Book Launch 'Panta Rhei: recht en duurzaamheid'

On June 15, 2023 the Law faculty at Leiden University hosted the launch of the book ‘Panta Rhei: recht en duurzaamheid’ (Phanta Rhei: law and sustainability), edited by dr. Yvonne Erkens, dr. Cees de Groot and dr. Chris van Oostrum. The book contains a collection of twelve articles from thirteen researchers from Leiden University. Most of these articles are written in Dutch, except for two (written in English). Readers of this blog will already be familiar with many of the authors’ names. Prof. Paul van der Heijden, one of the founders of the Database of Business Ethics, has written an article about the meaning of ‘decent work’. Sarah Vandenbroucke, a contributor to the Database, has written an article about the actual effect of Codes of Conduct. A version of this article has also been published as a blog. And of course one of the editors of ‘Panta Rhei’ is dr. Yvonne Erkens, the main driving force behind the Database.

Each article in the book is concerned with the topic of sustainability, but each author approaches this topic from a different angle. Some articles are focused on environmental impact and climate. Other researchers have focused on the impact of human rights on business conduct. Yet all articles are connected by one common thread: the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s). 

The Sustainable Development Goals were adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015. These seventeen goals are describes as a ‘universal call to action’ meant to end poverty and world hunger by 2030. All 193 United Nations Member States must pursue these goals which include:

  • the protection of our planet and its people 
  • access to affordable energy
  • the promotion of economic growth
  • decent work for all
  • innovation 
  • sustainable industrialization. 

This book explores the inherent tension contained in the concept of sustainable development. Measures that could benefit people and industry will often have an adverse impact on the planet. Any measures which pursues sustainable development will have to balance ecological, social and economic interests. Governments, non-governmental organisations and businesses must cooperate to find solutions for immense global issues such as climate change and world hunger. 

The authors of ‘Panta Rhei: recht en duurzaamheid’ both praise and criticise the SDG’s. On the one hand, the SDG’s have a broad thematic reach. They address many different global actors and have led to more support worldwide for the topic of sustainability. On the other hand, the SDG’s appear to be contradictory. They fail to specify which ‘goal’ must be given priority in certain situations. Does the aim to end poverty (SDG 1) trump the aim to make all cities inclusive, safe and sustainable (SDG 11). By highlighting different perspectives and interests, this book contributes to further thinking about sustainability.


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