How the UN works with Gucci on protecting biodiversity

Last week, ITC, IUCN and Kering (the owners of Gucci and other luxury brands) announced its joint Python Conservation Partnership. The announcement was widely covered in the press, including The Guardian, Financial Times,  Le Monde and Italian Vogue. The aim of this public private partnership (PPP) is to strengthen the sustainability and improve animal welfare in the supply chain for python skins, a product used in iconic luxury fashion items.

Next stop, Milan

Next stop, Milan (pic. O. Caillabet)

The basic principle for signing this PPP is that the two public organizations (ITC and IUCN) have a common goal with the private company (Kering), namely to ensure a sustainable trade in snake skins.

There is a clear distinction of roles between the private and public bodies in this agreement. Kering wants to ensure long term supply of snakeskin for Gucci’s flagship raw material, whilst ITC and IUCN have public policy goals, namely to protect biodiversity and to ensure income streams for low-income households in developing countries.

PPPs  are mostly used for infrastructure projects with both parties (government and private investors) making financial investments to build hospitals, roads and so forth. PPPs are relatively rare in environment although Shell and others have given money to conservation organizations. This has led to criticism about these bodies being co-opted and a “chilling” of the debate on corporate sustainability performance. This is something ITC does not want to do. Partly for this reason, this PPP does not involve any exchange of money, but rather an alignment of our programming on biodiversity.

So Kering and Gucci will make investments in improving the sustainability of their supply chain for python skins, while ITC will invest its own resources in researching the poverty reduction impacts on the trade.

This is a PPP about exchanging knowledge rather than money.

The principles of good design of a PPP are the same for this “knowledge-orientated” PPP as a conventional one. According to a recent study commissioned by the Netherlands government, there are 6 critical success factors for a PPP. Four of these are particularly relevant to the PPP between ITC, IUCN and Kering, namely,

“….clear formation requirements (goals, inputs and expectations)….adequate partner selection arrangements (based on compatibility, capability, commitment and control)…common vision and mutual trustful relationships…transparent negotiation on multiple interests of key participants”.

These success factors have guided the design of the PPP but will also be important in guiding its management.

As a public body, ITC raises awareness, provides training and promotes social responsibility in trade. It is more effective doing this than replicating the role of the private sector i.e. managing operations. The Asian Development Bank’s guidance book on PPPs, sets out the distinction between the role of public and private bodies in a PPP.

Government “….provides social responsibility, environmental awareness, local knowledge, and an ability to mobilize political support. The private sector’s role in the partnership is to make use of its expertise in commerce, management, operations, and innovation to run the business efficiently”.

Note: In 2012, ITC published a report with IUCN and Traffic that highlighted concerns over  illegality and possible lack of sustainability in the trade.

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