Last week, the Centre for Responsible Business provided a historic opportunity: to promote pathways to sustainability in India and globally. Company executives gathered with government officials and civil society leaders in New Delhi from November 18 - 20th for ‘India and Sustainability Standards: International Dialogues and Conference 2015’ convened by the Centre for Responsible Business (CRB) along with 50 Indian and international standard setters, policymakers, businesses and civil society organisations, to look at how sustainability standards can be adopted, implemented or adapted to promote better environmental and social practices in India, including in the SME world as part of the global value chains. Leaders from standard initiatives like Social Accountability 8000 (SA8000), UNICEF, UNDP, OECD, GIZ, and sector-specific standards in cotton and apparel, mining and tea, gathered for three days to dialogue and reflect on how India can lead the charge in the world on self-regulatory approaches.
For 25 years, I have worked to develop and implement sustainability codes and standards. I feel fortunate that I was involved in the early drafting of several initiatives, including SA8000 and the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI). I am deeply honored that the third edition of my book The Corporate Responsibility Code Book was launched in New Delhi at the Sustainability Standards conference on 18th November 2015.
How is the landscape of codes and standards changing?
Standards and codes continue to evolve and become more integrated across industry sectors and themes. There is a greater need for integrating social and environmental issues by businesses in the economy and in our global society. It is impressive to see how the majority of the standards and initiatives continue to expand their membership and influence. In the 15 years since I began working on the first Code Book, it is impressive to see that some of the early initiatives, like the Ceres Principles, have become so commonplace that they are just part of the ethos for how most companies operate. The new edition of The Corporate Responsibility Code Book has a section on gender, a theme which continues to grow in importance for the standards community.
What is the legacy of codes?
The evolution of codes and standards has left us with an important legacy. One of the key features of some of the initiatives is their strong multi-stakeholder approaches, which bring together leaders from civil society, the business community, trade unions, government, and academia, and thus creating the much needed credibility for the standards. Also, these multi-stakeholder approaches create opportunities for dialogue, change and, learning. Social Accountability International (SAI), the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) are among the leading international initiatives which have created strong multi-stakeholder alliances.
One of the greatest contributions of these alliances and standards is the development of capacity building. At SAI and ETI, and within the wider community of codes and standards, we have worked to develop training for workers, for managers, and for auditors. Building capacity has yielded benefits to communities and empowered workers to understand and exercise their rights.
Standards and codes have created important definitions and processes that serve as guide posts. The Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights uses the term “irremediable” for human rights abuses for which there is no remedy. Standards have helped to develop the terms which allow us to dialogue and change.
But codes and standards are just a beginning. Social entrepreneurs within companies are recognizing their ability to be change agents. Corporations are developing products and services which create social value. I am inspired by the wave of social innovation and social entrepreneurship that is sweeping across many MBA programs and businesses.
Codes and standards provide a framework for dialogue and a starting point for broad cultural change. The legacy of codes provides a common language and multi-stakeholder alliances to create the kind of world we want to leave to our children.
About the Author
Deborah Leipziger is an author, professor, and advisor in the fields of corporate responsibility (CR) and sustainability. She advises companies, governments, and UN agencies on CR and sustainability issues. She has advised leading multinational companies on strategic and supply chain issues, as well as a wide range of CR initiatives, including the UN Global Compact, the Global Reporting Initiative, the UN Environment Programme, and Social Accountability International. She is the co-author of Creating Social Value: A Guide for Leaders and Change Makers, (Greenleaf, 2014) and The Corporate Responsibility Code Book, soon to be released as a third edition (Greenleaf, 2010) and co-author of Living Corporate Citizenship (FT, 2002) and Corporate Citizenship: Successful Strategies of Responsible Companies, (FT, 1998). She is the author of Social Accountability 8000: The Definitive Guide to the New Social Standard (FT Prentice Hall, 2001). Her books have been translated into Portuguese, French, Korean, and Chinese. Born in Brazil, Ms. Leipziger has a Masters in Public Administration from Columbia University and a Bachelor of Arts from Manhattanville College in Economics and International Studies. For more information, go to http://deborahleipziger.com/