On September 22nd, 2022 the signatories of the agreement for international responsible business conduct (IRBC) in the floriculture sector held their final General Assembly, celebrating three years of collaboration for more sustainability and looking ahead for future integration of the learnings and recommendations.

The IRBC floriculture sector agreement

The IRBC agreement was signed in September 2019 and brought together the private sector, NGOs, a trade union, and the Dutch government, to address human rights risks and environmental risks in the value chain with the aim to create a more sustainable production and trade in ornamental plants on three priority themes: ESG due diligence, living wage and agrochemical management. The secretariat of the IRBC agreement was hosted by IDH, the Sustainable Trade Initiative.

One of the key objectives was to set-up and carry-out a risk-based due diligence process to avoid and address adverse impacts on people and planet throughout the supply chain. These processes are aligned to the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (the ‘OECD Guidelines”) and the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (the “UNGPs”). The companies under the IRBC agreement developed tools to perform ESG due diligence but also captured and evaluated progress of due diligence implementation through base- and endline assessments.

Tools and best practices for due diligence

The parties under the IRBC agreement developed tools and approaches to facilitate the implementation of specific steps in the OECD due diligence cycle. This includes the IRBC agreement code of conduct for the floriculture sector (step 1), a sector risk map and self-assessment questionnaire to identify key risks in sourcing regions (step 2), ESG reporting guidance (step 5) and an action plan with concrete recommendations for implementing a due diligence process.

An overview of the IRBC due diligence tool per step of the OECD Due Diligence cycle

Evaluation of due diligence implementation

A baseline evaluation in year two identified the extent to which companies under the IRBC agreement implemented the various steps in the due diligence cycle. A follow up evaluation in year three demonstrated that the activities under the IRBC agreement led to more awareness and all steps of the due diligence cycle, although ample opportunities for improvement remain. Overall, the group of companies improved their due diligence implementation score by 10, moving from an average of 50/100 in 2020 to an average of 60/100 in 2022.

Aggregate results of the base- and endline evaluation of due diligence implementation by the companies under the IRBC agreement.

The parties under the IRBC agreement also acknowledged the importance of living wage as a key human right. They therefore collaborated to develop living wage approaches for the floriculture sector through workshops and webinars and refined those approaches through field projects.
The parties under the agreement adopted the IDH living wage roadmap structure as high-level living wage approach for the sector and undertook various activities to generate sector specific knowledge and experience for each step that is part of it. Most notably, pilots in 2021 to measure living wage gaps on East-African flower farms confirmed the applicability of the living wage approach and related living wage tools. It also provided an indication of the size of the living wage gaps, which tends to vary between 10% and 50%.

The 2021 farm measurement pilots led into another pilot project that is still ongoing, and in which a farm, a trader and a retailer analyse the identified living wage gap to design scenarios for closing gaps. The results of this project are expected to be shared with both former IRBC stakeholders and FSI members late 2022.

The IRBC agreement living wage chain pilot:

As stakeholders to the IRBC agreement, the Floral Connection and Albert Heijn acknowledge the importance of a living wage for workers. Together with Nini roses, the Floral Connection and Albert Heijn are therefore collaborating in an IRBC Floriculture Agreement project to generate more knowledge around living ways and ways to address this in collaboration with others. We hope to use the anticipated learnings in our efforts to progressively work towards a living wage.

Marloes Bruin, Sustainability Manager at Albert Heijn; Marko van Kesteren, Team Manager Quality Assurance at The Floral Connection

Following a review of existing pesticide measurement methodologies and tools, the parties under the IRBC agreement focused on the Environmental Indicator Crop Protection (EICP) as preferred methodology for environmental impact measurement. Both theoretical test cases (testing the model) and practical pilots (applying the concept tool in Ugandan Chrysanthemum production) proved the added value of the tool to the sector but also pointed out that it requires several updates for practical use.

An IDH co-funded research by Natuur & Millieu on the optimal integration of the EICP in the floriculture sector indicated that the underlying methodology and database would be owned by several parties to safeguard quality and independence. The research offers a valid basis for the further development of the EICP into an internationally applicable tool that can also serve the FSI ambition to reduce impact of agrochemical use on the environment. Together with stakeholders in other sectors, IDH will be contributing to the development of the next EICP version.

Integrating the Environmental Indicator Crop Protection:

Natuur & Milieu greatly values responsible agrochemical management and has been promoting this through active participation in both the IRBC agreement and the EICP consortium. We see the work of both initiatives as complementary and will build on the learnings from our research for the IRBC agreement to promote uptake of the EICP in the international floriculture sector.

Berthe Brouwer, Project Manager at Natuur & Milieu

The IRBC Agreement for floriculture was designed to promote sustainability throughout the value chain whilst building on existing knowledge and initiatives. The IRBC agreement therefore ensured that the work on the priority themes can accelerate the 2025 ambition and strategy of the Floriculture Sustainability Initiative (FSI). At the end of the closing session, Ted van der Put (IDH, Chair IRBC steering committee) and Steven Smit (Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs), member of the IRBC steering committee), handed over the final report to Marcel Zandvliet (Dutch Flower Group, Vice-Chair FSI board) and Jeroen Oudheusden (FSI executive officer). FSI will review the recommendations to determine how they will be used to support, complement, and accelerated the international floriculture agenda of FSI.

For a comprehensive overview of the activities, insights, and recommendations, please download the IRBC floriculture sector roadmap report here.

The integration of IRBC learnings into FSI:

We are proud of the work that all the parties in the IRBC agreement have conducted and see it as our responsibility to integrate the learnings, tooling and expertise into the strategy of Floriculture Sustainability Initiative. We will motivate all other stakeholders in the floriculture sector to implement these learnings and tools to keep our sector future proof. We need to upscale to create positive impact and can only do this together!

Marcel Zandvliet, CMO/CSO the Dutch Flower Group & Vice-Chair of the FSI board

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Report & Roadmap Available for Download