Market transformation for good

The ISEAL Global Sustainability Symposium 2024 was a pivotal moment, defining solutions and challenges in making new legislation a force for good. 

A smart mix for success

Ten years ago, the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights were adopted. Today, crucial new due diligence regulations are here. 

To understand these new regulatory challenges and opportunities, ISEAL made corporate due diligence the key symposium theme.

The key consensus of the symposium delegates was clear: due diligence regulation sets a new minimum bar for companies. It is an unprecedented opportunity to drive change. 

Discussions reinforced that the next task is for sustainability systems, governments and businesses to work together, ensuring the law translates into real world sustainability impact.

Throughout the morning, panellists noted that regulations such as the EU Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive (EU CSDDD) and the EU Deforestation Regulation (EUDR) mean companies must reflect and act deeply on their responsibilities.

While these laws are good news, companies need help in meeting the new expectations. We will need to integrate sustainability and make it a competitive advantage.

Transformative alliances and a shared vision will be key to doing so. 

The overarching belief was that now regulation is here, a smart mix of regulatory and voluntary measures, along with business investment, will bring sustainability impacts at the pace needed to progress global challenges. 

This was reinforced by the plenary discussion, ‘The rule makers: what next for company sustainability action?’ which featured a panel of sustainability, government and business leaders.

Data: a catalyst for system change?

Another common theme emerged at the symposium; data is now deeply embedded within businesses and sustainability systems. 

Millions of data points exist, related for example to sustainable production and trade. 

In the plenary discussion ‘The game changers: stories of collaboration to achieve sustainability transformations,’ the challenging question surrounded how to maximise the value of the data.

Doing this correctly will help create real world sustainability impacts and the necessary smart mix. 

Delegates and panellists observed that everyone is a data steward. Generative AI can make standards and similar systems more accessible. 

The landscape is changing fast. Overall, the panellists agreed that sustainability systems and businesses have a responsibility.

They must use technology and big data wisely and safely within risky sectors.

A discussion on blockchain during the morning plenary ‘Strengthening foundations: delivering better due diligence outcomes together,’ looked at whether it, and similar disruptive technologies, can create secure, immutable transactions and viable, transparent and traceable supply chains.

Participants explored whether, if used correctly, there is scope to build viable and transparent chains of custody for many, many products.

Potentially, this could help mitigate risk across issues from deforestation to human rights abuses.

Innovation is core to credible and effective sustainability systems, along with a constant focus on continued improvements. 

As EU CSDDD and EUDR move towards implementation, all stakeholders at the table must increase their impact.

To help ensure this impact is felt at scale, and resources and efforts are not tied up in bureaucracy, participants concluded data innovation could be an invaluable tool. 

Sustainability systems and business: a solutions lens

In the symposium’s plenary sessions, a further theme emerged; it has never been more important for businesses to understand how sustainability systems can support them with emerging regulations.

This is because voluntary tools like sustainability systems will form part of the business toolkit to comply with new regulations.

The panellists’ message to business was; do not just wait for the legislation to come, start implementing the principles of sustainability standards and similar systems now. 

Voluntary standards and mandatory legislation play different, yet complementary roles. 

With the right balance, sustainability systems can help ensure that new regulations are implemented in a holistic and impactful way by businesses.

A socially equitable and sustainable future

In the symposium’s keynote address, Richard Howitt, Strategic Advisor on Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability, Business and Human Rights and former MEP, said, “EU CSDDD should be an inspiration to everyone in this room.”

Richard observed that when you combine the large companies having to comply and their supply chain influence, a big portion of the global economy is now regulated. “The world is transitioning to a socially equitable and environmentally sustainable future, that one hopes is an equitable transition. 

“Be visionaries and test everything you do by the transformation that we want to see,” he concluded.

Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate

Perhaps beyond any other theme, collaboration was the unifying message behind 2024’s symposium.

Delegates and panellists agreed that topics like reducing Scope 3 emissions or improving human rights do not stand in isolation. 

Contrastingly, such things are connected. Precisely because they are complex, no one can solve them alone. It is vital to have convenors.

In other examples, discussions considered whether it makes sense for every actor and company to set up their own grievance mechanisms.

Thinking more strategically about how collaboration could offer solutions. Panellists felt that due diligence is a truly powerful tool, but the best way to engage with it is through joint working. 

“We need to focus on the importance of credibility, to focus on innovation, and to focus on holistic solutions - so that smallholders thrive within supply chains, playing an increasingly key role as due diligence moves forwards,” said Karin Kreider, Executive Director, ISEAL.

“Ultimately, we need to focus on collaboration,” she concluded.

The 2024 ISEAL Global Sustainability Symposium was hosted with generous support from the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO).