News / 16 November 2023

Voting with a worldwide impact

Disposable fashion items continue to flood into the country, the nitrogen crisis has brought construction to a standstill and energy poverty is on the rise, but Dutch politicians are contemplating their navels. These are problems that we can never solve on our own. The clothes we wear, the food on our plates, and the electricity that comes out of our wall sockets – they are all produced in global trade and production chains. With far-reaching consequences, both in our own country and far, very far beyond our borders. It would be naive to think that we can solve all these problems through domestic policies alone. And vice versa: we would be evading our responsibilities if we continued to believe that the Netherlands only plays a humble role on the  global stage. Latest figures show that the Netherlands is the fourth largest exporter and the seventh largest importer of products worldwide. With the elections on the way, it is time to look beyond our own small country. Because it is also important to vote with a worldwide impact.

Politicians have so far not devoted much attention to that worldwide impact. There are examples enough: climate policy aimed at companies focuses mainly, or even exclusively, on emissions within the Netherlands, while as much as 95% of companies’ climate-harming emissions occur beyond our borders. And while we are faced with billions of euros of cutbacks in health and education, poverty is increasing and livelihood security is being eroded, multinationals can make use of a whole package of facilitated constructions to avoid paying taxes. That means that the Netherlands, as well as – and primarily – many countries in the Global South, are losing out on billions in tax revenues. And another example: the Netherlands is driving the green energy transition forward at home but is also providing billions in export support and grants to promote Dutch investments in fossil projects elsewhere.


And is the nitrogen crisis really only a national problem? The crisis is largely caused by our intensive farming model, which depends on excessive use of artificial fertilizer and pesticides. We have successfully exported that model to other countries. Like Brazil, where enormous tracts of rainforest have been cut down to produce soya that we import – duty free! – for cattle feed. In 2022, Dutch imports of soya from Brazil were worth no less than 1.9 billion euros. There is also much room for improvement in the clothing sector. The Netherlands is rightly critical of human rights violations in countries around the world, but clothing brands continue to produce disposable fashion items by paying starvation wages to workers in unsafe factories. Even now, it is still difficult to determine whether your clothes have really been produced fairly, safely and sustainably.  


It doesn’t have to be this way. Two years ago for example, as a result of public pressure, the Dutch government decided to stop covering the risks incurred by Dutch companies involved in fossil energy projects abroad. The Minister for Climate and Energy decided to withdraw from the Energy Charter Treaty. Under the treaty, governments of signatory countries moving forward with the transition to sustainable energy run a realistic risk of mega-claims from companies that see their potential profits from fossil projects. The recent bill on international corporate social responsibility proposed by a number of parties compels companies to ensure that the people working in their supply chains can do so in decent and humane conditions. The European anti-deforestation law – which the Netherlands also supports – will protect the Amazon region and its inhabitants against more large-scale soya plantations. A number of ministers have pledged to look closely at the international impact of future agricultural policy. There are also many ideas on the table for a fairer tax system, which some parties have included in their manifestos. All hopeful decisions, which we can’t wait to see implemented.


There are initiatives and plans in place, and they are urgently needed. The Netherlands is not a closed ecosystem under a glass dome. What we do has an impact on the rest of the world and vice versa; we are irrevocably linked to what happens beyond our borders. With their policy proposals, Dutch political parties can contribute actively to problems at home and around the world, and therefore to the solutions to those problems. And we too, as voters, can contribute to those solutions by voting for parties that look beyond their own navels and understand how our own country and the whole world can benefit from a well-thought-out Dutch foreign policy.

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