The term Traceability is formed by Trace and Ability; its definition depends on the production sector where it is applied.  

According to the United Nations Global Compact, traceability is: 

“The ability to identify and trace the history, distribution, location and application of products, parts and materials, to ensure the reliability of sustainability claims, in the areas of human rights, labour (including health and safety), the environment and anti-corruption.” (

Traceability has been defined in the ISO 9001 standard by the International Organization for Standardization, and is considered one of the main elements to ensure quality, safety, and sustainability of goods. Traceability has become a worldwide societal concern. 

Traceability is the ability to verify the "history" of a product (food and manufacturing), analysing all the steps of the supply chain: raw materials, their production, their certifications, distribution. Traceability could also be developed after the retail stage, to facilitate the reuse and recycling of waste. A certified brand for its traceability and sustainability invites consumers to buy its products even in secondary markets. As products are tracked, the resulting data gives the products their pedigree and provides a wealth of information that businesses and consumers can use to make better decisions.  

Traceability must be well documented and many companies are developing advanced digital tools to ensure data collection and provide all information that demonstrates the traceability of their supply chains. 

Traceability and sustainability are closely related to each other; the reputation of the supply chain depends on these two pillars. The products are considered "storytellers" that create a link between consumers and producers. 

In addition to optimizing available resources, facilitating the reuse of materials, authenticating products, and ensuring fair and sustainable trade, traceability allows companies to take control of their products’ carbon footprints. End-to-end traceability is the key to product life-cycle analysis, which leads to understanding and controlling the environmental and social impact of any type of product. For every industry, every product, at every level, traceability is the driver of a smarter, safer, more efficient, entirely connected global supply chain – an intelligent supply chain. It is the key to a more sustainable world (

Traceability models are applied to every type of industry (pharmaceuticals, medical devices, food and beverages, automotive, etc.). In the food and beverage industries it is clear how concerned consumers are about verifying the traceability of products, not only for an approach towards a sustainable world and economy, but also for their health. 

In the fashion industry we can find a link with traceability mainly in ethical fashion, for example with the worldwide campaign 'Who made my clothes?' by the Fashion Revolution movement, which invites consumers to keep informed on the fashion supply chain (Ethical Fashion, Fast Fashion), in particular for those brands that produce in Asia (Bangladesh, India, Cambodia, China, etc…).  

Traceability in food chains is often seen as a means to ensure food safety, to minimise the impact of food incidents, and to manage liability issues. Viewed this way, traceability is often seen as an imposition requiring investment but not contributing to profits or competitiveness. This is one of the reasons why traceability has been introduced slowly in the food sector. FoodPrint is a systematic approach for analysing and designing traceability systems that takes the business goals of the food companies as a starting point (

There are different models of traceability, depending on the flexibility and the different supply chains. Some models are very strict and usually applied in the food sector, where the traceability of raw materials or materials certified as organic or vegan is the essential element to guarantee. 

  • Product Segregation: this model of traceability is the most stringent. Using this model, all materials that are verified are separated from those that are not, never to be mixed again. A model like this is very important for industries like food and beverage, where claims regarding organic, kosher, vegan, and halal products must be strictly enforced.  There are two sub models within the product segregation model: Bulk Commodity and Identify Preservation. With a Bulk Commodity model, certified materials are allowed to be mixed with other certified materials of the same type. The Identity Preservation model prohibits this, forcing all certified materials to be segregated. 
  • Mass Balance: is focused on the ratio of certified and uncertified materials. These can be mixed, if the final claims maintain the ratio/percentage of the inputs. If only 50% of the inputs were certified, then only 50% of the outputs can carry the claim. This model is useful for complex supply chains where segregation is not feasible.
  • Book and Claim: This model allows sustainability certificates to be earned and sold. It is used when supply chains are too complex to reasonably maintain product verification of any form. Suppliers can get certificates for their materials, then sell these on a trading platform. Businesses that wish to make sustainability claims can purchase these certificates, earning the right to make claims relevant to the certificate regardless of if their products contain any of the certified materials (What is Traceability and What Does It Have to Do With Sustainability? )

Across business-to-business and business-to-consumer industries, customers, investors, employees and regulators are demanding more sustainable products and production. 

  • Stakeholders are demanding sustainability throughout the supply chain. 
  • Businesses must invest in digital traceability tools to create circular supply chains. 
  • Cross-sector collaboration is key to making the 'digital thread' of traceability standard practice. 

Customer satisfaction has always depended on supply chains. Yet now they must do more than simply deliver the product that customers want, when they want it. Today’s supply chains must also deliver on a brand promise: sustainability”. Bain & Company’s Elements of Value research shows that companies that successfully match customers’ sustainability expectations are rewarded with higher revenue growth and customer loyalty. As Ilham Kadri, CEO of chemicals provider Solvay, puts it: “sustainability is profitability.” ( )