Just in case you’re starting to lose track of all this eco-sustainability-responsibility-footprint stuff, a timely reminder of the sheer complexity of the task came last week from one of the most interesting of the new crop of MPs, Caroline Lucas.
The Illegally Logged Timber (Prohibition of Import, Sale or Distribution) Bill was introduced somewhere just after 12:10pm on 16th September and received its first reading .. which in plain speak means the title was read out and not a lot more. So long as the details are worked out by the second reading (scheduled in February 2011) all remains hunky dory.
However this bill’s very appearance gives a very strong hint as to where the commercial world has gone wrong. We need a law, it appears, to…
make it illegal in the United Kingdom for a person or company to import, export, transport, sell, receive, acquire or purchase timber or timber products illegally taken, harvested, possessed, transported, sold or exported from their country of origin
Doesn’t that strike you as odd?
That something can be harvested, processed etc illegally in one country, but it’s legal to sell it in a different one?
And let’s be clear, this is not an issue of trafficking, which itself is illegal. It’s simply that there’s no law here to stop illegally produced wood and wood products being sold here. That’s just plain bizarre!
While the world runs around and in an enormous flap over carbon emissions and various associated footprints and trading schemes, other areas of sustainable business practice are coming along quietly in the background. Supply chains, which is what this bill is all about, is one, and a great example is the chocolate industry.
Here an estimated 60% of all chocolate worldwide contains child labour, with countries such as Belgium having an estimated 99.5% of their chocolate tainted in this way. It’s a truly staggering figure which should be at the front of anyone’s mind next time they’re eyeing up a Mars bar.
However, like wood, there’s no law against selling illegally farmed chocolate in the UK so the only pressure manufacturers are likely to feel is from consumers. Whether this commercial pressure is enough to encourage companies to act responsibly is questionable.
For example, Hershey’s recently released their first ever sustainability report. In the round it was very good .. but with one important BUT … while there was lots of good stuff about the company’s own activities there was very little about its supply chains. These were described in a critical report as lacking transparency and Paul Hong-Lange, executive director of Oasis USA, commented: “Children continue to suffer in slavery as Hershey’s profits soar”.
Quite what reaction Hershey’s will have to the report remains to be seen. However, with the Fairtrade launch of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk and Nestle’s KitKat being a resounding success last year, it seems market pressures aren’t affecting Hershey’s as much as some may like.
Will the lawmakers bite?
The parliamentary business immediately before Carline Lucas’ bill’s first reading was dominated by question time for the Secretary for Energy and Climate Change, Chris Huhne. This focussed upon carbon emissions and electricity generation, a large slice of which is inexorably being pulled under the regulatory umbrella.
What’s more, Caroline Lucas’ attempt to write treehugging into law is by no means the first but I wonder if it is the only one to have received true cross party support (Conservative, Labour, LibDem & Plaid Cymru). It’s still a backbenchers’ bill but I wonder .. just wonder if the government will be tempted to support it.
Either which way, this marks a small change in the direction of the parliamentary breeze which could, in time, turn into a full blow gale. Legislators have shown themselves perfectly happy to regulate when voluntary measures aren’t having the desired effect : witness Denmark’s successful introduction of mandatory sustainability reporting standards.
The UK may well have just taken its first step down the same road.
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