Corporate social responsibility and fair trade in times of crisis

This fall, The Shift and the Trade for Development Centre organise a conference on corporate social responsibility and fair trade in times of crisis.


The conference will be divided into two debates, both handled by an independent moderator:

First debate

COVID-19, climate change, destruction of biodiversity, etc. All these themes force us to rethink how we trade and accelerate the ecological and solidary transition our society needs. Can fair trade contribute to this? And under what conditions?

Climate change and the current health crisis remind us that the way we have organised the globalisation of trade, with just-in-time international value chains, makes us particularly vulnerable and puts great pressure on ecosystems. And then we are not even talking about the social extremes, such as increasing inequality. In other words, we need to rethink how we trade. The economic activity in essential sectors such as healthcare and food urgently need to be relocalised so that we can strengthen our autonomy and resilience. In addition, it is equally important to make non-replaceable supply chains (such as coffee, cocoa and bananas) sustainable and fair. The perfect opportunity in other words to achieve the social and ecological transition our society needs. 

Can fair trade contribute to this? And under what conditions? Does trade really have to be as local as possible? To what extent is the relocation of these value chains likely to increase rather than diminish global inequalities?

Second debate

Corporate social responsibility in a company’s supply chain. What are the advantages and disadvantages of the binding standards? And what role is there for voluntary initiatives? 

Although many promises were already made, companies find it hard to assume their responsibility in the supply chains. Just look at child labour on the cocoa plantations of the two largest producing countries, Ivory Coast, and Ghana, which has increased over the last ten years, despite the industry’s promises to reduce it.

To make the supply chain more sustainable, voluntary certification schemes are widely promoted, and countries such as Belgium or the Netherlands are developing voluntary initiatives with various stakeholders, along the lines of ‘Beyond Chocolate’. 

The UK and France, on the other hand, opted for a different route and passed laws requiring companies of a certain size to publish a report on the measures they adopt to avoid human rights violations in their supply chain. The European Commission wants to follow their lead and announced a legislative initiative on corporate social responsibility for 2021.

The debate will provide an opportunity to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of mandatory standards, their content and the necessary means of control to ensure their efficiency, as well as the role and place of voluntary initiatives in such context.

For whom?

For all our members and signatories of the Belgian SDG Charter for Development.


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Brieuc Debontridder

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