Industrial vibes

Will solutions of the North work in the South?

Published: Sunday 31 May 1998

Industrial vibes

Industry and freshwater. "The challenge is to create the market conditions whereby sustainability will form the basis of competitiveness," Bausuano added.

"Voluntary commitment cannot be a substitute to legislation," said Bjorn Stigson, president, WBCSD. "It can only complement an on-going process. In developing countries, voluntary effort will have to come from the big industries, and the legislation that is in place will have to look after the small and medium scale industry," Stigson pointed out.

Whatever they may have to say on record, it was evident at CSD-6 that industry saw "voluntary commitment" as an opportunity to have their say in a big way. And they did. They pushed for freer markets, stable and predictable trade rules, realistic environmental targets, a common international framework, and even a situation whereby voluntary commitment could "overcome expensive command and control systems".

Desai said that industry could engage in consultations with all stakeholders from the initial stages of policy formulations. "Governments could consider such dialogues at the national level," he pointed out.

Paul Clements-Hunt of the International Chambers of Commerce, which represents a larger number of industries and countries than does the WBCSD, said that joint understanding of voluntary codes was a prerequisite for constructive dialogue.

While NGOs from the North were open to this development, their counterparts from the South had doubts. It was pointed out that industry in the South had a poor record of adherence to environmental standards. Would the governments of the South be able to enforce environ-mental norms if industry has a greater role in something as essential as managing resources of freshwater? Almost a contradiction. But these two issues dominated CSD-6 from day one. In the words of Nitin Desai, under secretary general, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), the biggest challenge of CSD-6 was to see how industry could make a greater contribution to sustainable development and how the international community could formulate an integrated strategy in water management. What emerged in the end, was the fact that industry is indeed being viewed as an equal partner in sustainable development.

The issue that caught the imagination of CSD-6 as far as the industry segment was concerned was voluntary commitment. The North saw this as a development worth getting excited about. On the surface, industry was circumspect. Dom Bausuano of the World Business Council on Sustainable Development (WBCSD) said that market-driven industry would respond to public perceptions.

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