Union to help companies protect global biodiversity

By Katie Bird

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Biodiversity

The Union for Ethical Biotrade was launched at this year's Beyond
Beauty trade show, in order to protect the world's biodiversity and
the communities that look after them.

In a conference at the Paris show, the president of the union Gus Le Breton was joined by Maria Julia Olive from the Union for United Nations Convention of Trade and Development (UNCTAD), and Leandro Machado from Natura Cosmetics, Brazil. The UEBT is a non profit organisation that aims to bring together private companies, NGOs and other interested organisations who wish to work towards protecting the world's natural biodiversity. The cause is particularly pertinent at present, as the increasing popularity for natural products is leading cosmetics companies to search for new, 'exotic', natural ingredients for their formulations. The union aims to support the contribution of the private sector to the sustainable use of biodiversity, recognising the need for support and input from private companies that trade in the field. Membership to the Union will be granted to companies who comply, or wish to comply with the Biotrade principles from UNCTAD. Maria Julia Olive, from UNCTAD, explained that the Biotrade principles include three main objectives - the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and the equitable sharing of benefits from the use of biodiversity. According to Olive, the indirect and direct contribution of the use of biological resources to the global economy is estimated to be approximately 40 per cent, illustrating the integral role private companies have to play. Olive went on to explain that it is the use, not the safeguarding, of biodiversity resources that will play the central role in their conservation. Indeed, the emphasis of UNCTAD's principles and the UEBT lies in the conservation through sustainable use, not through the prohibitive protection, of biodiversity resources. The key to UNCTAD's Biotrade principles, and the most problematic to adhere to, is the notion of equitable benefit sharing, explained Olive. Olive described this as the sharing of benefits derived from the use of biodiversity with the community who have protected the resources and the knowledge. However, for private companies wishing to source active ingredients from third world countries, much remains unclear. For example the question of who should receive benefits, the government, the community or certain individuals, remains complex. Likewise questions remain over what form the benefits should take and at what stage in the formulation/marketing process they should be given. The formation of the UEBT promises to help companies adhere to these principles via the sharing of knowledge and expertise between companies with similar goals. In addition, it hopes to provide the possibility for companies to demonstrate corporate social responsibility, make a positive contribution to conserving biodiversity, and provide tangible business benefits to those involved, as membership to the union represents a market differentiator for companies. The UEBT however has no plans to release some kind of label which would provide an easy way for members of the union, and their products, to differentiate from non members in the market place. This last point appears to be somewhat contentious. Many members of the audience felt that a label of some kind would be needed in order for companies, particularly small ones, to reap the benefits of market differentiation. Le Breton explained that due to the proliferation of labels denoting everything from natural and organic to fair trade and vegetarian, individual labelling systems were losing their power. Instead he stated that the UEBT hoped other certification systems, such as fair-trade, may take the UEBT's principles on board and widen their existing labels. Adding that, for the moment at least, it was not strategic for the UEBT to release its own labelling and certification system.

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