Staatssecretaris Mansveld sprak 3 december jl. op een internationaal congres van de chemische sector over verantwoord ondernemen.  Thema’s als klimaat, luchtkwaliteit en veiligheid passeerden de revue in haar speech. Zij riep de sector op haar verantwoordelijkheid te nemen, met name in het verbeteren van de veiligheid.  Mansveld: ”Veiligheid verbeteren we niet door regelgeving alleen. Leiderschap en bedrijfscultuur zijn even belangrijk.”

On this day 29 years ago, India witnessed one of the worst ever industrial disasters: the Bhopal toxic gas disaster. Despite the time that has passed since then, the name Bhopal is still etched in many people’s memories. It brings home to us the vital importance of safe and sustainable business, especially in high-risk sectors. People’s lives depend on it. It demands renewed investment every day, from business, government and society.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The central theme of this conference goes right to the heart of sustainability.
Whether in energy savings, air quality or safety, it is ‘small improvements’ that lead to ‘great effects’.
I also want to emphasise today that investing in sustainability, health and safety is essential. Not just for the sake of our living environment. But also for the market. In other words, for people, planet and profit.

Sustainable and safe business isn’t something you just achieve and then sit back.
The chemical industry knows that better than anyone!
In the interests of corporate social responsibility, it’s essential to be transparent about your aims, and what you have achieved.
That sends a signal to businesses everywhere. Businesses that are already active, and businesses that still need to take action.
So it’s good to see that the sector is communicating clearly, both nationally and internationally through Cefic, on the progress of the programme in their annual reports.

As we know, corporate social responsibility is not a luxury.
Now, especially, when the economy is struggling and competition is fierce, the sector needs to go on investing in sustainable enterprise.
Not for ideological reasons, but because it makes good business sense.
Because sustainable enterprise and innovation in energy conservation are smart business practices!
The chemical sector plays a crucial role in the sustainability of the Netherlands and Europe.
Besides strengthening the chemical industry and innovation, sustainable enterprise is the way forward if we are to turn the tide.

With half a million jobs, 20 per cent of our export and R&D efforts, and 8 per cent of our GDP, the Dutch chemical industry is of major economic importance to the Netherlands.
At the same time it has a great social responsibility in our densely populated country.

I would like to speak today about the three main pillars within the Responsible Care Programme: a robust climate, a cleaner environment and greater safety.

Let’s start with climate.
The Netherlands favours an ambitious climate policy.
We all want to live safely, so we need to take account of global changes like the rising sea level and extreme weather conditions.
In the Netherlands, the chemical industry and the government are working closely together in the interests of the climate.
The chemical sector is a constructive partner in many areas. Like the creation of a National Energy Agreement for Sustainable Growth, efforts to recapture our leading position in Europe, and steps to improve air quality.
And that’s essential, because government and business need to work together to achieve our aims. It takes two to tango.

We have already made progress in the Netherlands.
Take our Energy Agreement, which emphasises saving energy and using clean energy.
By putting the agreement into effect, the chemical sector can once again become a frontrunner in energy saving.
Conserving energy through smart innovation gives a powerful boost to our economy.
It promotes innovation and represents huge energy savings for the sector.
Because besides partnership, innovation is crucial to achieving our climate objectives.
Green innovation makes our countries more sustainable and strengthens their economies.
We can beat this crisis by being green.

This brings me to the second pillar: clean air.
Better air quality means better health. Pollution does not stop at national borders.
We need an international approach.
We face the joint challenge of consolidating the gains made so far.
The low-hanging fruit has been picked.
Now we need to reach higher.
In recent decades, the chemical sector has considerably reduced polluting emissions.
By keeping this up – or, better still, making even greater reductions – we will get closer to our goal of clean air.

The Dutch chemical sector is a world leader in sustainable investment. On the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, Dutch chemical concerns have traditionally scored well.
Dutch companies lead the way in sustainable business.

So I call upon the international chemical sector to continue to invest in clean technology.
Let us work together nationally and internationally so that the leaders’ standard becomes the universal standard.

And now I come to the third pillar of the Responsible Care Programme: greater safety.
Chemical safety is a hot issue in Europe and the rest of the world.
And rightly so!
Safety has been formally included in the programme.
Unfortunately, things can still go wrong.
And if things go wrong, they can go wrong in a big way; with serious consequences.
Take the fire at Chemiepack, or the shutdown of the Odfjell shipping company in 2012.
Incidents like these cast the whole sector in a negative light.

Of course, chemicals are a risky business.
Many companies are well aware of that.
Compared to other sectors, it has a good safety record, also internationally. I can see – and I know from talks – that the whole chemical sector is working hard to make safety a priority.

Companies are themselves primarily responsible for the way they work, along with the emissions and safety risks that result.

It’s important that the sector continues to call individual businesses to account for irresponsible practices. They can damage the sector by their behaviour.
And that means the good suffer with the bad.
So the whole industry has a responsibility to tackle businesses whose safety standards fall short.

A 2012 report shows that the number of companies that meet all requirements has hardly increased, from 42 to 43 per cent. You will have to agree that this must change .
Greater ambition is needed!
One or more infringements are still found at a majority of inspected businesses.
They can and must do better.
In short, there is work to be done!

I realise that safety can never be 100 per cent.
But everyone must take their own responsibility – not only companies but also the government, as supervisor and enforcer, to minimise risk.

Luckily the chemical sector has always focused on innovation.
It uses innovations – both technical and organisational – to improve safety.
The Safety First action plan by the Confederation of Netherlands Industry and Employers is a good example.
The plan aims to create a solid safety culture at all companies that work with dangerous substances on a large-scale.
Because you can’t improve safety through legislation alone.
Leadership and corporate practices are also crucial.
As such, the plan ties in well with the worldwide Responsible Care Programme of the chemical industry.

The government also expects the industry to do a great deal to improve performance even more.
Companies throughout the entire chain need to make a big effort.
We need a strong focus, in particular, on ensuring average performers or those that lag behind keep pace with the rest.

Of course, the government has an important task itself as supervisor and enforcer.
It must carry out this task professionally and efficiently.
That’s the only way to create a support base within the industry.

From next year, six enforcement authorities will carry out integrated supervision of very high-risk companies in the Netherlands.

There are a number of aims:
– first, to create a level playing field through a uniform approach;
– second, to get government services to work together more effectively, so that government operates as a single partner for industry – a deeply held wish of industry;
– third, to intervene when necessary and give space where possible.

The government and the market must continue to work jointly on these objectives. And I’m happy to say that they’re doing so. Not just in the Netherlands, but also in Europe. European legislation creates a level playing field in Europe. And that’s a good thing. Because environmental pollution does not stop at borders.

Ultimately, the challenge is to create global awareness and deploy the same technology at the same level around the world, in accordance with international standards.

This brings me to my conclusion.

The challenge for companies is to keep improving. And to get other companies who lag behind to do the same.
This works best if businesses are allowed to devise their own approach.
The government can support and help the sector in these efforts.

The Responsible Care Programme is an excellent tool to achieve the aim of a sustainable and safe sector.
That is my responsibility.
And that is your responsibility.

In short, let us work together to achieve a sustainable and safe chemical sector, all over the world!

Thank you.