Kharkiv Region – Home to the notorious Chernobyl nuclear plant and some of the biggest coal mining basins in the world, Ukraine is often associated with heavy, dirty industry, and levels of pollution that hark back to its Soviet past.
And while the country is falling short in implementing green solutions on a national scale, many passionate entrepreneurs incorporate environment-first and people-friendly approaches at the micro-level.
IOM has long been encouraging such initiatives through its economic empowerment programmes. In 2016, it provided equipment to a small horticultural business called “Green for You”, launched by two sisters.
Valentyna and Tetiana were forced to flee Donetsk in eastern Ukraine after the armed conflict started there seven years ago. They moved to the Kharkiv Region and started a small farm where they now cultivate salad herbs and microgreens – young vegetable greens, harvested just when they start growing. Each month restaurants order 300 kilograms of microgreens from the sisters.
“Green for You” supports sustainable consumption and production using only eco-packages and zero waste technologies. The company also engages in educational projects, such as teaching children to cultivate microgreens and have a healthy lifestyle.
“We are about to start a pilot project in two schools, where we will help children to create city farms in the classrooms,” says Valentyna Denysenko, the co-founder of “Green for You”. “The generation which lives on their smartphones has no clue how plants grow, or how they get to the supermarket shelves. We also want to change their eating habits, showing that adding salads and microgreens to their daily menu is good for their health.”
To create a portfolio of responsible businesses, like “Green for You”, IOM established a pilot project called “Consciously Made in Ukraine” (Svidomo Made) in November 2020. It has led to the development of the first voluntary Corporate Sustainability Standard for small and medium enterprises in Ukraine.
This mechanism was designed considering UN Global Compact principles, best international practices and national legislation requirements. The Standard verifies companies’ compliance with six principles of sustainability: ethical recruitment and decent pay; safe working conditions; abolition of exploitation and child labour; non-discrimination and promotion of inclusiveness and diversity at the workplace; transparency of supply chains; and protection of environment.
Fifteen Ukrainian businesses have already volunteered to be assessed by the Svidomo Made experts, who visited each enterprise to monitor their adherence to the Standard’s criteria. The companies received recommendations on how to improve their operational practices. In recognition of their full compliance with all principles, two businesses, producing eco-friendly cleaning items and cosmetics, were awarded the Svidomo Made quality mark.
Oleksii Verenikin is CEO of DeLaMark home care brand, one of the companies awarded the quality mark. “Principles of responsible production are imprinted in our DNA and are part of our employees’ mentality,” he said at the recent awards ceremony. “It is important for us to know that we are contributing to a bigger good. We created a ‘green office’ within the company, ensuring waste sorting and transparency of supply chains.”
The company also uses braille on its products and for each sale, it transfers five hryvnias (20 US cents) to a charity for children with heart disease.
Through the project, funded by the IOM Development Fund and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and implemented jointly with the Made in Ukraine NGO, IOM is also addressing a lack of evidence-based data about Ukrainian businesses and consumers.
The global Edelman Trust Barometer regularly explores the level of trust and credibility of businesses on leading world markets. To fill a gap for relevant information about Ukraine, IOM commissioned a survey* on sustainability awareness among Ukrainians. The findings revealed a significant shift among consumers and businesses who show greater willingness to ride the green wave.
A quarter of consumers said they regularly refuse to buy a product of a brand because of its position on social and environmental issues. Fully half of respondents believed that the most important aspect of corporate social responsibility was the protection of employees’ rights and decent working conditions, while a third indicated environmental friendliness and environmental protection was important.
Within the same study, 75 per cent of CEOs of small and medium businesses said they were ready to adopt voluntary Corporate Sustainability Standard as its principles reflect their own values.
“The term ‘corporate sustainability’ is usually associated with big brands and corporations,” said Anh Nguyen, IOM Ukraine Chief of Mission. “People think that it has very little to do with micro, small and medium businesses. However, these are the driving force of economic development in Ukraine, making up more than half of the country’s GDP.
“So, while the impact of a single micro or small business may seem insignificant, their cumulative impact can be enormous,” Anh said at the awards ceremony.
The COVID-19 pandemic has inflicted deep pain for small businesses in Ukraine and increased consumer demand for sustainable products. That’s the view of Andrii Slabinsky, former director of the Office of Small and Medium Business Development at Ukraine’s Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Agriculture.
His main concern was employment. When the survival of businesses was at stake, companies were even more reluctant to formalize contracts with employees. “Amendments to the labour legislation must be adopted as soon as possible,” he said at the awards. “This concerns jobs with non-fixed working time and temporary contracts. Formalizing these will allow for businesses to comply with minimum standards, which start with having an employment contract.”
And it’s not just about business practices and the environment. Working closely with the private sector, IOM aims to end forced labour and ensure that the human rights of labour migrants are respected. For this reason, raising awareness of businesses about standards of safe and ethical employment was a crucial part of the project.
“We aimed at improving the business climate in Ukraine, creating alternatives to irregular migration that drives people to seek a better life, often abroad, which leads to the situation of human trafficking, both outside and inside Ukraine,” Anna Karelina, coordinator of the Consciously Made project at IOM Ukraine, told the awards audience.
* The survey was conducted by InfoSapiens in September 2021 through online interviews with 814 respondents in cities with over 100,000 inhabitants aged 25-40. Separately, 209 telephone interviews were organized with enterprises’ CEOs representing micro-, small and medium businesses.