French supply chain law, technology boost to resource sector, WWF backs multistakeholder standards, oil pipeline controversy, organic market growth, banks pressured on climate, clean energy rebounds, Uganda's solar bus and Smurfit Kappa achieves certification goal
France adopts duty of care law for supply chains
The French Parliament this week adopted a law establishing a duty of care obligation for companies and their supply chains, paving the way for similar legislation in Belgium and Spain. NGO Friends of the Earth International said the law marks a “historic step towards improving legislation to oblige corporate respect for human rights and the environment.”
France is the first country to adopt binding legislation covering all human rights abuses by parent and subcontracting companies across the entire supply chain.
The bill, which was initially proposed after the Rana Plaza factory collapse in 2013, was softened during the long debate, dropping a measure that would have meant company bosses face criminal prosecution. The law only affects companies with at least 5,000 employees, so about 200 French companies.
Judges can issue fines of up to €10m if it has no plan to prevent human rights abuses and €30m if this results in damage that could have been prevented.
French civil society organisations applauded the bill but said the burden of proof still falls on the victims, who often lack the means to seek justice. They also criticised the fact that companies won't be liable if damage occurs but they are deemed to have an adequate vigilance plan.
Juliette Renaud, corporate accountability campaigner for Friends of the Earth France, said: “This vote is a huge victory for French civil society, as this law has faced fierce opposition from private sector lobbies during the whole legislative process. It is not as ambitious as we would have liked, but it is a historic first step to put an end to corporate impunity.”
The bill was largely supported by the left, but heavily criticised by the right. Republican MP Patrick Hetzel said: “It could have perverse effects on local businesses in developing countries by pushing multinational companies to cut down their list of subcontractors”, as well as forcing some to pull out of high-risk countries.
Low-carbon technology could unlock $1.6tr in world economy
The rapid rise of disruptive technologies like artificial intelligence, automation, and big data could save the global economy between $900bn to $1.6tr by 2035, according to a new report from the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI).
The report, Beyond the Supercycle: How technology is reshaping resources, says electric vehicles, energy-efficient technologies and the growth of renewable energy are transforming the resources sector and unlocking the equivalent to the GDP of Canada. Renewables alone are expected to bring as much as $350bn to the global economy by 2035.
MGI’s director Jonathan Woetzel said: “Changes in the resource sector in the past often came about as a result of regulation, but now it is technology that is driving the shifts. Our new research shows that the global economy has a significant opportunity to make substantial savings on energy in the next two decades by adopting and embracing technological change.”
Demand for a range of commodities, particularly oil, could peak in the next two decades, McKinsey says, and prices may diverge widely. How large this opportunity ends up being depends not only on the rate of technological adoption but also on the way resource producers and policy makers adapt to their new environment.
WWF says credible sustainability standards can advance SDGs
Voluntary sustainability standards are ready-made tools that will allow companies to contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals and unlock new markets, according to a report by WWF and ISEAL.
The report, released this week, shows how sustainability standards can help scale-up sustainability efforts across supply chains to achieve the SDGs. But they must be run by an independent organisation that ensures compliance, maintains the integrity of the system and has a clear mission-driven focus on sustainability.
One example given is the Better Cotton Initiative standard, implemented across seven countries, which has reported yields and profits per hectare that were 23% and 36% higher, respectively, than conventional cotton farmers, while using less water and chemical inputs.
WWF International’s director of global conservation, Richard Holland, said: “This report provides a valuable overview of the role and impact that credible standards are already having on all sustainability dimensions: economic, social and environmental. Multi-stakeholder standards embody the partnership spirit of the SDGs, bringing together businesses, NGOs, governments and others to work toward common goals that benefit business, people and the planet.”
Oil pipeline built at ING bank headquarters to protest Dakota pipeline
Greenpeace activists have dug up a space outside ING bank headquarters in Amsterdam and planted 15 metres of heavy pipe to protest the Dutch bank’s role in helping finance the controversial Standing Rock pipeline in Dakota, US.
ING is providing $125m as part of a consortium of 16 banks that is financing the highly controversial 1,170-mile Dakota Access pipeline, which is set to be built through the reservation of a native American tribe. Last year the Obama administration withdrew permits for the pipeline, but President Trump overturned that decision within his first few weeks in office.
The Greenpeace pipeline is being built right into the Amsterdam headquarters of ING. Campaign leader Kim Schoppink said: “We’re giving them a taste of their own medicine.” The environmental organisation plans to extend the pipeline if ING does not change its position.
A spokesman for ING told the Dutch daily newspaper Het Parool that the bank only found out after the financing was complete about the Stand Rock Sioux's fear about oil spills from the pipeline contaminating their drinking water. The bank, which has met with leaders of the tribe, hopes to be able to exert influence from within.
"If we knew beforehand we never would've gotten into it," the spokesperson said. "We openly distanced ourselves from this client; we sold our shares in the parent company and reject any new funding requests." But when it comes to the existing loan, ING cannot back out.
UK organic market hits £2bn after five years of strong growth
The UK organic market is worth £2.09bn and is in its fifth year of strong growth, increasing 7.1% in 2016, according to the Soil Association’s 2017 organic market report.
The report shows that organic sales in supermarkets grew 6.1% last year, with supermarkets accounting for 69% of total organic sales. Organic food is also increasingly available in high street chains, with McDonald’s, Jamie’s Italian, Nandos and Pret all offering organic options.
Providing organic food for schools, hospitals and workplaces has seen a 19.1% growth, with demand being driven by the Soil Association Food for Life catering mark. The UK represents around 4% of global sales, catching up with market growth rates around the world.
Clare McDermott, business development director at Soil Association Certification said: “It’s a positive time for organic as it ticks lots of boxes for consumers. Organic is extremely relevant for trends towards eating better food, knowing where your food comes from, avoiding pesticides or antibiotics and free-from diets. Despite uncertainty around Brexit for us all, it brings lots of opportunities too – particularly for export for British organic and more product innovation.”
Investors urged to turn up pressure on banks on climate policies
Investors should use their voting rights to demand that major banks play a proactive role in the low carbon transition, according to a new report published by ShareAction.
The report, Banking on a Low Carbon Future, provides detailed guidance for investors wishing to question banks on how they are addressing the business risks and opportunities associated with climate change and the low-carbon transition.
ShareAction, an organisation that promotes responsible investment, makes tough recommendations for banks: reduce the provision of financial services to high-carbon activities and stop financing coal-dependent companies altogether. The report calls on banks to scale up financing of sectors and activities that facilitate low-carbon growth. Banks are also encouraged to use their lobbying weight to support public policies that accelerate decarbonisation of the global economy.
Catherine Howarth, chief executive of ShareAction, said: “At a portfolio-wide level, the only way that investors can protect themselves against high-risk climate scenarios is through a timely and economy-wide decarbonisation. Banks are uniquely placed to help catalyse this transformation.”
Clean energy companies bounce back after Trump
Clean energy companies have recovered after their market value dropped in the wake of Donald Trump’s victory in November, according to the latest Carbon Clean 200 index.
The index, which tracks the market value of 200 companies with the highest share of clean energy revenues worldwide, is produced by Canadian CSR company Corporate Knights and NGO As You Sow.
According to the report: “In the lead up to the election from August 15 to November 8, when a Trump win was viewed as improbable, the Clean 200 outperformed the S&P 1200 by a full percentage point. After Trump’s upset, there was a bump in the lead-up to the January 20 inauguration, but the Clean 200 lagged [behind the S&P 1200]. In the brief window between the inauguration and the end of January, the Clean200 bounced back, turning in 2% (more than triple the 0.6% of the S&P 1200 for the same period).”
Siemens, Toyota Motors, and Schneider Electric are the top three companies listed in the index. Chinese companies lead the index, however, accounting for 35% of the 200, beating US into second place although China’s stock market is less than half the size of the US. There are two UK companies on the list: utilities giant SSE at number nine, and tech company Dialog Semiconductor at 163.
The index only includes companies that have a market capitalisation of more than $1bn and make more than 10% of revenue from new energy sources. It excludes utilities that get more than half of their revenue from fossil fuels and all oil and gas companies.
Uganda’s Kiira Motors unveils Africa’s first solar bus
Kiira Motors have released a prototype of the first solar-powered bus in Africa, according to the company, shown off at a stadium in Uganda’s capital, Kampala.
The bus is fitted with solar panels on its roof which charge two batteries, extending the vehicle’s 50-mile range. The makers hope that the prototype will help champion engineering and manufacturing in Uganda and create employment.
The company’s chief executive Paul Isaac Musasizi said he predicted more than 7,000 people could be directly and indirectly employed in the making of the electric bus by 2018. If it is mass produced, each bus would cost up to £40,000, with the vision that Kiira Motors would be able to manufacture all the parts and assemble the vehicle in Uganda.
Packaging giant Smurfit Kappa reaches 90% certification goal
Smurfit Kappa says it has achieved 90% chain of custody certification by FSC, PEFCTM or SFITM for the packaging it sells to customers, reaching a goal set out in its Sustainable Development Report 2015. At the end of the first quarter of 2016, the figure was 81%.
The FTSE 100 company, which is headquartered in Ireland, said the certification is a new milestone in promoting sustainable forests, providing end-to-end transparency across the supply chain and an assurance of the sustainable origin of raw materials used. Reaching 90% certification for the packaging sold comes after successful implementation in 2014 of certified chains of custody for all the paper produced and sourced for packaging across its global operations.
Steven Stoffer, group VP development, said: “At Smurfit Kappa we understand the importance of sustainability in everything we do, and see it as our responsibility to ensure the products we supply to our customers meet the highest chain of custody standards. We are delighted to have achieved this target and take great pride in contributing to better management of the world’s forests and a more sustainable future.”