Re-imagining the future of trust

Trust is a defining hallmark of sustainability standards. In this blog, Patrick Mallet, Innovations Director at ISEAL, considers how new data tools and approaches are changing our expectations of trust.

When consumers are asked about making ethical and sustainable choices, they often respond that the responsibility lies with the manufacturer or retailer to sell them products that are ethically and sustainably produced. This requires a level of trust. When manufacturers want to ensure that their supply chains are ethical and sustainable, they often turn to sustainability standards for verification. This too requires trust.

For sustainability standards, trust is their currency. It is the essence of why manufacturers choose standards and certification as a way to verify their sourcing policies and gives consumers confidence when they see a label on the product. That is why it is both necessary and heartening to see over 400 senior professionals working in businesses, NGOs, government and academia planning to attend the Global Sustainability Standards Conference in Zurich on 27th and 28th June to explore the topic of ‘The Future of Trust’.

Increasing volumes of data and information

A factor currently influencing expectations of trust is the increasing volume of data surrounding supply chains. Sustainability standards use a rigorous system of audits and traceability to enable buyers to trust the performance claims of suppliers. However, the certification audit is now not the only source of data about performance. Alternative data sources include workers reporting on real-time conditions through mobile technology, fine resolution satellite imagery and environmental data from sensors. These technologies, together with new metrics and data points, raise the question of whose data should be trusted.

The Breakout session at the conference entitled 'A new era of trust: Responding with innovative data approaches' will ask how new data tools and approaches are changing expectations of trust, particularly with retailers and manufacturers,  and how sustainability standards need to evolve to remain valued trust marks. The panel discussion will feature technology providers and ISEAL members talking about the latest approaches to integrating data and other tools to build trust in supply chains.

Increasing understanding of where impact lies

Data is also a foundation for monitoring and evaluating sustainability impacts on the ground. Here, sustainability standards need to engender trust that they are having a positive economic, social or environmental impact. Standards need to have an honest, holistic picture of what is happening in order to choose indicators of impact carefully and monitor appropriately.

That is why the Breakout session entitled 'Practice adoption in smallholder farming' will be valuable in increasing understanding of where the impact lies. The panel session with smallholder farmers currently adopting sustainability standards in their farms will discuss the barriers and drivers in practice adoption in sectors such as cocoa, coffee, cotton and palm oil. It will also look at what impact smallholders expect from standards, what impact businesses expect standards to make and how far standards can go in changing practice towards positive impact.

In addition, the conference will delve into timely topics including standards as capacity builders, trainers and policy shapers; scaling up while maintaining credibility; standards as drivers of slavery-free supply chains; responsible sourcing regions; new sourcing models in the mining sector and implementing commitments to sustainable development goals.

ISEAL has long championed trust and credibility of sustainability standards, maintaining that credible sustainability claims are clear, accurate and relevant, and are backed up by systems that are transparent and robust. ISEAL’s members are committed to evolving, innovating and improving their systems in order to maintain trust. Let’s see how they will work together to springboard into a new era of trust.

For more information on the programme and speakers, and to book your place at the 2017 Global Sustainability Standards Conference, visit