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The technology that unites the Sustainable Cotton Cluster

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Technology has long been used to keep track of products in a supply chain. While consumers only see a barcode, it’s the intelligence behind those black lines and numbers that really count.
Hennie Ras, director of operations: visibility solutions for IQ Logistica, says that supply chain systems vary from the simple, retail barcode version on one hand, to the highly sophisticated systems first developed by the US Army and NATO on the other. In the middle are masses of systems that can track products within a specific supply chain. The fresh fruit industry, for instance, uses a system called Paltrack to support its specific commodity.
“Our challenge, however, was different,” says Hennie. “To support the Sustainable Cotton Cluster we had to integrate a chain that deals in different commodities – from seed cotton to finished garments – that all used to be tracked differently.”
The IQL system can handle all the transformations and value adding processes that cotton undergoes in the value chain. In simple terms it means that a T-shirt can be traced back to the farm on which the cotton was grown, and when it comes to quality issues, the system can drill down to a specific item to identify the problem. This item-level traceability is unheard of in the textile industry and gives the Sustainable Cotton Cluster a real value proposition to sell to retail partners.
“Through a unique identifier (UID) that identifies each individual item within each category, our system ensures traceability – and an audit trail – within and between the different organisations in the supply chain,” says Ras. “We can do this regardless of the length of the chain because the system covers it like an umbrella and links into each role-player’s own system.”
Supply chain players that don’t have their own end-to-end systems can access the cloud-based IQL platform through a browser.
Another feature of the IQL system is that the requirements for local cotton to comply with the global Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) standards are built into it. For example, farmers are flagged to complete a monthly list of the pesticides they have used. This makes the management of standards much easier and simpler, and auditing no longer depends on physical inspection. The system monitors compliance on a continuous basis and gives the retailer all the information necessary to communicate with consumers about the items they buy.
Behind all this information sharing is an agreement between the role-players that allows IQL to selectively open windows into information as and when needed. “Confidentiality and integrity of the system is hugely important,” says Ras.