The Work of ICT Development and Innovation in Global Value Chains

The sustainability of global value chains (GVCs) is a topic of immense environmental, social and economic importance. Technology is part of the solution: enabling the tracing of products, monitoring critical sustainability indicators to assess the conditions of production, trade and consumption, monitoring the behaviour of stakeholders around the globe or enabling democratic governance in a global network. The possibilities seem endless.  The credo is that improved technologies increase the efficient production, use and communication of more and better data about the social, environmental and economic impacts of global supply chains: in other words more and better technology will increase the transparency of global value chains.

This research is one of three projects related to the Wageningen University research program Next Generation Governance Arrangements for Sustainable Global Value Chains.

Project summary

The role of technology as the basis for transparency is especially important to voluntary certification initiatives. In order to keep improving the transparency and traceability of global value chains, it is crucial for the stakeholders to develop and innovate technologies in use. However while technology is associated with neutral solutions, stakeholders operating in competitive markets face difficult strategic choices when confronted with demands and opportunities to innovate:  

  • ICT development ‘by whom and for whom’
  • Data ownership
  • Marketization of Data
  • Administrative burdens
  • Information feedback loops
  • Confidentiality vs public data  

In this project, we critically assess the notion that ICT is but a neutral means to strive for sustainability. It is build on the idea that traceability, transparency and sustainability are tightly connected. The premise is that traceability offers transparency, and transparency contributes to sustainability, but this relation is neither simple nor straightforward. The inherent strategic and normative character of ICT development often remain implicit, or is hidden "behind the screen".

The first phase of this project was carried out by Margreet Brinxma in collaboration with Esther Turnhout and Simon Bush. The research is now conducted in three related sub-projects focussing on the three commodities which are at the center of our program.

Martin Skrydstrup and Esther Turnhout are leading a study on palmoil traceability and the role of ICT developments in fostering both sustainability and transparency in the palm oil value chain.

Simon Bush, together with Sanneke Kloppenburg and Hilde Toonen, look into seafood traceability and how informational processes and technologies affect the governance of social and environmental issues in fisheries.

Bas Arts and Esther Turnhout, supported by a student team, investigate timber legality, with regional focus on Ghana.

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News Highlight

October 6, 2017: Workshop "Behind the screen", aimed to discover if and how traceability contributes to transparency and sustainability, and if and how a potential contribution of traceability to transparency and sustainability can be strengthened. See

Out now

Two blogposts on the global value chain of sustainable palm oil: by Martin Skrydstrup and by Eline van Schothorst

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