The Three Levels of Traceability — Step Two: Product Traceability

The Three Levels of Traceability — Step Two: Product Traceability

In a brand's traceability journey, product traceability is the second step towards comprehensive tracking of its supply chain. Click here to read Step One: Supplier Mapping. To understand the fundamentals of product-level traceability, read on below. 

The Basics

- Understand your product journey

- Understand the key suppliers for particular products

- Manage evidence and prove the authenticity of products


Preparing for incoming regulations on product traceability means that you will need to collect information on specific metrics at a product level: exactly where your products have traveled, the suppliers and manufacturing regions that have been involved, and the evidence to prove it. Product traceability helps to build granular information about a product’s journey which brands can leverage for compliance and transparency initiatives.


Product Traceability gives you a retrospective view of how your products were realized from raw materials to finished goods and is typically traced from the finished product backwards.

Product backward traceability is achieved by tracing the supply chain of a product after it has been manufactured. It is suitable for making general claims about your supply chain, and for products made with materials that are considered low-risk or are unregulated. However, because the data can be documented up to six months after the product arrives to market, product backward traceability is considered less reliable, as certain assumptions and generalizations have been made in the data gathering process.

You’ll be able to identify exactly what the supply chain looks like for your product, tying all the evidence from supplier mapping to the product you are tracing. Evidence for certified materials, such as transaction certificates, come with a lot of data readily available.
They follow a Chain of Custody (CoC) model documenting the origin, components, processes, and handlers of the materials throughout the supply chain. However, if you are working with products that lack third-party certification or involve high-risk risk supply chains where CoC has not yet been established, you can use product traceability to understand your product supply chain better, as a way to prepare for traceability at the material level, through which the CoC can be established.
Product traceability can be used to make general claims about a certain product that isn’t tied to a specific batch of production. For example: It’s frequently used for making sustainability claims for leather products. Leather is connected to certain environmental risks such as chrome usage during the tanning and dying processes, as well as deforestation (specifically in the Amazon) caused by cattle farming.
Both of these risks can be addressed by providing additional evidence of chemical certification, as well as a country of origin declaration from the supplier, which will help brands to make claims like “Our suppliers are certified to be chrome-free.Product Traceability is not sufficient to make specific claims on the product, only supply chain-related claims like certifications.


Product traceability is achieved through the same methodology as Supplier Mapping (which is a prerequisite to this level), only the data extracted is more granular, down to the product or style. You can visualize this as a tree of information that contains a product at the top and branches that represent every supplier that has contributed to its production.

This tree is much smaller than the overall supply chain map that you can achieve through supplier mapping, narrowing in on specific products and their associated suppliers. When done manually, Product Traceability is challenging to achieve beyond tier 2 and can become a time-consuming task (depending on the breadth of products being traced) that requires cooperation from your direct suppliers. When done digitally, product traceability is much more easily scaled beyond your direct suppliers through automated evidence requests.

The data usually collected through Product Traceability includes:

- Granular bill of material information for the product

- Supply chain information of a product and materials across different tiers

- Specific declarations related to raw materials or processing methods used by suppliers

- Material certificates and quality reports related to the product

Challenges and Limitations

Like Supplier Mapping, Product Traceability only gives you part of the picture, as it does not tell you details about the content of your products, nor does it collect data in real-time, meaning the evidence is often not available until several months after the product is finished. It is insufficient to make material-based claims or provide you with weight-based calculations on your product material compositions, especially when there is no third-party certification available for the material.

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