSS?
The Conference will start with a high-level panel discussion on how to make voluntary sustainability standards work to achieve public sustainability goals, followed by thematic sessions identifying the priority subjects and activities for UNFSS.
UNFSS will be open to all United Nations Member States and relevant stakeholders from the private sector and civil society.
The Forum seeks to facilitate the participation of key public and private decision-makers from developing countries, with a particular focus on LDCs. Governments of United Nations member countries are asked to nominate two to three participants for the UNFSS launching conference by no later than 24 February 2013.
The nominees should come from government, the private sector and the non-governmental organization/academic community, with sufficient experience and interest in voluntary sustainability standards.
United Nations Forum on Sustainability Standards (UNFSS)
The Forum will be a platform providing information, analysis and capacity-building assistance on these standards, with a particular focus on their potential value as tools for developing countries to achieve specific sustainable development goals. It will also address potential trade or development obstacles that these standards may create, with a specific emphasis on their impact on small-scale producers and least developed countries (LDCs).
UNFSS will be demand-driven, in response to the information needs and concerns of its participants, in particular representatives of the public and private sectors in developing countries.
The Forum will not limit its discussion and activities to compliance issues regarding existing sustainability standards, but will also contextualize such standards against a threefold perspective:
- Couching voluntary sustainability standards into the development context in exporting developing countries, with a particular focus on poverty alleviation in LDCs and strengthening the capacity of small and medium-sized enterprises;
- Examining sustainability standards within the overall context of the life cycle of a product and related services; and
- Placing such standards in a context of avoidance, minimization and management of real risks.