EU external action could boost sustainable and inclusive business models, says report

The report suggests a series of recommendations to amplify the impact of sustainable and inclusive business models, including co-ops

Sustainable and inclusive businesses (SIBs) with participatory governance structures and clear environmental and social impacts can help to reshape Europe’s economy, argues a new report.

Produced by Cooperatives EuropeFair Trade Advocacy Office and Concord, the report highlights the main characteristics of different sustainable and inclusive business models, such as being driven by a social and environmental mission underpinned by values, participatory decision-making and inclusive governance.

It also looks at the challenges they face in EU member states – such as low awareness, unsuitable legal and regulatory frameworks, uneven playing fields, poor access to financial and technical support, and learning and exchange gaps.

In terms of how the EU and its member states can support sustainable businesses, the report calls for a more enabling environment, alongside targeted political and financial support. There is scope for more effective support which would allow such businesses to reach their full potential around the world – through development cooperation, investments, trade and economic diplomacy.

Sustainable businesses featured in the report include the Holy Land Handicraft Cooperative Society. Based in Bethlehem, in the occupied Palestinian territory, it enables local handicraft producers to sell their products outside the area at fair prices. HLHCS prioritises good working conditions and environmental practices, says the report.

Another case study is Manos del Uruguay, an artisan-led fashion producer, Fairtrade enterprise and brand owned by 12 women’s producer co-operatives across Uruguay. The co-op reinvests surpluses or redistributes them to benefit the producers. It also takes into account environmental impacts, the circular economy of supply chains, and product life cycles by repurposing unused yarn and maintaining a small-scale supply chain.

Likewise, in Pune, India, the worker-owned co-op SWaCH is improving the livelihoods of over 3,000 waste-pickers, most of whom are women from socially disadvantaged groups, in the informal economy. The co-op enables women members to improve occupational safety and health, obtain waste-picker government ID cards, benefit from training and participate in democratic decision making.

The report warns that although “there are many policies, funds and activities that support certain types of SIBMs, the EC in the past has mostly highlighted the social objectives and less so the environmental part of the mission”. It warns about a tendency to neglect the other structural characteristic of SIBMs, such as inclusive governance, in the instruments in internal as well as external policies.

The report was prepared within the framework of the ICA-EU Partnership on international development (#coops4dev). The full report is available on Cooperatives Europe’s website.

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