Bridge over troubled waters: How can we bury the hatchet between industry and civil society?

Photo by John Nelson, Kumacaya

Bridge over troubled waters: How can we bury the hatchet between industry and civil society?

The production of everything from shirts to foods has an impact on people and the planet. In fact, palm oil, soy, beef and wood products alone are responsible for 70% of global deforestation. Clearly, sustainable business practices are urgently needed to solve the problems evoked by unsustainable production.

This is why, the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals include goal #12 on sustainable consumption and production. Implementation of this goal, among other things, implies that businesses build well-functioning monitoring to track their environmental impact, so they can achieve sustainable and efficient use of natural resources, reducing waste and pollution.

The idea to monitor resource extraction or cultivation that businesses do on the ground is not new. However, this monitoring has traditionally been performed by the companies themselves, which has raised a lot of concerns about the quality of such evaluations. Hence, there has been a continuous lack of trust and antagonism between businesses and non-profits and even between businesses within the same supply chain.

The main reason for this distrust is suspicion that the consultants who perform environmental and other monitoring for companies are biased and involved in the so-called “greenwashing”. Vice versa, when Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) raise concerns about unsustainable business practices, the private sector often meets it with low confidence and dismisses these concerns as political activism with little scientific backing.

In short, there have been very few opportunities for companies and civil society to come together on neutral grounds .Hopefully, the vision set by the SDGs, can unite the parties. In fact, there is at least one promising approach to develop the interface for their interaction.

It all starts with a word

Kumacaya – a name that stems from the Bambara word “Ka Kuma” (meaning “to talk”), and the Bahasa word “Percaya” (meaning “to trust”) is a brand new initiative by The Forest Trust (TFT). The goal is to improve non-biased monitoring and build trust between the commercial sector and CSO’s. We sat down with John Nelson, the leader of the initiative, and Charlotte Goubin, the manager of the programme, to dive into the details of Kumacaya.

“I remember when I was working for an NGO I couldn’t even get into a company’s office,” says John when explaining why there is a need to bridge this trust-gap. Kumacaya is rooted in the idea that local civil society organisations often have the best grasp of what is happening on the ground, and that companies should tap into this resource when investing in sustainability of their operations.

TFT has been investigating adverse environmental and social impact of commercial activities before, and has developed a remote sensing tool called Starling, to measure land use change and deforestation. The method has its strong points, but is generally better at observing change rather than explaining the reasons behind it.


This blogpost was originally published for SIANI, access the full text here.

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