Making enterprise, trade and consumption more responsible and sustainable has the potential to have a huge impact on millions of workers and communities whose lives are directly affected by business, and on local and global environments. There are also many development opportunities for smallholders, workers and communities where they can engage in value chains on equitable terms.
This programme aims to generate knowledge and lessons on the sustainability of trade and responsibility in business, in a context of globalization and changing world trade patterns, rising authoritarian governments, growing corporate and elite power, and crises in global social and ecological systems. Social issues in supply chains include under-age work, over-work, exploitative wages, unsafe and dangerous working conditions, sexual harassment, gender discrimination, human rights abuses, unethical recruitment practices, smallholder exclusion and unfair trading terms, and the dispossession of local and indigenous communities of their land rights, plus negative environmental impacts which affect people’s health. Environmental issues include pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, land degradation and deforestation, over-consumption and unsustainable resource use given planetary thresholds for sustainable development. It is critically important that social, environmental and economic dimensions are appropriately considered in an integrated manner in research, policies and programmes which aim to support economic development.
Market leading companies, some governments, civil society and responsible business advisors are increasingly active in seeking to improve business impacts, and there are also legislative changes occurring in some places. The strategies employed are evolving rapidly, but there are complex, systemic challenges in global production, trade and consumption systems. In a globalizing economy the business case for irresponsible behaviour can often be more profitable than responsible behaviour and on certain indicators the trend is downwards. There is very limited evidence and understanding of how effective sustainable trade and responsible business initiatives are under different conditions and what is their individual and collective impact. Given the systemic constraints on the achievement of responsible business, it is critically important to understand regenerative enterprise and economy opportunities, i.e. initiatives that promote renewal, reuse-, regrowth and restoration, especially the role of regional, local and place-based solutions.