What are Voluntary Sustainability Standards (VSS)?

Voluntary Sustainability Standards (VSS) are rules that producers, traders, manufacturers, retailers or service providers may be asked to follow so that the things they make, grow or do don’t hurt people and the environment.

These standards help keep workers healthy and safe, protect communities and land, and uphold human rights, as well as moderating the environmental impacts of production and consumption.


Scaling up VSS through Sustainable Public Procurement and Trade Policy

Publication for September 2020
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The report explores the role of government as a vehicle to drive the adoption of Voluntary Sustainability Standards (VSS), which can be a powerful tool to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and other public sustainability commitments. The effectiveness of VSS to contribute to sustainable development could play a significant role by integrating VSS into public procurement and trade policy.

The Trade Impact of Voluntary Sustainability Standards: A review of empirical evidence

Publication for July 2020
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Santiago Fernandez de Cordoba and Niematallah E.A. Elamin highlights the significance of transparency in terms of data availability for Voluntary Sustainability Standards (VSS) given the current lack of evidence in this area. Find out the possible reasons behind the lack of studies in this field and way forward for future research.

COVID-19 and Protectionist Policies: a call for Sustainable Value Chains

Publication for 19 June 2020
Go to Bertelsmann Stiftung- Global Economic Dynamics page

Santiago Fernandez de Cordoba and Ruby Lambert speaks about the opportunity in the global coronavirus crisis to mitigate deglobalisation effects and create international trading system that works for all with Sustainable Value Chains.


The State of Sustainable Markets 2019: Statistics and Emerging Trends

Publication for 4 October 2019

Sustainability standards continue their growth across the world.

This fourth global report provides new insights into the evolution of certified agriculture and forestry. ITC has teamed up once again with the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture and the International Institute for Sustainable Development to provide data about 14 major sustainability standards for bananas, cocoa, coffee, cotton, oil palm, soybeans, sugarcane, tea and forestry products. This report helps shape decisions of policymakers, producers and businesses, working to address systemic labour and environmental challenges through certified sustainable production.

UNFSS Feature in ISO Focus

Publication for September – October 2019

UNFSS Coordinator, Santiago Fernandez de Cordoba speaks about standards as an important component of international trade. International standards can enable exporters from developing countries to unlock access to global value chains and alleviate poverty. For the world’s poorest countries – where trade plays an essential role in their economic development – so-called sustainability standards can be a powerful tool to drive growth and ensure inclusive development.

Group Certification. Internal Control Systems in Organic Agriculture: Significance, Opportunities and Challenges

Publication Date: March 2019

About 80 % of the world’s organic producers are smallholders in low- and middle-income countries. They are usually certified together as part of producer groups. This is the result of a recent study conducted by the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) in the framework of the SECO-funded project “Consolidation of Organic Certification Bodies / ConsCert”.

UNFSS 3rd Flagship Report: “Voluntary Sustainability Standards (VSS), Trade and Sustainable Development”

Publication Date: September 2018

The relationship between Voluntary Sustainability Standards (VSS), trade and sustainable development are among the most pronounced concepts sought-after the realm of green global value chains. The VSS system has in fact influence the export landscape to either facilitate market access or become an obstacle to trade. The 3rd UNFSS Flagship is set to impart an agenda surrounding VSS and its relation to trade issues, in particular the impact of VSS on market access.

ISEAL Credibility Principles consultation

The ISEAL Credibility Principles provide an international reference for defining the foundations of credible practices for sustainability standards. Stakeholder consultations on the ISEAL Credibility Principles revision are open until 31 July 2020.  Everyone with an interest in what credible practices look like for sustainability standards and similar systems, such as data-driven or landscape approaches, are encouraged to participate.

Visit: https://www.isealalliance.org/credibility-principles-consultation

EdX MOOC “The UN Sustainable Development Goals: an Interdisciplinary Academic Introduction”

An interdisciplinary introduction to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)which looks at all SDGs, their progress and challenges. Find out more about the course here.


2nd International Convention on Sustainable Trade and Standards - Brazil, 16-18 September 2019

Jointly organized by InmetroFirjan, and the UNFSS , the 2nd International Convention on Sustainable Trade and Standards aims to advance multi-stakeholder dialogues on Voluntary Sustainability Standards (VSS) as an avenue to improve the transparency of VSS and foster greater partnerships between trading partners towards sustainable global value chains and achieving the UN SDGs.

Watch Video Streaming 
Go to Events Page
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(UNIDO) International Quality Infrastructure Forum - Belgium, 4th April 2019

The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), in cooperation with the African Union Commission (AUC), held the first ever International Quality Infrastructure (QI) Forum. It focused on the contribution of QI to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and to the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA). The Forum also showcased how the private sector can contribute to the achievement of the SDGs through the adoption of sustainability standards.”

Download UNFSS mission notes here.

Public Awareness and Internal Meeting on Voluntary Sustainability Standard (VSS) in Indonesia, November 2018

The main objective of this event was to raise awareness on VSS within the country in order to establish a VSS framework, as well as to discuss the work plan for the Indonesia’s VSS National Platform launch with the support of UNFSS. The forum has concluded and agreed to shape a VSS National Platform – see Indonesia’s National Platform trajectories.

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Webinar | Interview Session with Ms. Isabelle Durant, UNCTAD Deputy-Secretary General 
The webinar coincides with the launch of the 4th UNFSS Flagship Report, which was jointly prepared with the Leuven Centre for Global Governance Studies.
Please Register Here
15 September 2020
3-4pm (CEST)

Webinar | The 8th World Sustainability Forum (15-17 September 2020)
UNFSS 4th Flagship Report will be featured and discussed in the Food Security and Agriculture session on the 17th September 2020. Registration is free of charge.
Please Register Here
17 September 2020
4.30pm-5.30pm (CEST)

Geneva Trade Week (28 Sept – 2 Oct 2020)
UNFSS Feature: Achieving SDGs through VSS: What role for public procurement and trade policy?”
Please Register Here
2 October 2020
11:00am-12.30pm (CEST)

Evidensia Webinar | Voluntary sustainability standards, public procurement and trade
Join Dr Axel Marx (University of Leuven) and Santiago Fernandez de Cordoba (UNFSS) along with government representatives from 2-3 developing countries to share their reflections on the findings from the 4th Flagship Report and what it means for their national contexts and goals.
Please Register Here
5 October 2020
2.00pm-3.30pm (CEST)


Codex Alimentarius International Food Standards

The C O D E X  A L I M E N T A R I U S international food standards, guidelines and codes of practice contribute to the safety, quality and fairness of this international food trade. Consumers can trust the safety and quality of the food products they buy and importers can trust that the food they ordered will be in accordance with their specifications.

Go to Codex IFS Standards

FAO Sustainability Assessment of Food and Agriculture systems (SAFA)

The free of charge SAFA Tool (version 2.2.40) is created by FAO to undertake sustainability assessment, as described in the SAFA Guidelines (version 3.0). The SAFA Tool guides users through the four SAFA assessment steps: “Mapping”, “Contextualization”, “Indicators” and “Reporting”. The indicators used are those offered in the Guidelines’ complement: SAFA Indicators.

Go to SAFA Tool

FAO Sustainable Food Value Chains Knowledge Platform

This global knowledge platform provides a user-friendly gateway to practical guidance and information on the development of Sustainable Food Value Chains (SFVC). SFVC development is a market-oriented and systems-based approach for measuring, analysing and improving the performance of food value chains (FVCs) in ways that help ensure their economic, social and environmental sustainability. An extensive vocabulary of technical terms developed specifically for SFVCs allows refined searches of the platform’s comprehensive databases. Underpinning the platform is a community of members, which facilitates networking and the exchange of ideas among policy-makers, project designers, field practitioners and other people working on topics related to SFVCs.

Go to SFVC Platform

One Planet Network

The One Planet network has formed to implement the 10-Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production, which supports the global shift to SCP and the achievement of SDG 12. This platform is where the lead organisations of each programme can coordinate their efforts, to showcase what the programme is doing, who is taking part, and how interested stakeholders can engage.

Go to One Planet


ITC Sustainability Map

A platform that provides concrete and scalable tools, technical assistance and advisory services for every stage of the value chain, from micro, small and medium sized enterprises in developing countries to retailers and brands in developed markets

Go to Sustainability Map

UNCTAD Fostering Green Exports through VSS

The UNCTAD’s Project on “Fostering green exports through Voluntary Sustainability Standards” aims to help developing countries build their capacity to use VSS as a tool to achieve the win-win-win outcomes, i.e.:

  • Inclusive economic growth though fostering green exports
  • Production practices that are complementary to environmental protection
  • Business environment that is complementary to better social development

An Assessment Toolkit will be launching in 2020.
Read more about the Assessment Toolkit

Visit Project Page

UNCTAD Non-Tariff Measures Database

Non-tariff measures (NTMs) are policy measures other than tariffs that can potentially have an economic effect on international trade in goods. They are increasingly shaping trade, influencing who trades what and how much. For exporters, importers and policymakers, NTMs represent a major challenge. Though many NTMs aim primarily at protecting public health or the environment, they also substantially affect trade through information, compliance and procedural costs.

Go to NTMs Database


UNCTAD BioTrade Initiative

Since its launch by UNCTAD in 1996, the BioTrade Initiative has been promoting sustainable BioTrade in support of the objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity. The Initiative has developed a unique portfolio of regional and country programmes.

UNCTAD is currently implementing the Global BioTrade Programme: Linking trade, biodiversity and sustainable development with the support of the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs SECO.

Visit Project Page

United Nations Forum on Sustainability Standards (UNFSS)

UNFSS addresses the sustainable development value of Voluntary Sustainability Standards (VSS) by pooling resources, synchronizing efforts, and ensuring policy coherence, coordination and collaboration among United Nations agencies.

The Forum is coordinated by a Steering Committee of five United Nations agencies:

   The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)

   The International Trade Centre (ITC)

   The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)

   United Nations Environment Programme (UN Environment)

   The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO)

UNFSS Flagship Publication Reports

UNFSS publishes a Flagship report biennially on trending topics that are important to the evolution of Voluntary Sustainability Standards (VSS). These reports are pivotal tools for all stakeholders from the public and private sectors to gain substantial information through a transparent network.

Visit Flagship Publication Page

4th Flagship Report: “Scaling up VSS through Sustainable Public Procurement and Trade Policy”

Published: September 2020
The report explores the role of government as a vehicle to drive the adoption of Voluntary Sustainability Standards (VSS), which can be a powerful tool to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and other public sustainability commitments. The effectiveness of VSS to contribute to sustainable development could play a significant role by integrating VSS into public procurement and trade policy.


National Multi-Stakeholder Platforms

We’ve helped several emerging countries  to develop multi-stakeholder platforms for Voluntary Sustainability Standards (VSS). These national initiatives, created and shared by stakeholders under each country’s designated coordinating body, reflect local priorities. They are organized and structured in a transparent, inclusive and demand-driven way.


The India National Platform on Private Sustainability Standards has been initiated under the Secretarial oversight of Quality Council of India (QCI) to facilitate dialogue between core public and private stakeholders on how to maximize the sustainable development benefits and market access opportunities of private sustainability standards.


The Mexican Platform was launched in April 2018 as a result of the joint collaboration with the Mexican Government, the UNFSS and the German Institute for Development Managing Global Governance program.


The Brazilian National Platform was launched in 2017 under the Brazilian National Institute of Metrology, Quality and Technology (INMETRO), aiming to be the central figure for discussions surrounding VSS and raise awareness of the stakeholder affected by VSS.


The South African National VSS Initiative has been steered under the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS),  a national institution for the development, promotion and maintenance of standardisation and quality related to commodities and the rendering of related conformity assessment services.


The Chinese National Platform on Voluntary Sustainability Standards has been initiated under the auspices of the Standardization Administration of the People’s Republic of China (SAC), the China Association for Standardization (CAS), and the General Administration for Quality Standardization, Inspection and Quarantine of the People’s Republic of China (AQSIQ) to promote the development of VSS in China.


The Andean Community is a free trade area with the objective of creating a customs union comprising the South American countries of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. Together with UNFSS, the Andean Community amped up Sustainable Exports by adopting VSS product certification.

Our Current Projects

These are projects from our member agencies including FAO, ITC, UNCTAD, UN Environment and UNIDO.




UN Environment


Our Member Agencies