Five Years After Rana Plaza: Time to Create Change

As we move into the second half of the SMART project, we are gradually shifting our focus from research to results. We know that the successful implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) requires unprecedented collaboration within and beyond academia, and we are ready to play our part.

Today marks five years after the Rana Plaza catastrophe where over 1100 humans lost their lives.

Five years after the Rana Plaza tragedy, where an eight-story building collapsed and killed over 1100 people, leaving many more scarred for life and unable to work, we are constantly reminded of the horrendous exploitation of human beings that takes place throughout global value chains of products we buy in higher-income countries. At the same time, ever clearer reports show that we through ‘business as usual’ continue transgressing the core planetary boundaries of climate change and biodiversity, putting the very basis of humanity at risk.

We urgently need to find out how we can create change.

By August 2018, SMART will have completed its comprehensive analysis that looks at state-of-the-art market actors’ contribution to sustainability. Concentrating on the global value chains of products sold in Europe, we map the barriers that keep market actors from ensuring human rights are respected and the environment protected, and the gaps and incoherencies in the regulatory frameworks that allow this unsustainable ‘business as usual’ to continue. We also identify possibilities that need to be enhanced if we collectively are to meet the SDGs.

With our comprehensive analysis as the foundation, we produce guidelines for improved impact assessment for the EU’s policy coherence work, and develop reform proposals to achieve the necessary changes. The EU is the main recipient of our reform proposals. However, reform proposals may also be directed towards other legislative and policy levels, and we will also develop proposals for market actors who have ambitious plans for their sustainability agenda.

As the Bangladesh Accord 2018 shows, where many large textile brands have committed to ensuring the safety of workers in factories in their supply chains, many market actors wish to contribute to change. On a more general note, thought leaders in business are discussing how to achieve the transition from linear and unsustainable to circular and sustainable business models. Investors are starting to see the contours of the financial risks of fossil-fueled and unsustainable projects and businesses, and the importance of shifting to renewables-based and sustainable ones.

Still, a number of barriers prevent investors from realizing the full potential of this shift, and from being a positive influence for long-term and sustainable business. Businesses struggle to break away from market pressures demanding cheap products to end-users and high returns to investors. Progress is too slow, and based on our research, we see potential for contributing to a faster transition to sustainable finance and business.

One of our SMART initiatives is the development of a Sustainable Governance Model. This a systematic approach for businesses to implement the SDGs through a commitment to creating sustainable value within planetary boundaries, and integrate that commitment throughout the business. Together with the work-in-progress Sustainability Assessment Tool, the model gives businesses the possibility of a research-based and stringent assessment of the business’ sustainability impacts. Our initiative provides businesses with a basis for continuous improvement processes and better internal and external communication about their sustainability impact.

We have initiated the SMART Investor Forum and the SMART Business Forum to engage more deeply with investors and businesses. The SMART Forums provide a space for mutual learning and exchange of knowledge in an inclusive and friendly environment. The Forums are also our opportunity to receive feedback on our research and reform proposal.

We look forward to working together to create the change necessary to achieve sustainability.


By Beate Sjåfjell
Published Apr. 24, 2018 12:32 PM - Last modified Apr. 25, 2018 2:29 PM