We-ness News June 2022

Abortion – a human right?

How and when a woman can choose to terminate an unwanted pregnancy is a matter of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights and as such it has been a central part of the global development agenda for decades. Yes, it has been controversial in many countries and battled at numerous international conferences, but inch by inch the agenda has moved ahead. It has moved in a direction where women’s rights to decide for themselves, and women’s health, more broadly, has been acknowledged. Women’s rights, it has been argued successfully, are human rights. With the recent decision by the US Supreme Court that prohibition of abortions is not unconstitutional in the USA, some of those rights have been lost.

A few years ago, I asked a senior minister in an African country why her country would not accept the rights of gay people. I remember her response very well. She looked at me, and it was clear that she was uncomfortable with the question, and said: “You know, David, it’s a matter of development. Only a couple of decades ago, we were new to women’s rights and now women’s rights are human rights. I believe we will get there with regard to LGBTI-rights as well, but it will take some time.” To me, it was clear that she thought that everybody should be free to love whoever they wanted to, but the political price of saying that out loud was too high. We both thought, however, that it was only a matter of time until those rights would be granted.

The decision by the US supreme court is a reminder that human development does not follow a straight path. Old battles must be re-fought. Reversal of human development is a fact in many countries and those of us who believe in human rights and democratic values must not give up. A partly new player in the struggle for democracy and human rights is the growing movement of companies who see themselves as corporate citizens, with responsibilities beyond regulations. In this specific instance, though many companies are yet to speak out strongly, there are also those like Google, Microsoft, Tesla, Starbucks, Netflix and Nike who have publicly confirmed that they will pay for employees’ travel expenses for abortion (read more here). It gives me some hope that this seems to be a fight that citizens and civil society will not have to fight by themselves.


WTO & G7 summits: both reasonably successful

At least in relation to expectations… It was the first time WTO met in five years and the fact that they met despite all the tensions that have followed on from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine should be acknowledged. Some progress in relation to the food crises, vaccine production, WTO-reforms and fishing subsidies were notable.

The recently ended G7 summit in Germany was dominated by discussions on Ukraine and how to reduce the dependence on energy from Russia. However, there were actually other topics on the agenda as well, including the climate crises and the food crises (in the footsteps of the war). Reading through the final communique, a fair amount is devoted to these topics as well, for example:

We recognise the importance of innovation in driving deep decarbonisation. We commit to a highly decarbonised road sector by 2030 including by, in this decade, significantly increasing the sales, share and uptake of zero emission light duty vehicles, including zero emission public transport and public vehicle fleets

New GRI standards

The sustainability reporting standard GRI has just launched a new standard that sets reporting expectations on sustainability in agriculture, aquaculture and fisheries. This is the third out of 40 planned sector standards launched by GRI. Though it may feel overwhelming with 40 different sector standards, it is my expectation that these different standards will make it easier for companies to report as the questions will (hopefully) feel more relevant. Solid reporting standards will also support or even ensure that companies adhere to relevant regulations.

Sustainability manifesto for the pharma industry: something others can learn from?

The Swedish pharma-sector, through the industry association Lif, has recently issued a sustainability manifesto. I have followed the pharma industry for some time and while I’m simultaneously intrigued and, at times, disappointed with some of the actors in the pharma business, I believe this is an initiative that deserves some attention. Not that the commitments are mind-blowing, but if all pharma companies take them seriously, the manifesto will have managed to move an industry, at least in one part of the world. But as pharma companies often tend to have a global outreach, chances are that it will impact other countries as well.  And that will imply material impact.

My experience is that business associations often settle for something slightly better than the lowest common denominator, which doesn’t really move the industry forward that much. In this case, however, my sense from talking to a few people in the pharma industry in Sweden, is that they are prepared to look at how the commitments in the manifesto will be reflected in their own sustainability plans, and that they are prepared to cooperate in the implementation and follow-up of the commitments.  If that happens, it will be a great example of how cooperation, peer pressure and peer-reviewing can make a difference despite the same companies being competitors!

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