This week, we are celebrating HYY’s Sustainable Development Week, which is part of SYL’s ‘Sustainability holds us up, uphold sustainability’ project. During the week, we will learn about the UN’s Agenda 2030 goals and particularly goal 12, which focuses on the sustainability of consumption and production methods and responsible consumption.
What is responsible consumption?
According to the 2021 Youth Barometer, many young people consider influencing matters through purchasing decisions very efficient, and many of us want to consume responsibly. However, everyone has not put responsible consumption into practice yet, and no wonder: it has not been made easy for us. The most responsible choice is always something you already have at home, while buying second-hand is often the next best option. However, this is not always possible.
When buying new things, I personally consider social, ecological and ethical perspectives on them, for instance. However, finding this information has often been made difficult, and the company’s website does not always mention the conditions of the product’s production. And who even has the time to go through all this when shopping for groceries? Not to mention that responsible products are often more expensive than other options. Why do we even have irresponsible products available? Morals and responsibility should not be a luxury for the rich – they should be the default setting.
What is an act on corporate social responsibility?
Responsibility is currently voluntary for companies, and it is difficult for consumers to find responsible companies among all the green- and pinkwashing. Irresponsibly operating companies may have an advantage over their competitors when the origin of ingredients or production methods do not matter. One solution proposed to this is an act on corporate social responsibility that is meant to create a level playing field for both irresponsible and responsible companies through regulation. Such an act could, for instance, require companies to pay living wages to all employees in their production chain and ensure the ecological sustainability of their operation. This would make responsible consumption easier – none of us wants to support human rights violations or environmental crimes, after all.
HYY’s real estate and restaurant group Ylva is also known for its responsibility – the company states that it wants to be a pioneer of responsibility. This means that an act on corporate social responsibility would also benefit Ylva and, through it, the Student Union, as other companies no longer gain an advantage by acting irresponsibly.
The current government programme includes an entry on enacting an act on corporate social responsibility, but the act has fallen through due to political opposition. However, an EU-level act on corporate social responsibility is currently in preparation, although it unfortunately also has its flaws. Problems with the European Commission’s proposal include it not requiring companies to publish information on their production chains, provide the victims with compensation for damages caused by forced labour or prove that the products are free from forced labour. Without any information on the production chain, it is difficult or even impossible to assess the responsibility of a product. On clothes, for instance, the country of origin often refers to the place in which the product was put together. However, this offers no help with judging whether the cotton used in a t-shirt was produced using forced labour or whether the fabric’s production involved environmental violations.
Responsible consumption should be easier than irresponsible consumption. For this reason, we need a goal-oriented EU-level act on corporate social responsibility and a national act on corporate social responsibility to complement it.
Come and learn more about responsible consumption on HYY’s Sustainable Development Week! Check out the programme for the entire week here (the link opens in a new tab).
Member of the Board in charge of sustainable development
Student Union of the University of Helsinki (HYY)