From raw materials such as cotton to the T-shirt in your favorite shop, knowledge and tracking of the specific product characteristics (e.g. origin, sustainability traits and/or manufacturing process) is increasingly important and demanded by consumers. Traceability, and hence transparency, provides reassurance and a better understanding of production characteristics in order to reduce risks to health, safety and quality. In many cases, it is even a legal requirement. A reliable chain-of-custody (CoC) management system is therefore important for certification and quality assurance schemes.

The world is awash with CoC systems and programmes, all with their own semantics, presentation and industry focus, and include CoCs for food safety, sustainable agriculture or compliance in manufacturing. But the sheer number of such systems adds unnecessary layers of administration, thereby increasing costs and pushing smaller companies out of international markets. It is with this in mind that a new ISO project committee – ISO/PC 308, Chain of custody – was established, making traceability simpler for all supply chain actors by using a uniform ISO language globally.

Chair of ISO/PC 308 Rob Busink said: “The proliferation of traceability systems and definitions is causing unnecessary confusion, complexity and costs for players in different supply chains. The proposed generic chain-of-custody standard will define supply chain models and the respective traceability levels and specific requirements related to administration, conversion rates and physical handling activities, thus simplifying market access by using a uniform language and criteria throughout the supply chain.

“It is hoped that existing and new certification schemes will be able to refer to the ISO standard for the terminology regarding chain-of-custody requirements, thus simplifying the conformity assessment for those various product certifications and reducing unnecessary duplication or misunderstanding.”

The committee has already attracted support for the development of the standard from organizations across many sectors, such as food, consumer goods, energy and construction, as well as certification schemes and government.

Organizations and chain-of-custody experts interested in being actively involved in the development of the standard are encouraged to contact their national ISO member for more information.