UNECE and FAO are implementing blockchain tracing technology in cotton supply chains in Latin America. Demand is increasing from consumers for more traceability of their products to the origin and for more transparent sustainability credentials. Yet in countries such as Peru, 99% of the cotton production remains in the hands of family farmers, which often are not visible to the end consumer. As part of a joint capacity building effort, UNECE and the FAO Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean, together with the + Cotton project, carried out a workshop on 6 December, to involve family farming cooperatives, industry associations and international organizations in the fashion industry to share solutions and scale up efforts for regional implementation.
This is the culmination of more than one year partnership between FAO and UNECE to bring to the ground the traceability approach and standard UNECE has developed, which is now allowing the launch of independent pilots across regions.
Experts from the region deep dived on challenges and opportunities faced. “With more than 700,000 jobs, 10% of the manufacturing production, and a growing demand for sustainable products, Peru has the capability to revive its sector and integrate small actors into global value chains by expanding production of high-end Pima cotton and bringing innovation and best practices to the region”, according to Rizal Braganini, President of the Sustainable Fashion Cluster of Perú.
FAO, through the +Cotton Project, is already implementing the UNECE-UN/CEFACT standard and methodology in Latin America, working with Costach Cooperative, which groups more than 5,200 farming families and is providing 10 tonnes of sustainable cotton production for a blockchain pilot, and with Creditex, which is one of the largest yarn producers in the region. Costach cooperative has recently submitted a pledge to increase traceability and transparency of the fiber production processes, woven yarn and garment manufacturing, with an end objective to trace the cotton fibre from field to shelf. And the event called for more of these pledges to be submitted in the region.
UNECE project experts held a demo on how to launch independent pilots to enable the autonomous scaling up of efforts with regional players and demonstrate the applicability of the methodology to the local context. The next phase of the project will see FAO leveraging its methodology through its network of partnerships at a global and regional level, bringing technical assistance on the ground, to replicate at scale this initial validation at a granular level with local actors and technology providers. Luiz Bedusci, FAO Policy Officer, stressed the importance of international and local strategic partnerships to increase connectivity in rural areas.
In April 2022, a more comprehensive workshop will take place to take stock of the project development in the region and the capability of the transparency and traceability framework and system put in place to enhance consumers’ visibility into the products they buy, while connecting local sustainable rural producers to global value chains and markets.
Note to editors
The Sustainability Pledge is a result of the UNECE project ‘Enhancing Transparency and Traceability of Sustainable Value Chains in Garment and Footwear’ that is being implemented with UN/CEFACT, in collaboration with the International Trade Centre (ITC) and with funding from the European Union. The goal of the project is to establish a mechanism that enables governments, industry partners, consumers and all other relevant stakeholders to make risk- informed decisions and achieve accountability for sustainability claims.
Over 250 experts, campaigners, government representatives and industry insiders have contributed to the recommendations, guidelines and established an agreed standard for their application. A blockchain pilot application for cotton was launched in 2020 and earlier this year, a similar pilot was launched for leather.
The blockchain system is an open-source Ethereum blockchain, which allows for the running of smart contracts and use of DNA markers. It is designed to guarantee data confidentiality in compliance with applicable regulations. Importantly, the application runs in both a web version and on mobile applications to ensure accessibility to all partners in the value chain – including farmers and producers in emerging economies equipped with a smartphone.
The aim of the pilots was to test our approach for identification and coding of key data at critical data points in the supply chain, to create an inter-linked and immutable record of provenance and composition.