IT Tools and Governance for Traceability
Companies must ensure that they are only placing leather articles on the market that are safe. Besides, subject to the EU “Green Deal” policies, the frameworks that govern the production and import of leather articles will put more emphasis on ecodesign and the goal of a circular economy. Likewise, companies need to prepare for legal obligations stipulating their responsibilities regarding the social and environmental impacts of operations along their supply chains.
Against this background, the chemicals used in the various production steps play a crucial role, both as a risk and as an enabler for more sustainable products and processes. Policy makers are therefore specifically addressing the issue of chemicals in the above-mentioned initiatives. Not least, this also reflects the needs formulated by a clear majority of EU citizens who are, according to a Eurobarometer poll, worried about the impact of chemicals present in everyday products on their health (85%) and on the environment (90%).
Yet, the multi-stakeholder project “More sustainable chemistry in the leather supply chains” facilitated by h_da found that downstream actors along the leather supply chains currently lack understanding of which chemicals are used in the production processes and products, and about their particular impacts. This deprives them of their capability to control safety and sustainability aspects linked to their products.
Objectives & project description
In short: The subproject “IT Tools and Governance for Traceability” focuses on traceability of chemical substances along the supply chains to enable companies to control what substances are in their products and related processes. The data basis will be provided by all suppliers in the supply chains. IT tools and a governance framework will be needed for this approach.
In a scenario process and strategy workshops with actors from the field, the project found that traceability of chemicals along the supply chains is key for the leather sector to move in the direction of more sustainable leather chemistry and thus more sustainable products. Accordingly, out of a selection of project ideas, actors prioritised a subproject on “IT Tools and Governance for Traceability”. The goal of the subproject launched in 2020 is to assess the feasibility of reporting approaches aimed at a full declaration of all chemicals used in each production step along the supply chains. Different scenarios with respect to product and supply chain complexity and to IT capacities of actors are taken into account. Based on the findings and additional stakeholder input, the subproject aims to define common rules for the reporting of chemicals, potentially to be shared by the entire sector to ensure efficiency and effectiveness. These rules are aiming to create trust in the system by ensuring quality of data as well as the protection of justified confidentiality claims. “IT Tools and Governance for Traceability” could yield a long list of benefits:
- Gain better understanding of the process conditions in their specific supplier companies
- Allow companies to formulate a more targeted demand for more sustainable chemistry in their supply chains.
- Enhance (proactive) strategic and operational decisions.
- Enhance corporate risk management.
- Meet requirements by customers
- Meet requirements by policy makers aimed at safety and sustainability, and aimed at better tracking of chemicals (see the New Circular Economy Action Plan)
- Allow companies to react effectively to cases of liability – and to better avoid these
- Seize market opportunities for more sustainable products
- Secure so-called "green claims"
- Enable the sector’s transition to more sustainable chemistry
A tandem consisting of one representative from the Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences and one from practise coordinates the project. Anyone interested can participate in the project. The cooperation takes place via meetings / web conferences / workshops.
Based on extensive preliminary work (including a scenario process, strategy workshops, using the method Theory of Change), the subproject "IT Tools and Governance for Traceability" was designed together with representatives of the leather supply chains and presented at the kick-off conference in June 2020.
Contents of the first workshop included a clarification of the subproject´s scope vis-á-vis a mapping of existing initiatives and how they relate to traceability of chemicals.
In the second workshop, the group agreed upon the specific objectives of the subproject. A presentation by the UNECE project on traceability in the garment and footwear chains helped to ensure consistency with other initiatives.
German shoe brand Ricosta launched a pilot test with an IT traceability tool provided by h_da under the project LIFE AskREACH. In addition, the project team designed and disseminated a survey addressed to all leather stakeholders and aiming to identify a common ground when it comes to the reporting of chemicals in leather.
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Representatives from the leather industry and related sectors as well as from NGOs, consulting, administration and science can participate in the sub-projects. Please contact the Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences without obligation.
Further harmonisation of standards concerning the production of leather and leather articles – with a particular focus on the chemicals in processes and products – shall reduce existing inequalities inherent to the frameworks in place worldwide, thus raising the overall quality standards and contributing to a level playing field.
Establishing an industry-wide, IT-based exchange format to trace chemicals along the leather supply chains (traceability), embedded into a governance framework ensuring data quality, strengthens downstream users (such as brands and retailers) in their compliance and quality efforts and enables them to formulate demands more targeted in the direction of sustainable chemistry.
A "more sustainable leather chemistry" often has an effect on the leather material. Leather design guidelines provide orientation for the selection of leather types for different applications, as well as for their creative presentation as appealing products.