The Conference Launching the United Nations Forum on Sustainability Standards was held on 21-22 March 2013, attracting over 200 delegates.
Voluntary sustainability standards (VSS), also termed private standards, claim to improve the health, occupational safety, economic, social, environmental, or animal-welfare conditions under which products are made. They are increasingly becoming significant factors in international trade, particularly for governing long international supply chains.
The Forum is a joint initiative of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Trade Centre (ITC), the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).
Most of the debate focused on determining priority subjects and activities for the first two years of the Forum's operations.
The key themes identified by delegates and participants were the role of governments in VSS related to public goods, legitimacy, competitiveness effects, transparency, access to export markets, and supportive policies.
Delegates and participants also agreed to promote activities on:
Assessing the impacts of VSS, by exchanging experiences.
The provision of credible and independent information on VSS costs, benefits and challenges.
Capacity-building for small and medium-sized enterprises producing goods that are aiming for VSS certification.
Developing tools for key decision-makers in government and the private sector to maximize the benefits and minimize the costs of VSS.
Harmonization and equivalence among various VSS.
Facilitating cooperation among, and providing guidance to, emerging standards initiatives, in order to enhance their credibility, with a focus on real sustainable development.
In addition, delegates and participants recommended the creation of working groups to allow sufficient breadth and depth for analytical, information-exchange and capacity-building activities related to VSS.