GENEVA Fifty-six countries, including the U.S., have endorsed a sustainability standard that provides traceability and transparency solutions for tracking any garment or item of footwear, from raw components to point of purchase, a United Nations agency said Thursday.

Over 250 experts — including from brands such as Vivienne Westwood — helped craft the recommendations and guidelines that established the standard, which is a free open-source Ethereum blockchain system that allows for the running of smart contracts and use of DNA markers, said the U.N. Economic Commission for Europe, the 56-member state and Geneva-based agency, which includes the U.S.

The blockchain toolkit, it said, is designed to guarantee data confidentiality in compliance with applicable regulations and added that armed with such information “consumers, regulators and companies themselves can check claims around sustainability and ethical production.”

The UNECE, which also sets global technical regulations for the automotive sector, noted the blockchain platform “can now be adopted and applied by any company or producer along its value chain from field to shelf to achieve traceability with the confidence that the system is operable, even by local-level producers equipped only with a smartphone to record their blockchain data.”

The standard was tested on a blockchain pilot application for cotton in 2020, and earlier this year for leather, the UNECE said, “to test for identification and coding of key data at critical data points in the supply chain, to create an interlinked and immutable record of provenance and composition.”

“Vivienne Westwood has put the UNECE guidelines to the test, working with our suppliers to trace their supply chain back to its origins for two products in our ready-to-wear collection: a pair of jeans and a shirt,” said Giorgio Ravasio, country manager, Italy for Vivienne Westwood. “We have learnt a lot through the pilot projects and we have been able to set up internal processes to increase traceability and transparency in our supply chain.”
Maylis Souque, secretary-general of the OECD National contact point for responsible business conduct and a senior adviser on corporate social responsibility at France’s ministry of the economy, also hailed the UNECE-standard, and noted, “responsible companies can gather the information necessary for improving sustainability in the sector and prioritizing circular economic approaches to production.”

The endorsement, UNECE said, also marks the launch of a “sustainability pledge” for governments and stakeholders in the sector to promise to apply the toolkit of measures and take a “positive step” toward improving the environmental and ethical credentials of the sector.

Total greenhouse gas emissions from textile production alone, the UNECE said, amount to 1.2 billion tonnes annually or more than the emission of all international flights and maritime shipping combined. It noted that it takes about 20,000 liters of water to make one pair of jeans and one T-shirt.