Webinar | Voluntary Sustainability Standards and Resilient Supply Chains: Bananas, cotton, palm oil, and soybeans

Presentation Slides

On Thursday, June 25, 2020 an expert panel gathered to share and discuss the key findings from the recent reports in the Sustainable Commodities Marketplace Series, from the State of Sustainability Initiatives at the International Institute for Sustainable Development.

The reports track consumption and production trends, with a focus on the performance of voluntary sustainability standards (VSSs), in the banana, cotton, palm oil, and soybean markets.

The panelists also investigated the potential for VSS-compliant production to promote resilience and traceability across agricultural value chains, which have gained renewed prominence with the COVID-19 pandemic.


  • Steffany Bermudez, Associate Co-Author, IISD’s Sustainable Commodities Marketplace Series 2019
  • Thomas Bernet, Group Lead, Value Chains & Markets, FiBL
  • Pierre Courtemanche, Sustainability and Supply Chain Strategist, Founder of GeoTraceability, Groupe OPTEL
  • Rochelle Eisen, Organic Certification Expert, Former president of Canadian Organic Growers
  • Verina Ingram, Senior Researcher and Assistant Professor, Forest & Nature Conservation Policy Group, Wageningen University & Research Centre
  • Vivek Voora, Sustainability Standards Advisor and Lead Author of Sustainable Commodities Marketplace Series 2019, International Institute for Sustainable Development


During the webinar several participants raised questions for discussion. The following Q&As summarize some of the exchanges during the event.

1. How do VSSs contribute to poverty reduction?
Through their requirements and embedded practices, VSSs can support higher wages, commodity prices, food security, gender equality, and mitigate negative environmental impacts – all of which can contribute to poverty reduction. More research is needed to understand the effectiveness and limits of VSSs concerning poverty reduction. IISD is working on new research that examines the potential for VSSs to promote market access for small-scale farmers and contribute to poverty reduction.

2. How do we develop more robust VSSs and enforcement capacity?
Some VSSs have adopted a continuous improvement approach and are employing new technologies to strengthen their criteria and enforcement. For instance, satellite-based sensor technology is now used to monitor illegal logging in palm oil operations. Increasing collaboration between governments and buyers also shows potential to strengthen enforcement capacity.

3. Regarding consumer prices, how can we move towards capturing the externalities of conventional production which would make VSS-compliant product more price competitive?
This is a big challenge because it depends which costs you decide to internalize, some of which can be hard to quantify as a cost. The concepts of living income and living wages can help in this regard and provide a basis for calculating costs. Internalizing externalities needs to be done collectively and carefully.

4. Your research shows there is a low uptake of VSS-compliant palm oil. How do we get the whole supply chain to push towards higher uptake of VSS-compliant commodities?
Consumer awareness is critical. Our research shows that customers are driving demand for VSS-compliant bananas due to personal health and environmental concerns. Commodities such as palm oil and cotton face unique challenges because they are not consumer-facing products. Raising awareness amongst key stakeholders is one way to overcome this issue. For instance, pursuing sustainable purchasing commitments from larger buyers, which have been driving demand for VSS-compliant palm oil. In addition, government regulations and trade policies can influence market uptake by establishing sourcing criteria, production requirements, and using VSSs as potentially support regulatory compliance and enforcement.

5. How do we create more value for traceable products and encourage more investment in traceability?
This is a good a question, building on Pierre Courtemanche’s comment in the webinar, as a society we need to demand/request more visibility and transparency about product life-cycles through the value chain. Traceability systems can help to achieve this objective. Critically, it requires the coordination and support of all parties involved (i.e. private sector, public sector, VSSs, farmers). It can also be important to document existing experiences to identify best practices, incentives and lessons learned that can drive investment.


The following resources were referenced during the webinar: