The Rainforest Alliance and the Sustainable Agriculture Network: Update on our work in Assam to improve living conditions on farms in India and worldwide

In October 2015 the Rainforest Alliance and the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) were informed of alleged non-conformities of the SAN standards on a group of certified tea farms in Assam, India.

Following due process with the certification bodies responsible for these certificates, one certificate was cancelled for non-compliances related to agrochemical sprayings. In response to further investigations by the Rainforest Alliance and SAN, an updated definition of agrochemicals in the Sustainable Agriculture Standard version 4.0 became binding on December 1, 2015. This update also included the promotion of housing, sanitation, formal grievance mechanisms and access to drinking water to critical criteria within the SAN standard.

A full audit using SAN version 4.0 was conducted in March 2016 on the estate in question, with no critical non-conformities found. The certification of the farm has been reinstated as of April 19, 2016. As required by SAN version 4.0, the farm has developed a time-bound plan to make considerable housing improvements, which are already underway. These improvements require significant investment, including the installation of new sanitary facilities and renovations of existing dwellings, (such as installation of modernized ventilation systems). The comprehensive, time-bound plan for these upgrades was submitted in July 2016, and the farm has three years to complete these improvements. SAN auditors will track the progress of these improvements during future audits. The next audit will take place during the first quarter of 2017.

Since October 2015, the Rainforest Alliance and SAN have collaborated closely with producers, the tea industry -including the Ethical Tea Partnership - and other stakeholders to address critical topics in Assam. These include: better practices and alternatives in pesticide management, housing and sanitation upgrades, risks that could lead to child labor, and continued progress on wages. Several actions are underway in high- risk regions, including increased communications with certified tea estates on environmental and social issues, more unscheduled audits and intensified training of SAN certification specialists.

The Rainforest Alliance and SAN continue their work to improve living conditions on farms in India and around the world. In many cases, farm managers are now assessing the quality of employee housing, water supply and sanitation facilities and must present plans to correct any housing and sanitation shortcomings, with measurable and consistent annual targets. Farms must correct any unacceptable conditions within a specific period of time; certificates that fail to meet these requirements will be cancelled. These actions and changes are not restricted to Assam but apply worldwide.

“Historically we have seen that when farms fail to conform to a specific requirement in the SAN standard, more often than not they correct the problem,” said Ana Paula Tavares, executive vice president of the Rainforest Alliance. “It is not a quick fix, particularly when issues are systemic, but we are committed to working with farmers on their journey to sustainability. We are happy to report that progress has been made in Assam but together with producers and the industry at large, we have more work to do.”

“We continue to work in close collaboration with key stakeholders in the tea industry in order to have sustainable and longer term solutions to these complex issues,” said Andre de Freitas, executive director of the SAN commented. “Additionally, the revised SAN standard to be published in September 2016 has a built-in continuous improvement approach for all certified farms, which will further contribute to addressing the particular challenges we face globally.”

The SAN published the 2017 SAN Standard on September 20, 2016, which becomes binding in July 2017. For more information go here.


Forest canopy - photo by Sergio Izquierdo

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