Position of VCI

Self-commitments as an instrument in environmental and consumer protection policies

In this position paper the VCI wants to describe own experiences and findings gathered within the study "Evaluation of self-commitments of chemical industry associations" (original German title: Evaluation von Selbstverpflichtungen der Verbände der chemischen Industrie). ​​

The VCI wishes to expound major aspects of the contents of this subject and to contribute to a constructive discussion. (Stand: 06 February 2003)
Furthermore the VCI takes position on the essential elements of the EU Communication on environmental agreements of 17 July 2002 (COM(2002) 412 final).

With over 40 self-commitments since the early eighties, the VCI and the VCI sector associations (Fachverbände) have been leaders in Germany in the application of this important political instrument. Some sector associations - e.g. the German cosmetics and detergents association IKW - have been even longer using this instrument successfully. An overview of the self-commitments made by the VCI and the VCI sector associations is attached.

In German language there is, in practice, no clear-cut differentiation between the terms "Vereinbarung" (literally: agreement) and "Selbstverpflichtung" (literally: self-commitment). At European level, e.g. in the Communication from the EU Commission of 17 July 2002, exclusively the term "environmental agreement" (in German: Umweltvereinbarung) is used. However from the viewpoint of the VCI and the VCI sector associations a differentiation is necessary.[1]

"Selbstverpflichtungen" (self-commitments) are sector-specific commitments made by associations, usually as the outcomes of intensive discussions and negotiations with the public administration. It is worth mentioning that these self-commitments are made exclusively by an association to the public administration. They are handed over in a formal manner and then jointly published.

The described approach relies on the readiness of the public administration to postpone, either indefinitely or temporarily, the passing of relevant legal rules. But quite frequently VCI sector associations also make self-commitments when no influence is exerted by the public administration; such self-commitments are developed and published as common product responsibility guidelines (gemeinsame Richtlinien zur Produktverantwortung) by the members of the respective sector associations. A good example is the exclusion list for printing inks and related products of the association of the German printing ink industry - Verband der Druckfarbenindustrie.

Where contents are concerned, self-commitments can refer to fields of activity in health, safety and environment and in consumer and climate protection. Therefore we feel that limiting this instrument to environmental protection only, as proposed in the Commission communication of 17 July 2002, does not fully comprise its scope.

Several factors are decisive to the success of self-commitments. These include clear-cut, achievable aims, an incontestable negotiating mandate for the concerned association, an evaluation of impacts of a self-commitment on companies and the association, an examination if and in what way market partners can be involved, as well as transparency. Further important factors are the number and the homogeneity of the participating companies. For self-commitments meant to last over several years, changes in the basis for business resulting from changes in the legal and political framework conditions must be considered.

Mehr in der Langfassung.

For questions or suggestions, please feel free to contact us.


Martina Schönnenbeck

E-Mail: schoennenbeck@vci.de