How a Voluntary Code of Practice is Putting Mongolia on a Fast Track to Sustainable Cashmere

Most of Mongolian cashmere, world-renowned for its superb quality, is the result of Nomadic herding. Yet, there is no organic certification for the nomadic production of cashmere. However, the challenge of trying to bridge European certification standards with this traditional way of cashmere production did not shy Mongolian wool and cashmere producers away. As part of our project STeP EcoLab, 18 of them agreed to a voluntary code of practice to make cashmere production more socially and environmentally sustainable. Now the code of practice is becoming national law.

The developing of the voluntary code of practice (VCP) for sustainable cashmere production required new ways of thinking in many ways, both at the industry as well as the state level.
The aim of this VCP was ambitious: the project team did not only want the Mongolian cashmere production to become more sustainable than it already is. This means for example, regular health and safety trainings to workers, minimising the use of plastic packaging, dispensing with certain chemicals in the production process or avoiding the transfer of solid and liquid waste into water, to name only a few.

On top of that, the Mongolian cashmere producers were asked to adjust their production to the strict criteria required by well-known European sustainability standards (e.g., GOTS), in order to facilitate the application for certification with leading internationally-recognised sustainability standards. Not all criteria are achievable by the Mongolian wool and cashmere industry immediately. For example, the infrastructure required for current organic standards is not applicable to the traditional Mongolian cashmere production. However, all relevant sustainability standards require sourcing of organic certified raw material to obtain a certification for cashmere products.

For a VCP as close as possible to an eco-textile standard, the CSCP and the Mongolian experts developed criteria classified according to their urgency and feasibility. Signatories commit to comply with its minimum requirements (level A) within one year and with more advanced ones (level B) within two years. They also commit to keep proper records to demonstrate their compliance. Very advanced criteria (level C) do not need to be met immediately, but signatories are required to develop improvement plans and demonstrate the progress in development towards sustainable production.

The VCP is the first step of the Mongolian wool and cashmere industry toward the achievement of an internationally-acknowledged sustainability standard allowing credible communication of their sustainability performance. Prior to obtaining international certification, the wool and cashmere producers can operate under the VCP and communicate their ambitious roadmap to customers in Europe and the United States.

Outside Mongolia, the VCP acts as a signalling instrument toward customers and target markets until complete sustainability certification can be achieved. By uniting, the VCP members reduce the environmental and social impact of wool and cashmere production and increase the competitiveness of their sector in comparison to non-sustainably produced wool and cashmere products.

18 companies, among them the leading Mongolian companies for wool and cashmere production, have signed the VCP. The Mongolian government has endorsed the VCP as an important milestone for the development of the Mongolian wool and cashmere industry decided to adopt it to a national standard. Currently being incorporated into national law, the VCP will soon be the guiding document for Mongolian sustainable cashmere production.

The STeP EcoLab is a four-year project funded by the European Union under the SWITCH Asia II Programme. The project is implemented by the Mongolian branch of ‘Agronomes et Vétérinaires Sans Frontières (AVSF Mongolia)’ in partnership with the CSCP, the Mongolian Wool and Cashmere Association (MWCA), the Environment and Security Center of Mongolia (ESCM), the National Federation of Pasture Users Group (NFPUG) and the Mongolian Bankers’ Association (MBA). The project lasts four years and is funded by the European Union under the SWITCH Asia II Programme.

For further information, please contact Pawel Zylka.