global minimum transparency standard
Equal safety for everyone everywhere
Global minimum transparency standard - what is it?
The Global Minimum Transparency System/Standard (GMTS) is a tool for companies to disclose the identity of chemicals in their materials and products, and a method for sharing the information throughout the entire material and product life cycles, in a globally harmonized way. In non-binding contexts, it is a “system”, similar to the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS), but for chemicals in manufactured materials and products. In legally binding contexts, it is a “standard”.
To simplify the process of disclosure, the GMTS will first start with disclosing chemicals with hazard characteristics as described in UNEP Chemicals in Products Programme. These characteristics include chemicals, which are: Persistent, bioaccummulative and toxic (PBT), Very persistent, very bioaccummulative (vPvB), Carcinogens, mutagens, and toxic to reproduction (CMR), Endocrine disrupters (EDC), Toxic to the nervous system, Other chemicals of concern;
Such chemicals will form a GMTS list of hazardous substances with associated disclosure thresholds for materials and products. It is envisioned to be a living list. Companies may wish to disclose additional chemicals, and are encouraged to do so.
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Why do we need gmts?
GMTS will help us to achieve equal access to information for all stakeholders, irrespective of country, and within and outside the supply chains. It will also assist us to take a step toward stricter regulation or even a complete phase-out of hazardous chemicals, including materials and products containing them, leading to global human health and environmental safety.
The word “minimum” denotes that all stakeholders in material and product life cycles have equal access to the same “minimum” level of information, based on the GMTS list of hazardous chemicals.
GMTS therefore addresses a fundamental information gap about the identity of hazardous chemicals in materials and products, which today is an obstacle to informed and safe handling of materials and products throughout their life cycles, including when reused or recycled.The GMTS covers the same product scope as the UNEP Chemicals in Products Programme (CiP).
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benefits For Governments
- Supports law making
- Ensures equality before the law
- Helps to access information on hazardous chemicals in materials/products
- Saves funds for market surveillance
- Helps to eliminate double standards
- Helps to eliminate non-transparent standards
- Creates transparency to work towards safe recycling and reuse
- Provides data for e.g. national health registers
benefits For industry
- Promotes informed choices about selection of safer materials and components
- Facilitates information sharing in the supply chain
- Facilitates information transfer to consumers
- Levels the playing field on the global market
- Can simplify international trade
- Does not prevent companies from establishing more progressive standards
- Establishes preconditions for safety standards for circular economy
benefits For Retailers
- Realizes the right to know principle
- Promotes informed choices when buying products
- Promotes better product safety
- Increases protection for health and environment
benefits For Consumers
- Realizes the right to know principle
- Promotes informed choices when buying products
- Promotes better product safety
- Increases protection for health and environment
Frequently Asked Questions
The existing initiatives are driven by an industry strong in resources, with purchasing power and large order volumes, that helps them demand their upstream suppliers to disclose chemicals in the materials and product components of the products that these industries buy and also decide to share information about the chemical content of products they manufacture.
Additionally, putting in place and operating the disclosure system takes lots of resources (investments, know-how and staff), which small- and medium-sized companies do not have.
Existing industry initiatives are usually “within-supply-chain” information disclosure systems. When a manufactured material or product exits the industry”supply chain”to downstream users, no information about the chemical composition is transferred to downstream users. This is a major disadvantage.
In addition, multiple parallel industry standards, which often focus on different priority chemicals and use different disclosure concentration thresholds, can be a challenge to conform and comply to by small and medium sized companies, particularly in low and middle income countries,, if they are part of several supply chains.
To handle materials and products and the chemicals contained in them safely throughout their life cycles, information about chemical composition is necessary to support informed decisions by all involved in the material and product life cycles. Moreover, promoting better resource efficiencies by recovering and recycling more materials without causing risks to human health and the environment requires that waste pickers, waste dealers and recycling industries also have information about the chemical composition of the waste to make informed decisions.
The GMTS would lay a global cornerstone for a “safe” circular economy and will address the challenge of multiple parallel industry standards.
Furthermore, the GMTS would help small- and medium-sized companies that are downstream customers, e.g. importers and retailers, to safeguard that the products they offer their customers are free from the most hazardous chemicals. These downstream companies may, otherwise, not have sufficient purchase volumes to put weight behind demands to their suppliers to disclose information about the chemical composition of products.
A GMTS would level the playing field for all companies, and, thus, would not only promote safety for consumers and the environment, but also simplify trade.
Not at all! Ambitious industry initiatives are in any case expected to cover the chemicals suggested for the scope of the GMTS, since these chemicals are already regulated by multilateral agreements or regional legislation.
It is expected that the GMTS chemicals will overlap with several of the existing industry disclosure standards, so for industry it will just be a matter of extracting these chemicals from their databases to also provide “outside-supply-chain-disclosure”.
We fully support a long-term aspirational goal for full ingredient disclosure for materials and products. Among the chemicals considered harmless now may be the future chemicals of concern, as more data on the effects of the chemicals are collected and understood. However, we need to start with something tangible to move the work with information disclosure for chemicals and to move the UNEP CiP Programme substantially forward.
If we start a global disclosure system/standard, for within and outside the supply chain, for chemicals that are already globally or regionally recognized as chemicals of concern, we would simultaneously address the hazard properties of the priority chemicals of the UNEP CiP Programme.
While the industry may continue to work for full information disclosure for chemicals within their material and product supply chains, the GMTS will ensure that all stakeholders throughout the life cycles of materials and products in all countries have access to information in a harmonized format on the presence of the most hazardous chemicals in materials, products and their constituent components.
We fully support a long-term aspirational goal for full ingredient disclosure for products. Among the chemicals considered harmless now may be the future chemicals of concern, as more data on the effects of the chemicals are collected and understood. For this reason, and to honor the precautionary principle, all companies should eventually keep track of the complete chemical composition of the materials that they manufacture or buy from upstream suppliers, and use for manufacturing products. However, we need to start with something tangible to move the work with information disclosure for chemicals and to move the UNEP CiP Programme substantially forward.
Both approaches – full and selected information disclosure – are complementary in meeting the information needs of different stakeholders, to enable informed decisions by all for all life stages of materials and products thereof.
Full information disclosure benefits:
State agencies responsible for policies for the sound management of chemicals and waste, so that they can, for example, better map and track volumes and dispersal routes for chemicals in material life cycles;
National legislators, to enable proper regulatory actions on chemicals of concern;
Waste dealers, waste dismantlers and sorters, so that they can identify materials that need special treatment, or contain chemicals that may interfere with recycling processes, and affect the quality and usability of secondary raw materials.
Stakeholders in the mid-sections of material/product value chains, downstream of manufacturers’ material and product supply chains, need at the minimum information about the presence of chemicals of concern.
Such selective information disclosure is necessary for:
Institutions making public procurements, so that they promote toxic-free materials and products;
Importers and retailers, so that they place toxic-free materials and products on the market, to better ensure consumer safety, and respond to consumer questions about the chemical composition of materials;
Consumers, to enable their informed choices and correct handling of materials and products, including in the waste stage.
Consequently, full and selective information disclosure should be worked on in parallel.
If we start by disclosing chemicals that are already globally or regionally recognized as chemicals of concern, within and outside supply chains for materials and products, using the GMTS approach, we can secure that all stakeholders throughout the material/product life cycles, in all countries, have, at least, access to the same minimum level of information. This approach would simultaneously address the hazard properties of the priority chemicals of the UNEP CiP Programme.
The Dubai Declaration states that chemicals harmful to human health and the environment should not be confidential business information. This principle is enshrined in the Overarching Policy Strategy of the UN chemicals strategy, the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM), and reiterated in the CiP Programme. Industry was part of developing these agreements, and should honor them.
The chemicals suggested to be initially covered by the GMTS are either recognized as chemicals of global concern, or regional concern, and with potential for global spread and impact via international supply chains from products, their materials and constituent components. None of the underlying chemical conventions have clauses for confidential business information. The REACH Regulation with respect to SVHCs and the RoHs Directive also have no clauses for confidential business information.
Furthermore, as long as only the identity of a chemical in a material, product or its constituent components is publicly disclosed, and not the concentration, competitors cannot easily replicate their manufacturing. In the EU, the presence of so called Substances of Very High Concern (SVHCs) in materials, products and their constituent components are mandatorily disclosed to the SCIP database, operational according to this principle. Nothing so far indicates that companies have lost intellectual properties or markets to competitors by disclosing information to the SCIP database on the identity of hazardous chemicals in their materials and products thereto. Consequently, claims for the need to protect confidential business information under these conditions are unwarranted. Information about the concentrations of the disclosed chemicals could potentially be disclosed only to relevant authorities when registering the product for a market.
Yes, ideally! This would offer the full range of benefits of the GMTS as a standard.
A binding standard would help the global community define and harmonize disclosure on the chemicals of global concern and how information about them should be shared and handled within and outside supply chains for materials and products.
The chemicals suggested to be covered by the GMTS are already recognized by existing multilateral environmental agreements (MEA’s) to be chemicals of global or particular concern, but with very few exemptions the conventions still have no formal information disclosure requirements. This complicates compliance with them. Disclosure of information on chemical identities in materials and products thereof is a missing piece of MEAs.
Another compelling argument is equal safety for everyone, irrespective of jurisdiction. Why should a consumer in, for example, Nigeria, South Africa, India, Thailand, Japan, Brazil, Mexico, the USA, Russia and the EU not have the same level of safety with respect to the chemical contents of materials and products thereof? This is currently not the case. Even between and within developed countries there are differences. For example, the EU has a comparatively high safety level harmonized for all member states, while it has so far been hard to push for something similar in federal legislation in the US. Some progressive US states try to address the lack of action at the federal level with state legislation, which can even complicate trade between states within the same federation.
Double standards are a widely recognized problem. In order to deal with this, countries may have to set up costly control systems at their external borders. Low and middle income countries are most at risk from double standards, as they may not be in a position to finance extensive border control systems for imported goods. A binding GMTS would eliminate the possibility for industry to have double standards for the most hazardous chemicals, and at the same time save money for national authorities, manufacturers with upstream suppliers, and importers, as they would have to spend less money on spot checks to verify that materials and products thereof comply with national legislation
Many low and middle income countries are also net importers of products, and are therefore completely in the hands of industry to voluntarily disclose information on the presence of harmful chemicals in materials and products thereof. Sometimes authorities and importers in these countries do not have the capacity to ask the right questions to the suppliers. A binding GMTS would address all of these concerns, as the most hazardous chemicals in materials and products would automatically be disclosed to everyone.
In summary, a binding GMTS is the basis for an equal basic level of safety with respect to chemicals for consumers and the environment globally.
There are potentially different approaches.
The chemicals would be disclosed in relation to threshold concentrations. It could be a single disclosure threshold for all chemicals, as in the case with the EU SVHCs, thresholds for families of chemicals with similar modes of toxic action, or it could be individual thresholds for individual chemicals. Different considerations may have to be made, such as desired level of safety, and the administrative resources necessary for companies to deal with multiple thresholds.
What also needs careful consideration is how the disclosed information is shared, in order to ensure that everyone who needs it can access it. There are different options, from electronic to physical labels. Ideally the information in the labels should also be available in a public database administered by the UN or the Inter-organization Programme for the Sound Management of Chemicals (IOMC), building upon the idea of the EU SCIP database.
suggested elements and why we picked them
Regulates persistent organic pollutants (POPs) with global distribution patterns. Currently transparency is only required for one POP.
Regulates international trade with wastes that contain hazardous chemicals. Currently no formal transparency requirement for the regulated chemicals in wastes.
Regulates the global phase out of mercury and mercury compounds. Currently no formal transparency requirement.
Regulates the global phase out of fluorinated and brominated hydrocarbons harmful to the ozone layer. Currently no formal transparency requirement.
International Agency of Cancer Research (IARC)
A WHO unit that identifies carcinogens. Can complement the other elements suggested to be included in the Global Minimum Transparency Standard.
EU REACH Regulation
SVHCs in the EU chemicals Regulation REACH overlap in hazard properties with the scope of prioritized chemicals in the UN SAICM Chemicals in Products Programme. Mandatory disclosure for SVHCs in products (including at the level of individual product components). Currently there are 233 chemicals on the SVCH list.
EU Restriction of Hazardous Substances in Electrical and Electronic Equipment (RoHS Directive)
Regulates hazardous chemicals in electrical and electronic appliances. It is an EU directive, but has been used as the blue print for similar regulations in many countries.
Chemicals in Products Programme
It supports Chemicals in Products as a SAICM issue of concern, with the aspirational goal of full ingredient disclosure for manufactured products. Chemicals which are persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic substances; very persistent and very bioaccumulative substances; chemicals that are carcinogens or mutagens or that adversely affect, among other factors, the reproductive, endocrine, immune or nervous systems; and other chemicals of concern are prioritised for disclosure.
Why GMTS is a great idea
groundWork/Friends of the Earth South Africa, HEJSupport and the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (SSNC) are part of an NGO team working to raise the level of ambition in implementing the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM). Our priority focus is on chemicals in products (cip).
The Swedish Society for Nature Conservation is Sweden’s oldest and largest environmental NGO. It has no commercial interests, political or other affiliations, rather works for the public good when it comes to environmental protection, management, and related public health issues. Sound management of chemicals is one focus area.
groundWork is an environmental justice organisation working with democratic fenceline formations to resist dirty energy and toxic production, build local alliances with workers for a just transition and advocate for open democracy.
Society for Nature Conservation