The need for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) to address the governance of value chains

Originally published as "Will the Sustainable Development Goals change our Barbie Doll World?"

By Harriet Lamb, Chief Executive at Fairtrade International.

The Barbie doll has such a ludicrous, sexist shape that any such woman in reality would fall flat on her face: she is simply, hopelessly out of balance.

Tragically, our global food system teeters along on a similarly grotesque figure. Top-heavy and more focused on appearance than reality, a tiny handful of traders, branded manufacturers and retailers control much of global trade.

In cocoa, retailers and branded manufacturers each claim 35-40 per cent of the retail value - leaving cocoa farmers to scurry after just 5 per cent. Oxfam predicts that by 2016, one per cent of the world will control as much wealth as the remaining 99 per cent.

 So as nations of the world enter the last months of horse trading over the SDGs in the run-up to eventual sign-off in September, the key question is whether justice will truly be a central pillar for achieving sustainable development or simply remain high-flying rhetoric.



 David Cameron talks of a golden thread’of justice and the rule of law, and other leaders in developed countries are quick to take the high moral ground in the face of governmental failures in developing countries.

It is naïve to believe that the world can tackle extreme poverty without looking into the vast levels of wealth and privilege inflating the top of our global Barbie. Our love affair with Mr. Free Market (Barbie always had her Ken after all) is perhaps the greatest threat that exists to our planet.

If we seek an agenda that truly reconciles the three poles of social, economic and environmental development, governments must seek ways to redistribute the world’s vast wealth, but are governments actually prepared to curb excess power amongst dominant market players?

Trade can be an engine for growth and can help tackle poverty, but only when there are rules to ensure fair play and equity, Fair Trade provides a great contribution to it.

However, it is not getting any easier to ensure a fairer distribution of value. At the launch of a recent report on Power in Supply Chains by Fair Trade Advocacy Office (FTAO), former United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter referred to the lack of governance in value chains as the great ‘taboo’ in the food debate, not referenced once in the multiple seminars and conferences on hunger and malnutrition he attended.

So why don't the nations of the world stand firm together and agree new rules of the game that set the non-negotiable, global limits to corporate power. They need to address the governance of value chains so that the developmental aspirations of global trade, and the Development Goal on Sustainable Production and Consumption can be realised. Governments need to update competition laws and shift from their short-term focus on only protecting the consumer to considering long-term sustainable solutions for all, including farmers and workers. 

Governments will need to match rhetoric with action and be prepared to confront powerful interests in the pursuit of a fairer and more sustainable world for all.


You can read the full article by Harriet Lamb here.


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