On Thursday 4 February, Ann Claes CEO of JBC and I handed over a letter to the Minister of Development Cooperation Meryame Kitir and the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economy and Labour Pierre-Yves Dermagne.
This letter, signed by 60 Belgian companies (large and small), is addressed to the government to ask it to develop a national legal framework obliging companies to take responsibility for the respect of human rights and the environment in their supply chains. We are supported in this by the Trade for Development Centre of Enabel and Fairtrade Belgium.
Here is what I wanted to say to them. Because being a sustainable brand is good, but having an approach to legislate on the matter, for a more responsible future, is obviously what motivates me every day. The more sustainable companies there are, the more human rights are respected throughout the supply chain, the more our world will be able to afford a more acceptable future for the generations to come.
Here is the speech I gave.
Dear Minister Kitir, Dear Minister Dermagne, Dear ladies and gentlemen of the ministerial cabinets, dear journalists, thank you for your presence at this historic event. Mrs Claes, we also thank you all for your welcome here at the JBC shop in Evere.
Madam Minister and Mr. Minister
I dared to say historic event because it is indeed the first time that the economic world, more precisely 60 pioneer companies and federations, have asked the Belgian government to legislate on the duty of care of companies.
We are aware that this is not an easy matter to legislate, but companies that adopt sustainable practices will be the most competitive in the future. And it is precisely to support you that this initiative was born, to show you that it is above all companies that are asking for legislation at national level for the Duty of Vigilance to be compulsory for all companies in the Kingdom and not only the large companies listed on the stock exchange.
And why? Quite simply:
Because “turning a blind eye” is no longer acceptable, and in 2021 it is no longer conceivable to do “Business” or “Trade” without it being fair, without respect for living beings and the environment and therefore without a duty of vigilance on what is happening in the supply chains.
Because young entrepreneurs already almost systematically include this issue in the development of new businesses. This proves that it is possible, even for SMEs, VSEs and start-ups.
Because we need real and large-scale impacts, with a concrete policy and not just administrative or too easy to comply with. It is essential to have real impacts on the environment, on the living conditions of workers and producers on the ground.
Because it is necessary to be able to effectively guarantee access to social justice for those affected and harmed.
And finally, because there is real unfair competition between companies that produce with their eyes closed and those that try to work and produce with respect and vigilance over their activities.
Probably no one will disagree with me that the textile sector in the world is probably one of the most criticised sectors both for its negative social and environmental impacts linked to its complexity and the extent of the supply chains. It is therefore no coincidence that the two spokespersons here represent the textile sector, even if other sectors are also very involved, such as chocolate, coffee, distribution and others that we will let you discover in the Letter. But the two spokespersons here :
We wanted to show you that if the textile industry, which represents almost 20% of the companies that have signed the letter, can commit to a Duty of Care, then all other sectors can do so too.
Mrs Claes represents JBC, a large company that is part of a flourishing Belgian group, and I represent Kalani-home, a fast-growing small business. Because the Duty of Vigilance concerns both large and small companies.
Mrs Claes represents the Flemish part of Belgium and I represent the French-speaking part, because the whole of Belgium is concerned.
I will conclude with a quote from the great French economist Jean Monnet:
“Men only accept change when it is necessary, and they only see necessity in a crisis. ”
The issues of sustainable development should not be options, but basic mandatory standards for companies to do business. The new generations have better integrated the need to collaborate and respect in order to prosper while securing the future. But we urgently need a legal framework to accelerate this change, because even if small drops of water make big rivers, there is an urgency today and we have no more time to look at the passing of time.
It is 2021, and we are in the midst of probably the biggest economic crisis in decades. There was a before, and there will be an after Covid or with Covid, I am personally convinced that any crisis has catastrophic impacts on people and organisations, but also that any crisis offers opportunities for major change for a better world, and it is up to us citizens, entrepreneurs and business leaders, but also to you Ministers, politicians and decision-makers to think together, to collaborate hand in hand in order to write a new chapter of history and to draw what we want the world of tomorrow to become so as not to return to the shortcomings of the past which belong to the 20th century. You have the keys in hand and we offer you our experience and expertise, surrounded by professionals, federations, organisations and associations who together will be able to give you all the necessary information to enable you to make the right decisions on this crucial subject of the Duty of Vigilance of companies.
Thank you for being here today, thank you for accepting this letter, which we entrust to you in the hope of raising awareness and changing policy.
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