【Opinion】 Cooperatives should work to raise public awareness of Sustainable Development Goals (Nov. 19, 2018)

[By Yuichiro Nakagawa, professor emeritus of Meiji University]

In September 2015, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution “Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” which states the member countries’ “unwavering commitment” to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals “to stimulate action over the next 15 years in areas of critical importance for humanity and the planet.”

Hiroko Kuniya, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)’s National Goodwill Ambassador for Japan, discusses in a round-table talk published in a cooperative studies quarterly magazine “Niji” three reasons why the SDGs were created and how they differ from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set by the U.N. member states in 2000.

Three reasons behind creation of SDGS

First, they seek to build on the MDGs implemented between 2000 and 2015 to support people in developing countries and complete what they did not achieve, including eradication of hunger and poverty and realizing universal access to education.

Second, climate change is putting the global environment at risk.

Third, the world is facing immense new social challenges, such as rising inequalities and disparities of wealth, the instabilities which are threatening to reverse much of the development progress.

Kuniya said the SDGs differ from the MDGs which were designed for governments, non-governmental organizations and nonprofit organizations including cooperatives to lead efforts to help poor people. The SDGs are built on the recognition that, like the serious adverse effects of climate change, existing social, economic and environmental problems are all global challenges which both developed and developing nations should collectively and comprehensively work on solving.

Private companies’ role

The resolution also states that in addition to governments, non-governmental organizations and NPOs, the private sector, ranging from micro-enterprises, cooperatives to multinationals, has a role to play in implementing the agenda. Many companies would be willing to take part in the initiative, considering that the SDGs will offer various business opportunities to ambitious companies.

As Kuniya said, companies’ efforts to achieve SDGs – as seen in a plan launched by Marks & Spencer (M&S), a British retailer of clothing, food and home products – will largely appeal to consumers. M&S, which is well aware of the significance of many British citizens participating in fair trade as part of citizenship activities, has long been the rival of British cooperatives and has been competing with them in selling fair trade tea, coffee and chocolate.

I welcome the fact that similar trends are seen in Japan regarding SDGs. I want to emphasize the need for cooperatives, such as agriculture coops and consumers’ coops, to create more opportunities to explain to citizens the concept of cooperative identity.

Lastly, I would like to introduce Kuniya’s comment about the need to create a system to certify sustainable products.

“From a consumer’s standpoint, I feel that Japan lacks a certification system that lets consumers know to what extent the products they are buying are made of materials that contribute to sustainability of a certain region and are produced with impressively sustainable manufacturing and processing methods,” Kuniya said. “I often hear that certification systems in Japan are not integrated and don’t align with international standards, and are quite behind in areas of agriculture and fisheries.”

This is a comment that tells us to recognize the social responsibility of the cooperative movement.

<Born in 1946 in Shizuoka Prefecture, Yuichiro Nakagawa has served as professor at Meiji University’s school of political science and economics. He is a former chairman of the Japanese Society for Co-operative Studies and chairman of Robert Owen Association of Japan.>

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