Newsletter February 2023

Do we need more guidelines?

In all honesty, I often find guidelines unhelpful. I know that is partly me, but I think that as soon as you engage with a complex problem, a guideline will tend to ask the wrong questions. Or ask too many questions, which makes you spend time on issues that are not the most relevant. The same is true, I think, for many sustainability frameworks, ESG-ratings and reporting directives. Good results require knowledge, curiosity, and a firm interest in focusing on what is material. That doesn’t imply that guidelines and directives are not good, only that I find that for those who wants to stay ahead, they probably also need to go beyond the guidelines.

I have thought of the role of guidelines when reading new EU legislation relating to reporting (the Taxonomy with its minimum safeguards as well as CSRD) and due diligence (upcoming Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive).
The new legislation relies on two of the most influential guideleines when it comes to sustainability: the OECD Due Diligence Guidelines for responsible business conduct   and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. I think that these are great instruments. But I’m not sure how many business people who find the documents hands-on and useful. Perhaps because they are, well, guidelines directed towards a very broad spectrum of companies. They have helped us deepen the entire discourse around sustainable business, but that doesn’t make them the most valuable of tools. Therefore I think that this kind of guidelines are useful as an introduction but you need to sit down with someone with knowledge about the context as well as the business in order to make good sense of the guidelines.

Having said all that, there are of course a number of guidelines and templates that are of great value to anyone working with sustainability. The other day, for example, I came across this guide for inclusive sourcing. A good starting point for companies who wishes to improve on their sustainability work in general and diversity and inclusion in particular. For those who wish to take their supplier code of conduct forward aligning to relevant ILO-conventions as well as the UN Guiding Principles. I find the Responsible Business Alliance provide some good support. Read more here. For those who wish to go a little further and learn and develop together, I would recommend you to have a look at  the approach chosen by for example Chiesi, who have developed a Code of Interdependence.

The war in Ukraine

It is now slightly more than a year since Russia’s attempt to a large scale invasion of Ukraine. And still no peace in sight. The war, and the concept of war, feels so…unfashionable. We don’t have time for this.

When I wrote about the invasion a year ago, I was immediately asked if I thought investments in the arms industry could ever be sustainable. (I wasn’t able to give any straight answer). That discussion was fairly intense for some time and opened up other avenues not only focusing on whether it is legitimate to produce arms or not (see for example this article). Maybe it’s only me but I find that this discussion hasn’t continued with the intensity that I had expected. I think one of the reasons is the recent debate around the shortcomings of ESG-ratings; ratings tend to be blind to context. Sasja Beslik has written insightful on this at a number of occasions, eg here .

When the war ends, I hope the discussion on sustainable investments will continue to evolve in all its complexity. What is sustainable at one point in time or in one location, may not be as sustainable in another. And right now, I believe that producing and selling arms that allows countries to defend themselves is necessary.

Why do some people join violent extremist groups?

The other week UNDP published an interesting report on what drives people into extremism in Africa. The report shows that lack of job was, among the 2000+ interviewed, a more important driver for people to join extremist groups than religious ideology. To me, that is a strong reminder of the importance to also address the social aspects – and the justness –  in the green transition we have ahead. Lack of jobs, poverty, broken social contract, bad education….it is in all our interest to address the underlying push and pull factors behind violent extremism. Or in other words: we need more green inclusive growth.

Among nearly 2,200 interviewees, one-quarter of voluntary recruits cited job opportunities as their primary reason for joining, a 92 percent increase from the findings of a groundbreaking 2017 UNDP study

Take care!

PS If you are Swedish speaking and interested in  aid, trade and sustainable development, you may want to read this short piece that I wrote on LinkedIn


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