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Abbott speaks in Geneva on voluntary Free Trade standards

November 04, 2008

Professor Kenneth Abbott of the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law recently gave a keynote speech at a conference in Geneva, Switzerland, in which he addressed voluntary standards for social and environmental issues in the context of new forms of international regulation and global governance.

The conference was sponsored by the International Social and Environmental Accreditation and Labeling (ISEAL) Alliance, a formal collaboration of leading international standard-setting and conformity assessment organizations focused on social and environmental issues. 

The member institutions of ISEAL sponsor voluntary standards for business conduct, especially in terms of environmental performance, worker and human rights, poverty alleviation and food safety. 

Examples of these institutions include the Fairtrade Labeling Organization, which certifies the farms, traders and roasters that produce Fair Trade coffee, as well as many other Fair Trade products; and the Forest Stewardship Council, which certifies forests that are managed sustainably and with respect for the people living there. 

“Increasingly, businesses are signing on to standards like these,” Abbott said. “You can get Fair Trade coffee at lots of places, and Home Depot has agreed to buy a certain percentage of FSC-certified lumber.

“But the subject of this conference was the interesting new development that governments are also using these standards instead of (or in addition to) regulating directly themselves.”

For example, Tuscany, Italy, has signed up to work with a program called Social Accountability International to certify its small businesses as friendly to workers and socially responsible, to help it develop a new commercial identity as “Toscana Ethica”; Belgium is promoting Fair Trade certification in developing countries to help them increase the value of their exports; and Guatemala has contracted with the Forest Stewardship Council to manage its Maya Biosphere Reserve.  

The conference included representatives from various governments, international organizations, and the private standards groups themselves. 

Abbott also will speak on the same subject at a two-day conference of European scholars at Leuven University in Belgium later this month.

Judy Nichols,
(480) 727-7895
Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law