Shaping Tomorrow's Trade: Insights from the 3rd ICSTS The future of sustainable trade: VSS and due diligence regulations 3rd International Convention on Sustainable Trade and Standards The EU Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive (CS3D): What Role for Voluntary Sustainability Standards (VSS)? The EU Due Diligence Regulation on Deforestation: What Role for Voluntary Sustainability Standards (VSS)?

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.


Chapter 4.0 Understanding Smallholder Farmer Access to VSS-Compliant Markets

Publication December 2021
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The SSI Review: Standards and Poverty Reduction examines how voluntary sustainability standards can contribute to poverty reduction for smallholder farmers. This chapter draws on interviews with stakeholders from the Global South to shed light on the factors that influence smallholder farmers’ access to VSS-compliant markets—defined in this report as the ability of smallholders to comply and maintain compliance with VSSs and sell their products in VSS-compliant markets. It aims to improve understanding of how to address limitations and harness enabling factors to create an enabling environment for VSSs to contribute to poverty reduction.

Better Trade for Sustainable Development: The role of voluntary sustainability standards

Publication August 2021
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This report provides a comprehensive analysis of the potentials and constraints of VSS in making international trade more sustainable, in particular with regards to developing countries development opportunities. It investigates the means of maximizing VSS contribution to sustainable development and minimizing their risks. It also presents, based on the literature, the evidence we have on the economic, social and environmental impacts of VSS on the ground. Furthermore, it investigates the barriers to VSS uptake specifically in developing countries and proposes structural approaches that can be considered for enhancing the potential of VSS.

Caribbean Community (CARICOM) export potential to the European Union

Publication April 2021
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This report assesses the Caribbean Community´s (CARICOM) agriculture (Herbs and Spices, Cocoa, Sugar Cane and Coconut) and aquaculture export potential to the European Union through the utilization of Voluntary Sustainability Standards (VSS).

The European Union is the second most important export market for CARICOM countries, after the United States of America. It is important to note that the impact of the European Union Directives is very significant for CARICOM since the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between them expressly refers to the concept of “sustainable development”.

SECO’s Engagement in Voluntary Sustainability Standards (VSS) An evolving commitment to drive sustainability in Global Value Chains

Publication March 2021
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A new Position Paper on Sustainability Standards highlights SECO’s role in driving sustainability impacts in global value chains through voluntary sustainability standards such as Fairtrade InternationalRainforest Alliance or Forest Stewardship Council™. Against the background of pressing global challenges linked to climate change, biodiversity loss, food insecurity and poverty, the paper elucidates new trends, analyzes the increasing interlinkages between government regulations and voluntary market-based standards and points at future priorities of SECO’s cooperation in this field.

Linking Voluntary Standards to Sustainable Development Goals

Publication for October 2020
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With the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the United Nations has called on the private sector to contribute more to achieving the sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This report helps decision makers in the public and private sectors to understand where voluntary sustainability standards are best placed to contribute. It maps the linkages between these standards and each SDG goal, including its specific targets.

Trade policy and VSS Podcast

In this podcast, produced in partnership with the United Nations Forum on Sustainability Standards (UNFSS), Vidya Rangan (Senior Manager for Impacts and Evidence, ISEAL) talks to UNCTAD Senior Economist and UNFSS Coordinator, Santiago Fernández de Córdoba, and Deputy Director of the Leuven Centre for Global Governance Studies, Axel Marx, about the debates surrounding trade policy and VSS, particularly in the context of the of the 4th Flagship report published by UNFSS in September 2020. Visit –


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.


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.

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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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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

Academic Advisory Council

The Academic Advisory Council (AAC) is designed to pursue the following scientific objective: foster research and understand the effectiveness of VSS. comprising of academic experts in the field from all disciplinary backgrounds. This interdisciplinary approach is vital for issues around standards, especially considering the developing countries. The AAC meets every fall to discuss these issues.

Know more about the Academic Advisory Council and its activities

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 African Continental platform will serve as a mechanism to strengthen the capacities of public and private entities in Africa in terms of sustainability, being an initiative that will contribute to the African Strategy for the promotion of sustainable consumption and production of goods and services as well as implementation of the SDGs.


The Colombian National Platform is coordinated by the Colombian Institute of Technical Standards and Certification (ICONTEC), the only Standardization Body in Colombia and advisor to the national government, representative for Colombia to the international standardization bodies such as ISO, IEC, COPANT and support of the national government in the negotiating groups for the Andean Community, FTAA among others.


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 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 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 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.

Our member agencies

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




UN Environment



Our Member Agencies