Tracing Cotton from Garment to Farm | Traceability Models and Biggest Obstacles to Traceability

This article is written by Sweta Singh.

Cotton traceability
Being able to track and trace the history, distribution, location, and use of products, parts, and materials is referred to as traceability, according to the United Nations Global Compact.

Along with strategies like due diligence, possibilities to evaluate or comprehend issues like human rights, labour practices, environmental impacts, etc. are created if goods, parts, and materials can be traced for all or a portion of their trip along the supply chain.

Additionally, traceability offers a foundation for demonstrating trustworthiness in sustainability, quality, or origin claims and attributing them to finished goods.

It is critical to understand that various supply chain stakeholders will have varied interpretations of what traceability entails.

In this article, I would be discussing the need and challenges of Cotton Traceability.   

Why traceability is needed?

Brands should be interested in learning about their products' origins, creators, working environments, and environmental implications in order to ensure a sustainable supply chain.

Lack of traceability frequently coexists with complex supply chains, which makes it challenging to make sustainable improvements. To show a connection between corporate sustainable sourcing policy and practice and actual supply chain sustainability benefits, a thorough understanding of the supply chain is required.

Traceability improvements have the following advantages:

  • Claims about items and procedures can be verified by brands and retailers, who can then relay this information to customers.
  • End users are more likely to believe a product's origin, which boosts their trust and loyalty to a brand.
  • Farmers now have easier access to contracts, markets, and services like finance and education. They can also benefit from price surcharges by obtaining traceable certification.
  • Suppliers can observe higher levels of sales and trust as well as a more secure supply. Traceability enhances supply chain management as well.

The majority of businesses that source sustainable cotton partner with certification programs that have a track record of upholding sourcing agreements and guaranteeing traceability. This offers a solid method for sustainable sourcing when coupled with a due diligence strategy.

Understanding traceability models

Different traceability models are used by various sustainability programs, and each one has benefits and drawbacks. The following systems will be used by those who are trying to trace their supply chain:
  • Identity preservation
  • Bulk segregation
  • Mass balance
  • Certificate trading or ‘book and claim’ model

1. Identity preservation

This strategy offers traceability from a farm or group of farmers to the gin or end consumers back to a single point of origin. Every approved lot, batch, amount, or shipment is handled separately. Throughout the supply chain, it is physically segregated from other certified and uncertified products, as well as from the related paperwork. This model does not allow the mixing of non-certified materials anywhere in the supply chain.

2. Bulk segregation

Through every step of the supply chain, the certified product is maintained physically distinct from the non-certified product using bulk segregation. It is acceptable to combine certified products from multiple sources, however, paperwork identifying the location or nation of origin is frequently retained. All producers are required to adhere to the certification requirements.

3. Mass balance

Products from certified sustainable and non-sustainable sources are blended in the Mass Balance model. Volume ratios are precisely tracked as they pass through the supply chain. By doing this, the amount of certified product entering the operation can be regulated, and an equivalent amount of product leaving the operation can be marketed as certified (after subtracting roughly 20% of processing waste).

4. Certificate trading or ‘book and claim’ model

In this model, certified and non-certified products flow freely through the supply chain. Sustainability certificates or credits are issued at the beginning of the supply chain by an independent issuing body and can be bought by market participants, usually via a certificate or credit trading platform.

This model provides tradeable certificates for certified products. The claim is not directly connected to the certified product but rewards responsible production. It allows outputs to be sold with a credit claim corresponding to the number of certified inputs.

Biggest obstacles to traceability

The supply chain must be digitalized for traceability, yet many businesses continue to operate in a dual mode, storing certain data digitally and others still on paper. This is a very inefficient strategy because it will take a long time to retrieve any information.

Implementing traceability takes a large financial investment, as with most sustainable technologies, and typically falls on those at the start of the supply chain because mills find it more difficult to remain competitive when they pass these costs through to customers.

When blending is taken into account, traceability becomes more complicated. Even in clothing made entirely of cotton, fibers from various batches are combined to balance out more expensive and higher-quality crops with cheaper and lower-quality ones. While doing this by itself can make tracing more challenging.

In reality, the requirements for transparency along the entire cotton supply chain will only become more stringent. Cotton traceability will be not only beneficial for retailers but also for customers. A cotton traceability system that makes it simple and accurate to track down raw materials will greatly increase consumer confidence and will increase the market for retailers and manufacturers.

Obser, S. (2015). Facing the Challenge of Supply Chain Traceability. Niederrhein University of Applied Sciences in Mönchengladbach: Mönchengladbach, Germany.
Sourcing Options: Cotton UP. (n.d.). Retrieved from Cotton UP A Guide to Sourcing Sustainable Cotton:
News: Fiber2Fashion. (2022, November 8). Retrieved from Fiber2Fashion:

About the Author: Sweta Singh is currently pursuing a Master in Fashion Technology from NIFT, New Delhi, with an experience of 7 months in SGS India Pvt. Ltd. as Asst. Quality Coordinator. She has done her B. Tech in Apparel Production and Management from the Government College of Engineering and Textile Technology, Serampore.

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