Today, global brands and retailers like Walmart, P&G, IKEA, Nestle, Unilever and many others focus on sustainability as an integral part of their corporate social responsibility policies designed to ensure environmental, social and economic welfare.

In many ways, the rise of Voluntary Sustainability Standards is a response to wider industrial and social transformation, and it has a growing impact on international trade.

Complying with Voluntary Sustainability Standards is more and more important if you want to sell goods and services in lucrative and dynamic international markets. And it can also help countries to achieve national and international sustainable development objectives.

However, complying with Voluntary Sustainability Standards is not simple.

It takes great effort and investment in people, infrastructure and institutions.

More often than not, while voluntary in a legal sense, Voluntary Sustainability Standards can become mandatory in effect thanks to the market power of the companies that apply them or as ways of managing supply chains.

Many businesses in developing countries – especially small and medium-sized ones – face challenges complying with Voluntary Sustainability Standards because the infrastructure and the public finance they need to do so does not exist. Often this stops them from exporting to more profitable markets in developed countries.

Without a clear strategy and proactive support from governments and the international community, Voluntary Sustainability Standards run the risk of reinforcing of the walls that already shut out small-scale producers and less developed countries.

We have built three products that promote a proactive approach to forming national policies and exchanging information on Voluntary Sustainability Standards.

They can help developing countries to minimize the potential costs of adjusting to Voluntary Sustainability Standards. They can also help to maximize the economic, social and environmental benefits that Voluntary Sustainability Standards can bring.

UNFSS Main Products

The forum works with leading institutions and experts from both the public and private sectors. We invite decision makers and national experts from both developed and developing countries to take part. We also make full use of the analytical and empirical work of institutions to provide the most accurate and credible information possible on Voluntary Sustainability Standards.

Forum participants can make connections with institutions and experts to build knowledge and understanding over time. Meanwhile, these entities can learn from forum participants about their concerns, local situation and ideas. In this way, a constructive two-way dialogue is created that can develop strategies to maximize the development impact of Voluntary Sustainability Standards.

(see informed policy dialogue section for details)

The forum publishes a twice-yearly flagship report, a series of discussion papers and regular policy briefs.
(see Research and Analysis Hub section for details)

In 2020, UNFSS marked the official launch of its ´Voluntary Sustainability Standards (VSS) Academic Advisory Council (AAC)´ that functions as a think-tank to bring together academic experts from a wide variety of backgrounds around the world. This type of multidisciplinary approach not only reflects the implicit acknowledgement of the complexity and multi-faceted nature of analysing VSS effectiveness and the challenges therewith, but also offers researchers from different thematic and methodological schools a chance to collaborate with, and learn from one another.
(see AAC Website for details)

Many emerging economies, supported by the forum, have set up national multi-stakeholder platforms on Voluntary Sustainability Standards to reflect local priorities and discuss strategic approaches from all angles.

(see National Multi-Stakeholder Platforms section for details)