International responsible business conduct: from legal, to moral, to impact. Side event WFD 2023

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Manon Wolfkamp showing map of European countries with responsible business conduct legislation

During the World Food Day event hosted by Netherlands Food Partnership, a side-event took place on the topic of International Responsible Business Conduct (IRBC). FoodFIRST in collaboration with Manon Wolfkamp and Ruud van Soelen (Social Economic Council) facilitated the conversation.

As with other aspects of food system transformation, IRBC (International Responsible Business Conduct) is a complex issue that will have significant implications for all stakeholders, including the private sector and Small Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in the agriculture and food sector. Initially, companies were trusted to act responsibly and sustainably based on voluntary guidelines. However, increased societal engagement has led to a demand for companies to not only declare their actions but also demonstrate them.

Nowadays, the expectation is for companies to be accountable for their actions in this field. This has resulted in a shift towards legal requirements and a level playing field. By implementing legislation, the European Union can provide this level playing field and encourage meaningful participation from these companies. Collaboration is indeed essential to finding ways to achieve this goal together, ensuring that the legislation does not burden companies with excessive paperwork but instead leads to tangible impact on the ground.

The workshop showed there is significant engagement from businesses in recognizing and addressing risks in their value chains. Using the OECD guidelines and IRBC principles as the framework for this task is of key importance. However, this is not an easy task, particularly for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Collaboration and sharing information among value chain stakeholders, and particularly including local stakeholders is crucial to achieving progress.

Key take aways and policy insights:

To enhance the sustainability of their work, companies are encouraged to utilize the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) guidelines as their guiding framework;

This framework consists of 6 steps and should be seen as a dynamic process: it doesn't matter where a company starts as long as they go through each step;

The framework allows for flexibility and proportionality;

A voluntary approach has not brought about the desired outcomes, emphasizing the need for collaboration, legislation, and alignment with international guidelines to create a level playing field and drive meaningful impact;

The newness of the IRBC legislation results in a scarcity of individuals with expertise in this area, which presents a significant capacity challenge for companies;

Communication with stakeholders along the entire value chain is crucial;

Finding ways to incentivize and encourage collaboration among companies, such as recognizing precompetitive collaboration in legislation, may help companies to adhere to IRBC legislation;

Connect with change processes at the national level in a/o LMICs, and with stakeholders in these countries.

** Netherlands Food Partnership thanks FoodFIRST (Ewald Wermuth, Kathelijne van Hoeven), Social Economic Council (Ruud van Soelen) and Manon Wolfkamp (IBRC expert) for their collaboration! **

Your reactions or ideas.

Readers of this report with interest in collaboration with FoodFIRST, SER and NFP on this topic, are kindly invited to indicate your interest and ideas using the Comments function below.



Nicole Metz

Senior Knowledge Broker - Netherlands Food Partnership

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  • Nicole Metz

    This event may be of interest to companies in the horticulture sector with interest in what they can do to boost their sustainability impact :

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