As one of the major economic powers in the world, China has a significant role to play in our planet’s future. Solidaridad maintains a strong presence in the country to ensure that China continues to develop as a sustainable market and responsible investor.
Chinese consumers and regulators are demanding higher sustainability standards from players in the agriculture value chain. This has consequences for a range of sectors. For instance, domestic food producers that are promoting industry standards will be supported by government policy, including the new food safety law, implemented in October 2015.
Meanwhile, international corporations which depend on commodities are able to harness consumers’ demand for brands perceived to be “sustainable”. They need to work hard to protect this brand value.
The shift toward sustainable agriculture and business shows long-term changes in China’s development philosophy. The meaning of social progress will no longer be confined to economic growth and material improvement but framed by a holistic concept of sustainable development. Alongside internal changes, China’s leadership is determined to strengthen international efforts because the boundaries between domestic and international affairs are becoming blurred and the country has become an important actor at the centre of the global system.
From a series of recent developments within the Chinese government, we can see that the promotion of national regulations and participation in global governance have become dominant trends in China’s policies. We expect that China will pay more attention to environmental protection, climate change and other issues of sustainable development related to global challenges and Solidaridad China is ready to support the changes that matter.
China is facing multiple environmental and development challenges simultaneously. Some of these include scarcity of arable land and water, a rising middle class with changing consumption behaviours, and a lack of convincing business cases for Chinese companies to develop sustainability policies.
For many developing countries, including China, the need to increase incomes at the same time as reducing environmental damage represents a real policy dilemma. Developmental and sustainable agriculture needs, together with the macroeconomic imbalances of China, put pressure on its natural resources in order to keep health threats such as air pollution and food safety issues under control.
Additionally, with regards to the scale of some corporate commitments like zero deforestation in global commodity supply chains, we quickly see how this is going to be more complicated than companies have anticipated. It will require a more proactive stakeholder engagement process to achieve food security, sustainable development and other global goals outlined in the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
A variety of achievements characterize Solidaridad’s journey in China: from an unknown NGO to a key local player. In the past few years, Solidaridad has launched several first-time programmes and created impact in a relatively new region. For example, the Better Mill Initiative, launched in 2013, saved 6.3 million tonnes of water, reduced 138,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions and increased company awareness sustainability issues.
In 2015, Solidaridad launched the China-South America Sustainable Soy Trade Platform (SSTP), which encourages soy importers from China to adopt responsible procurement policies. In the same year, Solidaridad facilitated the launch of the China Sustainable Palm Oil Working Group as a permanent mechanism for stakeholder dialogue.
During this time, the Solidaridad family has contributed to the programmes’ successes, but they know that focus, long-term diligence and effort is required to achieve complex and difficult goals in China.
Better Cotton Initiative
With the first pilot project launched in 2010, Solidaridad has helped to pave the way for the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) in China. After overseeing the first verified cotton in 2012, Solidaridad launched the first project for smallholders in China’s Hebei province in 2013.
The textiles programme in China focuses on bringing measurable environmental and social benefits to printing and dyeing factories in China. The Better Mill Initiative, launched in 2013, was initially a collaboration between Solidaridad and H&M. Other brands have since joined including C&A, Primark, New Look and Tommy Hilfiger.
- Palm oil
As the second largest palm oil importing country in the world with about 6 million tonnes of imports annually since 2009, China is no doubt a key player in promoting sustainable palm oil. Solidaridad works to contribute to sustainable procurement of palm oil with respect for nature and people.
With the Chinese market now accounting for 60% of global soy imports, Solidaridad’s strategy is focused on the demand side to not only promote responsible production, but also responsible procurement.
In 2017, the cotton project supported 1,650 farmers in cultivating sustainable cotton in Guazhou City with a total area of 1,35.86 hectares. The project focussed on reducing the application of fertilizers and chemicals, promoting water saving technology and integrated pest management techniques as well as decent work and field management for improving fibre quality. At the end of 2017, a total of 7,085 tonnes of seed cotton was certificated by the Better Cotton Initiative.
China entered a new era of setting sustainable development at the forefront of the political and economic agendas. Through innovative approaches to address China’s environmental footprint both domestically and abroad, Solidaridad worked directly in the sectors of manufacturing, agriculture and international commodity trade to bring continual improvement of environmental and social performances balanced with economic growth.
With growing concerns over water scarcity and climate change, Solidaridad leads with sustainability as a viable investment for the future of the Chinese market.
Given that China has the highest demand for global commodity imports such as palm oil and soy, Solidaridad is engaging with key stakeholders to explore China’s potential role as model for promoting sustainability worldwide.
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