Fostering Green Exports through Voluntary Sustainability Standards in Developing Countries

With global demand for "eco-friendly","feel-good" or "green" products - i.e. those that are considered nature-based, healthy, eco-friendly, and socially correct - on the rise, major retailors increasingly opt for products that claim to be sustainable.

One way a product can claim to be "green" is by carrying eco-labels that confirm that products meet Voluntary Sustainability Standards (VSS).

Voluntary Sustainability Standards are norms and standards that are used to ensure that a product in question is produced, processed or transported in accordance with certain sustainability metrics, such as environmental impacts, basic human rights, labour standards, and gender equality. Many VSS schemes are certified and granted labels on their products as "seals-of -approval".

Around 500 VSS today apply to key exports of many developing countries, such as coffee, tea, bananas, cocoa, palm oil, timber, cotton, and organic agri-foods.

Well known VSS include Fairtrade International, Marine Stewardship Council, Rainforest Alliance, Better Cotton Imitative, UTZ, and many others.

But how can developing countries ensure that no one is excluded from benefiting from VSS, including small-scale producers?


The UNCTAD's Project on "Fostering green exports through Voluntary Sustainability Standards" aims to help developing countries build their capacity to use VSS as a tool to achieve the win-win-win outcomes, i.e.:

  • Inclusive economic growth though fostering green exports

  • Production practices that are complementary to environmental protection

  • Business environment that is complementary to better social development

The project can also contribute to countries' achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals 1, 2, 8, 12 and 15.

Voluntary Sustainability Standards 
  Project Code: 1617AI
  Partners: UNFSS member organizations (FAO, ITC, UNEP, UNIDO)
  Donor: United Nations Development Account
  Beneficiaries:    Vanuatu, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, and the Philippines
  Duration: 2017-2019
  Contact: Miho Shirotori


24 January 2020Fair trade enterprises spread benefits through value chains
Goal 15
24 July 2019Small producers need help to enter lucrative "green" markets
05 October 2018Behind-the-border measures shaping trade take centre stage
17 September 2018Report: Voluntary Sustainability Standards can drive trade
21 March 2017Vanuatu assesses its green export potential


 Events and Meetings


 Project Documents


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Trading Towards a Sustainable Future
Volume No. 3, January 2019

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