Tackling trade-related water risks

How importing countries can address water stress from global commodity production
Research paper ISBN: 978 1 78413 596 6 DOI: 10.55317/9781784135966
Men working in tea fields in Malawi

Silvia Weko

Former Visiting Fellow, Environment and Society Centre

A combination of climate change impacts and the production of water-intensive commodities, such as food, textiles and minerals, is exacerbating global water insecurity. Around 50 per cent of the water used to produce goods imported into the Global North comes from countries with significant water scarcity, mostly in the Global South.

As the situation worsens, there are few applicable legislative or regulatory options that can improve water sustainability at production sites. Through the use of case studies, this paper explores available approaches to boost sustainable and fair use of water at sites of production, including company disclosures, due diligence and market access standards.

Importer countries are in a strong position to insist on better water standards due to the unequal power dynamics between sellers and buyers. However, improving water standards at production sites will require trust, finance and capacity-building to enable producers to adhere to changes in policy.