Industry voice needed in benefit sharing negotiations

By Katie Bird

- Last updated on GMT

Industry can still make its mark on negotiations that will clarify a company’s responsibilities to indigenous communities when sourcing biodiversity-based products.

Cosmetics and fragrance companies were recently picked out by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) as being particularly ignorant when it comes to sharing the benefits derived from local knowledge and products with the source community.

As a result, the Union for Ethical BioTrade, which helps to promote sustainable and ethical trade in biodiversity-based products, pledged to encourage the industry to adhere to the benefit sharing principles of the CBD.

Source communities should benefit

In essence, the idea is to share the benefits derived from the use of biodiversity with the community who has protected the resources and the knowledge. But, in practice this is rife with complications.

The Convention, an international agreement covering all aspects of biodiversity, was signed back in 1992. And, according to the Union for Ethical BioTrade’s Maria Julia Oliva, the issue of equitable benefit sharing has been a critical and thorny one from the start.

A working group was given the task, back in 2004, to elaborate an international regime that would effectively implement the CBD’s take on benefit sharing.

However, the 2010 deadline is approaching and much remains undecided, said Oliva.

“We have a skeleton of an agreement but there is still a lot of disagreement as to what is important, leaving lots of scope for engagement with the process,”​ she said.

Lack of awareness in the industry

One of the concerns is that, due to a lack of awareness and therefore involvement on the part of cosmetics companies, the outcome of the negotiations may not reflect their needs.

The experience of cosmetics companies is very different from the pharmaceutical paradigm that has been very influential in the dialogue.

Cosmetics manufacturers often wish to create longer relationships with the source country, creating employment within the community, and it is important this is reflected in the negotiations, she said.

This spring the Union are running a number of industry events that aim to increase awareness of the issue within the industry.

For Oliva, the aim is to have a better idea of how the industry can get involved with the negotiations, and how the union can better represent its members on this topic, by the next working group meeting in April.

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