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Conformity Assessment for the Sustainable Development Goals

Mika Vepsäläinen
Chief, Market Access Section, Economic Cooperation and Trade Division
United Nations Economic Commission for Europe

Fifty years ago, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) initiated a series of “Meetings of Government Officials Responsible for Standardization Policies”.  The anniversary of these meetings was celebrated in circumstances that no one could have imagined in November 2020, with the world facing challenges posed by COVID-19. In these circumstances, the role of adequate standards and their implementation, including conformity assessment and market surveillance, has grown enormously.

The spread of COVID-19 caused a full-fledged global economic crisis in a matter of months. International supply chains were disrupted and there was a spike in demand for essential products like masks, ventilators, drugs and food items. Both developing and developed countries were fighting the health and economic crisis simultaneously, with the economic impact likely to continue for several years.

Past estimates by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development demonstrate that standards and conformity assessment have an impact on 80 percent of the world’s trade in commodities. Quality infrastructure is a key enabler for realizing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are essential to protect the planet, ensure dignified lives for all people and achieve inclusive economic growth and prosperity. Incidentally, the World Trade Organization reported in these unusual circumstances that at least two-thirds of the notifications relating to COVID-19 in 2020 were about standards and regulations!

Effective risk management allows countries to develop and implement standards and regulations that protect their citizens without creating unnecessary barriers to international trade and impacting industries’ competitiveness. However, achieving effective risk management requires quality infrastructure, from conformity assessment to metrology and accreditation. UNECE’s responses include recommendations on Good Market Surveillance Policies and Practices, Gender-Responsive Standards and Applying Predictive Risk Management Tools for Targeted Market Surveillance, and also a portal on Standards for SDGs at https://standards4sdgs.unece.org with over 1000 standards for achieving the 2030 Agenda.

Telework is there to stay…. but take gender on board!

The COVID-19 pandemic has also changed the way we see work, with working from home as the new reality.  Safeguarding safety while still promoting competitiveness and quality in these new circumstances should have a gender perspective.

The UNECE “Gender Responsive Standards Initiative” aims at providing a practical way forward for standards bodies wishing to take a step towards making the standards they develop and the standards development process they follow gender responsive. The initiative started work in 2016 in response to a mandate by the UNECE Working Party on Regulatory Cooperation and Standardization Policies (WP.6).

The Initiative brings together a diverse working group composed of representatives from standardization bodies as well as experts on gender issues and women’s empowerment, representatives of regulatory bodies and policymakers, as well as non-governmental organizations, United Nations Organizations and members of the academic community worldwide with the aim of exchanging information and best practices about successful approaches to gender-responsive standards development and implementation, among others, in conformity assessment.

The early activities of the Gender Responsive Standards Initiative culminated in the drafting of the Declaration for Gender Responsive Standards and Standards Development. The document contains an annex that outlines actions that national standards bodies can include in their gender action plan for gender responsive standards and standards development.

The goal of the initiative is to make standards and standards development processes more aligned with the needs of women. Under the umbrella of the UNECE Gender-Responsive Standards Declaration, regional and national standards bodies work together to ensure standards are gender-responsive. Today the Gender Responsive Standards Declaration spearheaded by UNECE has been signed by more than 60 international, regional, and national standards bodies, committed to advancing gender equality and the realization of SDG 5.

Further information can be found on Trello.

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