Luca Jahier, the president of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), opened the high-level conference on Sustainable Development Goals and Initiatives for Sustainable Global Value Chains co-organised by the Netherlands' Ministry for Foreign Affairs, the Dutch Social and Economic Council, and the EESC by stating that there is no alternative to a sustainable economy and that the EU is the champion of promoting civil society involvement in the implementation of sustainable development in trade:
Without the EU in the lead, Sustainable Development in trade Agreements would not be the standard nowadays. He reminded that this process was initiated by the EESC asking for specific Sustainable Development provisions in the CARIFORUM-EU Economic Partnership Agreement in 2008.
The conference gathered representatives of Member States that have such initiatives in place, representatives of business associations, trade unions, think tank, academics and other interested and informed stakeholders, members of the EESC REX Section, representatives of the European Commission and Members of the European Parliamentand the opening session also counted on the participation of Frans Timmermans, First Vice-President of the European Commission, and Sigrid Kaag, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation of the Netherlands.
President Jahier emphasized the role of civil society in contributing to the achievement of the SDGs in global value chains:
The challenges we face can be seen as an opportunity for private companies to drive the transition towards a sustainable economy, but this will only become a reality if we all pull in the same direction: businesses, trade unions, civil society and local authorities. President Jahier called the Commission to take the necessary steps to make sure that the EU plays a leading role in this process and highlighted the key role the EESC is playing at the high level Multi-Stakeholder Platform on the Implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. The report recently adopted by the Platform should be the basis of inspiration for the Reflection Paper "Towards a Sustainable Europe by 2030" that the European Commission will adopt by the end of the year. President Jahier reiterated the EESC availability to adopt, further to the publication of the Reflection paper, a political contribution.
First Vice President Timmermans pointed out that
for the first time humanity has realized that our planet cannot fulfil all our ambitions if we don't change the way we live and we produce. In his view, this situation can only be solved by facing the challenges instead of chaining people to their fears in order to control them better,
constructive solutions are not being convincing enough and nostalgia has become the new opium for the people. First Vice PresidentTimmermans expressed his optimism by stating that private companies are more and more convinced of the need of implementing sustainable policies as
sustainability is a winning business proposition in the long term, which creates growth and jobs. However, he declared that this attitude cannot rely only in the good faith of companies and that, at some point, regulation is needed:
From my experience I know that civility helps to drive out rudeness, confidence drives out fear, dialogue drives out violence and love drives out hate; but, unfortunately, this is also true the other way around.
Minister Sigrid Kaag also thanked First Vice-President for the SDG Multi-Stakeholder Platform's report as an essential next step, if we are to succeed in working together more closely and building a sustainable world. After all, Minister Kaag stated,
the SDGs constitute the ultimate prevention agenda. In the sense that more effort now will mean less human suffering in the future, and that's the reason why the SDGs are the guiding principles underpinning her government policy on international trade and development. Minister Kaag added that there Responsible Business Conduct and SDGs go hand in hand and called for simultaneously address both of them . In the past few years the government of the Netherlands has indeed established seven Agreements on International Responsible Business Conduct, which aim to improve conditions for groups affected by specific risks within three to five years. Minister Kaag presented some examples of good practices that could be scaled up at EU level in order to create an EU level playing field in which sustainable development standards could be used as a starting point.
In the afternoon the conference was structured in four parallel workshops dealing with global value chains and corporate social responsibility in the textile sector, the banking sector, the extractive industries and the agro-food sector. These workshops were addressed to the representatives of the civil society and were aimed to identify and share successful experiences and explore which initiatives could be scaled up to EU-level.