How is Traceability Different to Transparency?

How is Traceability Different to Transparency?

Traceability and transparency are often considered interchangeable terms in the fashion industry. While the two terms go hand in hand, they have key differences. Read on to learn TrusTrace's definition of Traceability and Transparency within fashion supply chains. 

What is Traceability?

In order to understand the ins and outs of traceability, we need to define it. Traceability describes the process of tracing the origins, movement, and evolution of products and materials. It sounds simple enough, but in reality, traceability is incredibly complicated to achieve, especially for large brands with thousands of products and suppliers along the value chain, spread across multiple continents.

The information captured through traceability can be granular – down to the specific components and individual batches of a product. Establishing traceability requires a sophisticated system to record data as a product moves along the supply chain.

Traceability is the ability to trace the history, application or location of an entity by means of recorded identifications.

ISO standard 9000:2015

Traceability is necessary to prove environmental and social claims about a product so that brands can avoid greenwashing, adhere to certification criteria, and abide by regulations. With increased visibility over their suppliers, brands can more easily monitor for and uncover social and environmental issues.

In the last few years, scandals have plagued the industry – whether that is the production of materials like leather and cotton contributing to the deforestation of the Amazon or wage theft perpetrated against garment workers. Alongside this, recent supply chain crises caused by the pandemic — revealed the inflexibility of global supply chains. The business case for traceability has never been stronger.

What is Transparency?

In comparison to traceability, which is more focused on internal tracking, transparency is about the communication of information to customers. Compared to the dynamic, real-time data that is linked to materials and products as they move through the supply chain, this information changes less frequently and can be less complex. Transparency helps to hold brands accountable to their commitments through increased public awareness and scrutiny, which is a crucial component of creating a more equitable industry for all stakeholders.

Transparency relates directly to relevant information [being] made available to all elements of the value chain in a standardized way, which allows common understanding, accessibility, clarity and comparison.

European Commission, 2017

Fashion Revolution has been publishing the Fashion Transparency Index (FTI) since 2017, ranking 250 of the world’s biggest brands in five key areas, including supply chain traceability. While there’s still work to do, the industry has come a long way in this arena, reported the FTI in 2021.


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