Companies should act early on new international biodiversity legislation

By Katie Bird

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Sustainability Biodiversity

Recent international talks in Nagoya, Japan, have resulted in the adoption of an international regime that will force companies to change the way they source their natural ingredients…although, not immediately.

While the nuts and bolts of what this will mean to cosmetics and fragrance companies are still unclear, and enforcing this regulation is still a long way off, reacting early to these principles can help companies in a number of ways.

Access rights and benefit sharing

Under the Nagoya Protocol, companies will have to get access rights before they can start research and development on plants as well as being obliged to share the benefits resulting from the use of this biodiversity.

The objective behind the regime is to drive the equitable sharing of benefits resulting from the use of genetic resources, contributing to the sustainable use and conservation of biodiversity.

Last month’s Nagoya Protocol is the result of years of international negotiation, and much still remains to be debated at both an international and national level.

For example, no direction as to who should be contacted for access, or what benefits should be paid and to whom, can be found within the Protocol. Nor is there information on how the regulation will be policed. In short, there are still a lot of unknowns.

In addition, the Protocol has to be ratified by the countries that have signed the Convention of Biological Diversity (the Protocol falls under this convention) and 50 signatures collected. As the US has not signed the CBD it cannot ratify the Nagoya Protocol; but this does not mean US companies will be exempt.

The international regime will eventually be integrated into the national legislation of participating countries. Although the US will not have ratified the Protocol, countries with which it enters into supplier partnerships are very likely to have done so, with US companies obliged to respect these national laws.

Action sooner rather than later

All these factors mean that meaningful national legislation which is accessible, understandable and easily complied will not be with us tomorrow. However, that does not mean companies should not act.

Taking on board these principles now can do a number of things for a cosmetics or fragrance manufacturer or supplier.

Primarily, companies who are already active in developing long term sustainable and ethical partnerships with suppliers of natural-derived ingredients have a lot of useful knowledge and experience.

Sharing these experiences with policy makers and other stakeholders could help shape the arena in the future, driving the direction of future rules.

In addition, making an effort sooner rather than later will improve a company’s reputation with both consumers and those individuals or bodies that in the future may well be in charge of policing compliance.

As discussion around biodiversity grows, as it surely will, companies have a lot to gain from being proactive about these principles, even if they aren’t yet set in national regulation.