In recent years, corporations have been under the pressure to deal with the rising number of social and environmental problems connected to their production processes. Growing availability of social and environmental data about products leads to an unprecedented consumer and investor awareness and to expectations for a new level of accountability and transparency. Products now have a biography of “harm-doing”. Major international corporations have reacted to pressure from NGOs and the media and have even initiated corporate social responsibility (CSR) measures in their supply chains over the last few years. Global environmental challenges, and in particular climate change, as well as limited natural resources like water and oil, motivate businesses and governments alike to take action. However, the challenge of reducing or alleviating social and environmental harm in production raises numerous questions requiring solid scientific research: How can child labour be abolished, for example, in the Ivory Coast? What does it mean to pay a fair wage and how can this be organized across a supply chain? How can the energy efficiency of a supply chain be improved? How can corporations calculate and reduce their water footprint along their supply chains? How can unsustainable consumer routines be changed? What would an internet platform look like that processes sustainability data for various target groups? These questions illustrate the range of trans-disciplinary questions behind the ambitious idea of sustainable production and consumption.
The goal of the World Knowledge Dialogue -- 2011 is to examine how academic institutions of Western Switzerland – including the Universities of Geneva, Lausanne and Neuchâtel (Triangle Azur), the Swiss Institute of Technology of Lausanne (EPFL), and the Kurt Boesch Institute (referred to as Triangle Azur & consort) – can develop a pole of excellence in research on the problem of sustainable production and consumption, in partnership with a new THINK AND DO TANK (Institute for Social and Environmental Responsibility and Verification) being established in Geneva by the Fair Labor Association and its president Auret van Heerden. This new initiative aims at establishing a space for the development of strategies to solve pressing social and environmental problems along global production networks. It also reflects the growing awareness of the Universities of Western Switzerland that sustainability starts at home.
The World Knowledge Dialogue -- 2011 will examine how the Triangle Azur & consort can concretely cooperate with the Institute. The Safe Space the Institute will create aims at providing a neutral zone of knowledge and deliberation, bringing corporations, NGOs and other actors together to understand the landscape of social and environmental problems behind global production and consumption processes and to develop procedures and standards for solving these problems. The Triangle Azur & consort could be the research engine behind this Institute – the think-tank part of this THINK AND DO TANK.
In combination, the Triangle Azur & consort possess of a rich pool of expertise to address sustainability challenges. They could benefit from cooperation with the Institute by bundling their expertise in sustainability and by developing an international profile as a place for research and teaching in sustainability. This initiative would also embed them in an international network of highly renowned universities that already connected to the Institute via the Fair Labor Association.
Conference Draft by:
Auret van Heerden, President of the Fair Labor Organization
Prof. Yves Flueckiger, University of Geneva
Prof. Ellen Hertz, University of Neuchâtel
Prof. Guido Palazzo, University of Lausanne