Influencing business to implement existing legislation

17 December 2019

When nature conservationists engage with the private sector in order to protect or restore vulnerable ecosystems, they often work with a select group of businesses willing to go the extra mile for the environment. But what if instead of focusing on these frontrunners, they would focus on influencing businesses towards the implementation of existing legislation?

There is no one-size fits all when it comes to business engagement. Romie Goedicke of IUCN NL and Nadine McCormick of the IUCN Global Business & Biodiversity Programme support civil society organisations across the globe in their efforts to engage businesses to reduce the impact of their operations on the environment. “In each individual case, we need to be clear on the change we want to see and understanding why it is not happening,” Nadine McCormick states. “Is it a lack of awareness, a lack of will, a lack of “business case”, or a lack of knowledge or resources to take action? In each case, a tailored intervention is needed.”

Compliance with existing legislation

When defining the most suitable intervention, the opportunities that come with existing legislation shouldn’t be overlooked. “Most countries have laws and regulations to protect natural resources from harmful business operations,” Romie Goedicke explains. “The problem is: in many cases, these aren’t widely implemented and the government bodies that need to ensure compliance, have insufficient capacity to do so.”

Research by S. Díaz et al. in Science 366 mentions that the improved implementation and enforcement of existing environmental policies and regulations is one important avenue to transformation.

Watchdog and lever

Civil society organisations have an important watchdog role to play regarding both uncompliant businesses and negligent authorities. “Yet they also often have the lever to convince companies to adopt more sustainable practices,” Goedicke states. “Whether it is by engaging in a constructive dialogue, or by starting a campaign, civil society has the power to influence business towards the implementation of existing legislation.” In addition, such engagement can serve as an entry point to develop sustainable business cases.

Nature benefits from implementation

These two examples show how implementation of existing legislation benefits nature.

Tax money to protect water sources in Burkina Faso

In Burkina Faso, mining companies are legally required to pay taxes to the water authority. Part of this tax revenue is disbursed to the local water committees responsible for the protection of riverbanks and activities to prevent erosion and siltation - exactly what is needed to safeguard water quality and quantity in the long run. “But many companies didn’t pay their taxes and the government seemed unable to follow up,” McCormick explains.

Pressure from civil society organisations through the media and through meetings with the Chamber of Mines triggered many mining companies to start paying their taxes. “Now that more tax money is effectively collected, the water committees have the means to carry out their activities to protect the country’s water sources.”

Protection of river banks in Uganda

In Uganda, sugarcane is in the top 3 of agricultural commodities. It contributes to 13% of the country’s total tax revenue and provides direct and indirect employment to 70,000 people. The cultivation and processing of sugar produce environmental impacts through the loss of natural habitats, intensive use of water, heavy use of agro-chemicals, discharge and runoff of polluted effluent and air pollution.

When the company Kinyara Sugar announced plans to double its production, IUCN NL and its local partner EcoTrust feared the impact that would have on biodiversity in the Albertine Rift. But when it comes to cultivation on river banks, they had the law on their side. “In Uganda, no cultivation is allowed within 20 meters from the river bank,” Goedicke explains. “Our partners made the Kinyara Sugar aware of this regulation and the company was keen to comply.”

Kinyara Sugar grows about 11,300 ha sugarcane within its own estate and through a system of 6,000 outgrowers. ”The smallholder sugar cane producers that Kinyara buys from pose both a challenge and an opportunity,” Goedicke explains. “The company will have to make them aware and convince them to follow the law.” 

EcoTrust is currently working with Kinyara Sugar to look at how they can minimize impact on nature whilst expanding productivity, for example by agronomic improvement by its outgrowers.

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