Voluntary Sustainability Standards (VSS), Sustainability Agenda, and Developing Countries: The UNFSS 5th Flagship Report

Today, when you enter a supermarket, you are surrounded by a number of products that have a variety of labels and stamps which claim different sustainability aspects. It is a common sight to find products that are certified by, for example, Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance, FSC, and CmiA. This proliferation of Voluntary Sustainability Standards (VSS) has raised questions about their tangible benefits. While there is a need to eliminate the noise of overlapping standards, there is also a more pertinent question that demands research and response: what are the challenges developing countries face with regard to VSS uptake and usage? The forthcoming UNFSS 5th Flagship Report aims to elaborate on this pertinent topic.

Compelled with the vision to pursue Sustainable Trade, and the findings and analyses of the UNFSS 5th Flagship Report, UNFSS will be hosting the Sustainable Trade and VSS Dialogue. The dialogue will lay out the multiple roles of VSS to advance the sustainability agenda in developing countries and assess the opportunities and challenges associated with VSS uptake.  

VSS that address sustainability issues like those related to biodiversity, climate change, and human rights, have emerged as a means of ensuring compliance with sustainability parameters. The premise being the understanding that responsible production, consumption and sourcing have the potential to solve the problems that plague our socioeconomic realities. In some commodity sectors, the popularity of VSS has gained such a pace that the growth in the market for certified products exceeds that of conventional products.

Compliance with VSS is expected to foster sustainability and provide opportunities for producers through the likes of price premiums and increased market access. However, extant research indicates that VSS could also represent a challenge for developing countries and small producers in these countries. For instance, VSS can increase information and production costs and eventually exclude smallholders and producers in developing countries from GVCs. While today, there are multiple VSS being used across supply chains, there are many challenges associated to their effectiveness and impact that need to be addressed in order to maximize their benefits.

In response, many developing countries have started establishing national VSS that leverage sustainability criteria as a means to enhance export potential, and this can be one way to address these issues to some extent.

National and International VSS

The upcoming UNFSS 5th Flagship Report, Voluntary Sustainability Standards (VSS), Sustainability Agenda, and Developing Countries: Opportunities and Challenges, aims to study the opportunities and challenges associated with VSS adoption for developing countries. In that, the report also highlights the national VSS that have emerged in developing countries. Further, the report illustrates the broader political and policy context around VSS, including the governance context in which VSS operate, their complementarity or competition with the national VSS, their link with new due diligence legislations, and their integration in broader policy mixes.  

Interested to know more? Register for the Sustainable Trade and VSS Dialogue to find out more about the UNFSS 5th Flagship Report!

On: 26th October 2022

Time: 15h-16h CET

Link to Register: https://unfss.org/sustainable-trade-and-vss-dialogue/

Contact us for more details: unfss@unctad.org

About the UNFSS Flagship Series

In order to tackle the challenges that VSS posed to developing countries, UNFSS promotes proactive approaches to national policy and information exchanges on VSS, which enables developing countries not only to minimize potential costs associated with adjustment to VSS, but also to maximize related economic, social and environmental benefits.

UNFSS publishes a flagship report on diverse topics biennially, to do with Voluntary Sustainability Standards (VSS), our mission, and activities, for our stakeholders from the public and private sectors. The first volume of the Flagship Report released in 2013 was the interplay of VSS and public governance. The 2016 Flagship Report sought to further dissect the interplay between VSS and public governance processes by striving to answer the question “what are the optimal dynamics between VSS and public policy processes to ensure sustainability objectives are most efficiently met”. The 2018 Flagship Report identified the resemblance between VSS and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The 2020 report analysed how VSS are (and can be) integrated into Sustainable Public Procurement (SPP) and trade policy respectively.

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