Improving Transparency and Traceability in the Garment & Footwear Industry
By Maria Teresa Pisani, Economic Policy Officer at the Economic Cooperation and Trade Division of UNECE
At the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), we have recently launched The Sustainability Pledge – it is the latest outcome from a three year project we are currently working on that seeks to make it easier for manufacturers, regulators and consumers to verify sustainability claims in the garment and footwear sector through improved transparency and traceability.
Companies, regulators and public bodies are invited to sign up for The Sustainability Pledge and commit to applying our UN-brokered measures for improved sustainability using a special toolkit of policy recommendations, implementation guidelines and an information exchange standard, which were recently endorsed by UNECE Member States.
The toolkit has been in the making for several years. In 2017, we reached out to hundreds of companies, industry experts, academics and concerned nongovernmental organisations to work with us in order to support the sector in delivering better traceability and transparency within its supply chain. Needless to say, the task has been a very complex matter. The global nature of garment and footwear production makes it difficult for companies to assert sustainability claims with reliable confidence. Without clear information about how and where goods are produced, policy makers cannot advance due diligence, businesses cannot conduct actions and build relationships responsibly and consumers cannot make informed choices about their purchases.
The supply chains involved in garment production, for example, are so strung out and fragmented that it is currently difficult to have a global view of the product lifecycle and its overall sustainability performance. This is of particular importance because this sector alone is responsible for 10% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. A transition to a sustainable textile and in particular leather industry is an essential part of a greener, more environmentally-sustainable future. Similarly, without traceability and transparency, human and labor law violations, pollution and counterfeit products can also go unchecked.
The project is based around the application of blockchain technology, essentially a system of gathering and recording essential data about a product at key points along the supply chain. Once entered into the blockchain, that information cannot be changed, providing immutable and verifiable information on the product’s origin, make-up and production process.
We have piloted the blockchain technology in the cotton sector, and we are currently launching a pilot in the leather industry. The goal is that the blockchain approach can be adopted and applied by any company or producer along the value chain to map garment and footwear production from field to shelf. Additionally, the system is free and an open source and has been designed to be operable even by local-level producers equipped only with a smartphone to record their blockchain data.
We believe this project, which is funded by the European Union, is an important step towards the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the 2030 Agenda. With the application of our toolkit of measures and take-up of The Sustainability Pledge, we also believe we are contributing to the adoption of a more circular economic approach, as it is only with clear and verifiable information about products that they can remain in the economic cycle and regenerative design approaches can be applied and delivered.
Commitments to The Sustainability Pledge should be made by 10 September ahead of the next multi-stakeholder policy dialogue, planned to take place on 21 to 23 September in Milan, Italy.
I urge anyone involved in the sector, who is committed to sustainable, environmentally-friendly and ethically-sound production in the garment and footwear sector, to sign up to the UNECE The Sustainability Pledge!
Maria Teresa Pisani is the Economic Policy Officer at the Economic Cooperation and Trade Division of UNECE where she leads the work on policies and standards for sustainable and circular value chains. Currently, she is managing a global multi-stakeholder initiative on sustainable garment and footwear. At UNECE since 2011, she has been focusing on trade and environmental governance. Before joining the UN, Maria Teresa has been with the European Commission and the ILO and has managed World Bank funded projects for institutional reforms in emerging economies around the world. She is passionate about art and culture as a means of social transformation and enjoys engaging with young talents.