The Textile Tracer Assessment
Forensic tracers: Less supply chain burden
With off-site detection and no need for application of any tracer substance or optical fingerprint, for the user, the implementation of forensic tracers has less supply chain operational workload and burden.
Forensic tracers are useful to facilitate ad-hoc “spot checking” of the geographic origin of natural fibres. This enables the user to verify with confidence that claims of origin are true, that they meet desired sustainability criteria of the area of origin, and can help to red-flag fibres and materials sourced from questionable supply areas (e.g. forced labour concerns). If the user is a supplier and/or manufacturer, forensic tracers can maintain and communicate the authenticity of fibres and materials sold.23
However, forensic tracers have more difficulty providing provenance of the middle tiers of the supply chain, between Tier 3 to 1. This lesser capability of verifying supply chain origins (Tier 3 – 1) is due to the greater amount of sampling needed in order to build provenance databases of the isotopic, bio-chemical, and trace meddle compositions obtained by fibres and materials during their supply chain journey (not to be confused with building provenance databases at geographic origin: Tier 4). Traceability verification mechanisms to authenticate fibres and materials within the middle supply chain tiers has more difficulties due to manufacturing process steps impacting and changing the biochemical composition of fibres and materials. Overall, forensic tracers have greater traceability effectiveness of verifying the geographic origin of natural fibres (Tier 4 Raw material production).
With less tracer technologies available in the forensic tracer category, their usability focuses on transparency of first-mile origins of natural fibres, rather than physically and digitally tracking and tracing the commodity flow throughout all tiers of the supply chain. Physical traceability verification by forensic tracers should be used in conjunction with site and transaction verification to ensure robust traceability validation for the user.
Additive tracers: Facilitate better direct “track and trace” traceability and more tailorable to the user
With more claims to on-site application and detection processes, additive tracers bear more supply chain operational burden for implementation and maintenance. However, as they have a wider supply chain coverage, they hold more flexibility for the user to provide traceability integrity for a larger scope of supply chain tiers and fibre types.
In addition, based on the claims made, most “synthetic/artificial DNA” and ink/rare Earth Material additive tracers have the ability to withstand and sustain well through textile manufacturing processes. Giving confidence to the user that physical traceability of the tracer applied is sustained throughout the supply chain journey, from application in the upper supply chain to detection later down the supply chain.28
In terms of confidence levels regarding detection capabilities, most additive tracers have “lock and key” mechanisms for their detection and verification processes. This means that the exact signatory composition of the tracer substance applied (e.g. artificial DNA sequence or luminous ink pigment) needs to be pre-known in order for it to be detected and authorised effectively. This makes it impossible to replicate the verification of the tracer, or for it to be used in an unauthorised way. For the user, this provides a high-degree of traceability confidence when detection processes of the tracers are successful (handheld, inline/mechanical, test kits/molecular screening tools, smartphone/tablet scanning). However, without an independent party verifying, “lock and key” detection mechanisms can be questioned. 29
As the title suggests, additive tracers are applied onto fibres and materials. Therefore, they exist physically within the fibre or material traced. This physical traceability runs in parallel to digital traceability. Many of the additive tracer companies have their own proprietary IT system to facilitate data uploads and analysis from detection processes that “checkpoint” the fibre or material at supply chain tiers, since the point of application. This therefore creates a digital twin of the supply chain journey. For the user, this digital visibility of the flow of goods allows for analysis of real-time data points and uploads: time, geo-tagging and other relevant logistical and ESG criteria from manufacturing facilities within scope. All of which can integrate into other legacy supply chain software systems and platforms. Additive tracers therefore provide better “track and trace” traceability, following the commodity flow directly and verifying at more regular intervals within the supply chain.
With more tracer technologies available in the additive tracer category, their usability is more flexible for the user, based on wider claimed supply chain operability and coverage. They hold a focus on physical tracing of fibres and materials, and the associated digital capabilities for data uploads, real-time tracking, and analysis. This allows for an innovative synchronisation of the physical and digital traceability worlds.
Supply chain mapping and supplier engagement are prerequisites for implementation
It is clear for both tracer categories that in order to pursue supply chain traceability at tiers of the users focus, supply chain mapping and stakeholder engagement is a prerequisite to enable sample database building for forensic tracers, and pragmatic operational implementation and logistical maintenance for additive tracers.
Agnostic integration capabilities are a must have
An essential capability of tracer technologies is having agnostic capability with other digital traceability platforms thus, enabling forensic and additive tracer technologies to upload information onto supply chain software systems. Through the claims made, most if not all tracer technologies have experience integrating data uploads to other software systems through API integration or direct uploads.