The UNCTAD Approach to

Voluntary Sustainability Standards

VSS Assessment Toolkit


The VSS Assessment Toolkit helps to diagnose the challenges of VSS uptake and use on the ground. Designed by UNCTAD, the toolkit provides guidelines to: map the value chain of interest and its actors; collect interview and survey data on outcomes of and perceptions on VSS adoption and use; analyse the information collected; and identify policy options to address the observed challenges.

Fostering Green Exports

The UNCTAD Approach

The Cornerstone of UNCTAD’s Approach to VSS

Research & Analysis

Research and Analysis is essential to support policy dialogue and policy recommendations with evidence.


Policy Dialogue

Challenges inherent to VSS adoption and use bring up underlying risks and issues that need to be addressed nationally, from a global perspective. Policy Dialogue is essential to consider all available tools to help vulnerable actors overcome VSS-related challenges.

Inter-Agency Collaboration

UNCTAD is the secretariat of the United Nations Forum on Sustainability Standards (UNFSS), an intiative of 5 UN Agencies – FAO, UNIDO, UNCTAD, ITC and UN Environment.

Fostering Green Exports Through VSS

Under the project “Fostering green exports through Voluntary Sustainability Standards”, UNCTAD conducted an analysis of the necessary conditions for the adoption of VSS to benefit small producers and MSMEs, particularly in LDCs, and identified key factors likely to create an enabling environment to meet the objectives of the various actors involved in VSS adoption.

The Project aims to help developing countries build their capacity to use VSS as a tool to achieve win-win-win outcomes, i.e.: inclusive economic growth though green exports, production practices that are complementary to environmental protection, and a business environment that is complementary to better social development. The project can also contribute to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals 1, 2, 8, 12 and 15.

Case Studies

Developing countries in Asia and the Pacific face similar challenges in seizing the opportunities offered by VSS to meet the growing demand for sustainably produced goods. UNCTAD has worked with three participating countries in the region to help them build their capacity to adopt VSS for their production of green exports.

Philippines - Virgin Coconut Oil

Using the VSS Assessment Toolkit designed under this project, UNCTAD conducted a reality-check to develop policy options for the Philippine virgin coconut oil (VCO) value chain to effectively respond to the growing demand for the adoption of sustainable practices, which contributes to improving market opportunities and country’s green exports.

Based on the conclusions of this study, UNCTAD supported the establishment of a “Technical Working Group (TWG) on Organic Certification of Virgin Coconut Oil” in the Philippines, which held its first meeting in November 2019.

Building upon UNCTAD’s findings and the conclusions of its first meeting, the TWG is due to adopt a VCO National Action Plan in support of the Philippines Export Development Plan (PEDP) 2018-2022 at its second meeting in 2020.

This country case study was conducted in partnership with the Philippines Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA).

Vanuatu - Coconut Oil

Using the VSS Assessment Toolkit designed under this project, UNCTAD conducted a reality-check to develop policy options for the Vanuatu coconut oil value chain to viably enter green or organic markets in a manner that contributes to inclusive and sustainable development.

Building on the findings of this assessment, UNCTAD supported Vanuatu’s multi-stakeholder platform in organizing the first Vanuatu Coconut Summit, which was held in October 2019 and led to the adoption of an action plan in support of the Vanuatu National Coconut Strategy 2016-2025.

This country case study was conducted in partnership with the Department of Industry in the Ministry of Tourism, Trade, Industry, Commerce and Ni-Vanuatu Business (MTTIB) and in coordination with the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Forestry, Fishery and Biosecurity (MALFFB).

Lao PDR- Coffee

To address the challenges associated with organic certification, UNCTAD conducted a reality-check of Lao People’s Democratic Republic’s state of play in the sector of organic agriculture. Using the VSS Assessment Toolkit designed under this project, the Lao coffee value chain was selected as a case study for this purpose. As part of this process, UNCTAD analyzed the business model based on buyer-producer trust of a local cooperative engaged in organic production, as compared to the third-party certification business model commonly found elsewhere.

Findings of this study contributed to feed the discussions of the 7th edition of the Lao Organic Agriculture Forum, serving as the national multi-stakeholder platform for the Lao organic sector. The event was held in November 2019 and resulted in an action plan to upgrade Lao’s organic agriculture strategy to the national agenda.

This country case study was conducted in partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MoAF) and the Ministry of Industry and Commerce (MoIC) of Lao People’s Democratic Republic.

Secretariat of the United Nations Forum on Sustainability Standards

The United Nations Forum on Sustainability Standards (UNFSS) is an initiative of five UN agencies: UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), International Trade Centre (ITC), UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), and UN Environment (UNEP).

UNCTAD is the Secretariat of the initiative.  It was created in response to the externalities that arise from mainstreaming sustainability standards. It helps decision-makers in developing countries source adequate information on Sustainability Standards, as well as share their experiences and get technical help. The UNFSS is a neutral and independent platform that leverages sustainable value chains not only to ameliorate the impact of production and consumption on the economy, society and the environment, but also to facilitate developing countries’ access to global markets.

International Convention on Sustainable Trade and Standards (ICSTS)

VSS worldwide community has been growing rapidly given the increasing focus on sustainability standards, especially as a global trade tool. 

The annual ICSTS creates a global awareness on the challenges and opportunities of VSS schemes such that the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is the central reason to comply with VSS.
>>Learn more here.

VSS Academic Advisory Council (AAC)

The AAC is designed to pursue the following scientific objective: understand the effectiveness of VSS and the determinants of effectiveness. Currently, different disciplines approach questions related to the effectiveness of VSS from different theoretical perspectives and focus on different dimensions of effectiveness. The AAC’s objective is to bring these different perspectives into one overarching network on the effectiveness of VSS, thus contributing to a comprehensive understanding of VSS effectiveness.
>>Learn more here.

National Platform and Initiative Cooperation (NPIC) Network

The NPIC Network derives in recognition of the joint ‘Declaration of Cooperation on Sustainability Standards Ecosystem between the National Platforms’. This declaration is a call for collaboration among National Platforms and Initiatives across the globe to drive knowledge-exchange in the governance of sustainability standards systems. Members can freely tap on the NPIC Network to collaborate and/or gather inputs on areas of work that are mutually beneficial to all.
>>Learn more here.

United Nations Conference on Trade and Development

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