Last month, the sixth annual International Development Conference was held at the University of Toronto Scarborough. The conference is a two-day event and was created as a platform for students, alumni, academics, and development professionals to participate and engage in discussions. The Conference provides individuals with the opportunity to share and explore a diversity of global issues, social justice and emerging ideas in the developing world.
Every year, the International Development Conference has a theme; this year’s theme was Bridging Theory and Practice. This year’s conference objective was to bridge the gap between theory and practice, and the disadvantages of development reforms and aid. The Conference held many workshops, thematic discussions, as well as a trade fair.
One thematic discussion held was called “Legalizing Sustainable Business: Trade and the Environment”. This session challenged the principle of sustainability in the governance of international trade, and the possible enhancements to the governance of international commerce that could merge environmental protection in international commerce.
There were three guest speakers for the Legalizing Sustainable Business: Trade and the Environment session:
- Professor Sara Seck – Assistant Professor, Faculty of Law, Western University
- Freedom-kai Phillips – Research Associate, Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI)
- Conner Tidd – Senior Strategy and Innovation Officer, Centre for International Sustainable Development Law
The first speaker, Professor Sara Seck, primarily discussed International standards; introducing the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Professor Seck explained the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights are structured around three pillars
- The duty of states to respect and protect human rights
- Businesses have a responsibility to respect human rights
- A need for adequate remedies
The guiding principles state all human rights must be respected by all businesses, and businesses must respect rights in all countries irrespective whether are not the state inclines with its own human rights and obligations. Respecting rights mean to prevent right violations, to mitigate harm and to remediate it. To execute this, Professor Seck explains those who engage in human rights must ensure they carefully and persistently work throughout company operations and in contractional relations with others; this includes throughout the supply and value chain.
Professor Seck also mentioned Corporate Social Responsibility, and how the CSR strategy endorses many other international CSR standards. Particularly in regards to Canada, Canada has placed a lot of effort into its CSR strategy for the extractive industry. Lastly, Professor Seck explained the OECD’s guidelines for the new stakeholder engagement guidance – Guidance for Meaningful Stakeholder Engagement. Under the OECD guidelines, the new stakeholder engagement guidance embraces the responsibility of businesses to respect rights. It talks exclusively about what it would mean and how to meaningful engage with indigenous people, incorporate gender perspectives, how to address livelihoods, environment, food security and so on.
The next speaker was Freedom-kai Phillips. Phillips’ discussion was on SDG (Sustainable Development Goals) 12, an agenda created as a plan of action for people, the planet and prosperity. SDG 12 is a trade focus goal and is on sustainable consumption and production. On a macro scale, SDG 12 aims to establish a ten-year plan on developing mechanisms for sustainable consumption and production. It acknowledges natural resource extractions and will implement ways to minimize negative effects and have sound management of chemicals in transit. Furthermore, not only did Phillips talk about SDG 12, but he also brought to attention on legal instruments that are in place to help facilitate, implement and achieve sustainable consumption and production; obstacles interfering the achievement of SDG 12; parallel institutional governing arrangements that may help assist facilitate such barriers; and lastly, any interfaces with other SDGs.
The final speaker was Conner Tidd. Tidd started the presentation with his experience working with one of the largest industrial agricultural corporations. Tidd shared lessons he learned, in hopes to benefit those who wish to pursue a career in the development, sustainability or environmental field.
- Individuals need to work with actors of large corporations to solve issues. In regards to sustainability issues, these issues are complex and are multifactorial. Instead of solving these problems, environmentalists need to be encouraged to work with big corporations that are contributing to these issues.
- Individuals need to work with people and understand how those individuals care about the environment. Everyone has different goals, no one wishes to ruin the earth. A majority of individuals care for the environment, just in different ways.
- Understanding the different languages of business, academia, and science activism; as well as learning how to bridge those gaps. Many corporations have their own academic messages. When learning and understanding the different languages, individuals can bridge gaps and groups are able to effectively communicate with one another.
- Understand the difference between a social license to operate and regulatory approval.
- Despite all the negativity regarding the rise of global climate change, nationalism and protectionism; individuals need to understand there is a diverse amount of people that are also continuously fighting and thinking about these issues.
- When given an opportunity to work in a large corporation, or an activist NGO with practices the individual doesn’t agree with, take it and bridge the gaps and understand how the other side thinks. Many times, larger corporations have an order of magnitude and resources above what many individuals, or what other NGO’s have.