Blog / 12 May 2020

Post-corona economy: five recommendations for the Dutch government on achieving the SDGs and the goals of the climate agreement

By Daniëlle Hirsch and Maria van der Heijden

The social debate on the Netherlands' role in the global economic crisis is now in full swing. At the centre of the debate is the question: how can we compensate for the setbacks affecting the Dutch economy without losing sight of efforts to make international trade and production chains more sustainable? We – Both ENDS and MVO Nederland (CSR Netherlands) – are particularly concerned about what we hear in these discussions about human rights, climate and the environment. That these are 'luxury problems' which we have no time to address at this time of crisis. And this, while the Corona crisis is showing us just how closely our current economy is irrevocably intertwined with the pollution of the planet and is making people all around the world more and more vulnerable. In short, we have to make our economy more resilient to such shocks. And that means committing ourselves to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the goals of the Paris climate agreement. We therefore address ourselves first and foremost to the government.

The SDGs and the Paris Agreement were agreed by the international community. All very positive, of course, but we sometimes have the idea that we still make too little use of them to take up our role in the global economy. Especially if we want to achieve a new, sustainable economy by 2030. That is surprising, given that the Netherlands is so strongly interconnected with the world economy. Foreign trade accounts for 34%of our economy and, within the EU, we are one of the biggest importers of goods from low-income countries. In addition, in 2017, the Netherlands was the second largest foreign investor in the world. That puts uscin a position to help change the course of the global economy. And that is why we are calling on our government to show some mettle and speed up its action in the following five areas, so that we also contribute internationally to a future-proof economy.

1. Don't forget international CSR policy

The government is paying considerable attention to vulnerable groups by providing them with large-scale economic support packages. But that is no reason to suspend policy on increasing sustainability. We are therefore calling on the government not to delay in the development of a new policy on international corporate social responsibility (CSR), also to set a good example for Europe, where serious policy on CSR is on the agenda. Now especially it is important to work on creating fair trade chains and achieving the SDGs. Good CSR risk management (due diligence) is the quickest way for companies to contribute to the SDGs.

2. Continue to phase out investments in fossil energy

Minister Sigrid Kaag for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation has set out a clear line in the direction of a low-carbon global economy, both towards the World Bank and by phasing out her own funding of fossil fuel projects. These are good signs and we hope that the government will continue along the same track. The next step should be to make all export schemes fossil free.

3. Don't forget women and young people

Many international chains use a lot of informal labour, for example in textile factories and for seasonal work at harvest time. As a large percentage of these workers are women and young people, the government should give their interests priority in the choices it makes. In a future-proof economy, women and young people should benefit from inclusive and green business models that also focus on creating informal work and the sustainable use of natural resources.

4. Support companies that take the lead

The transition to a future-proof economy calls for cooperation between companies and other direct stakeholders in the chain. Support packages should especially be given to companies that work constantly with vulnerable groups and on sustainable working methods. The future lies with companies that focus on fair pricing – in other words, that factor the external effects of their products on people and the environment into their selling prices. Markets like those for coffee, leather, plastics and fruit are still dominated by companies that go no further than compliance with the statutory requirements. If we want to achieve the SDGs, it is those who are taking the lead and going further that we should facilitate and support. One way the government can do that is to set more ambitious procurement conditions and funding frameworks.

5. Invest in green infrastructure and livelihoods

Funding mechanisms should focus more directly on the recovery and sustainable use of our green infrastructure. In other words, when making choices, take account of the recovery of the ecosystem that forms the basis of all our economic activities. Invest, for example in food forests that restore forests, contribute to food security and provide livelihoods for larger groups of people. Or focus on cleaning up rivers and stopping them being polluted, so that more people have access to clean water.

As the Corona crisis continues, the government can use these recommendations to promote the transition to a new, sustainable future for people in the Netherlands and throughout the world. The recommendations were developed jointly by Both ENDS and MVO Nederland.

The recommendations have been sent to Minister Kaag in a comprehensive letter (in Dutch) 

Maria van der Heijden, Director, MVO Nederland
Danielle Hirsch, Director, Both ENDS

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