Sustainable Agriculture Network/Rainforest Alliance Certification: Chain-of-Custody

Increasingly, consumers and businesses want to know the origins of the farm products they buy. A cornerstone of any credible certification program, Chain-of-Custody certification supports claims made to consumers that products bearing the Rainforest Alliance Certified™ seal are traceable back to Rainforest Alliance Certified farms.

Businesses that handle, buy, or mix products from Rainforest Alliance Certified farms, and sell them as certified, should consult our Sustainable Agriculture Network/Rainforest Alliance Chain of Custody Policy to determine if they are required to seek certification.

Below you will find a map that includes all of the Certification Bodies (CB) that manage SAN/Rainforest Alliance CoC clients. Please click on your country and the CB will appear with contact information.

Interactive Map of Certification Bodies

Click on the map to view Certification Bodies by country:

  1. Companies that are new to the process and have just recently decided to purchase products from Rainforest Alliance Certified farms must register in Marketplace, our traceability and trademark portal.
  2. Upon registering, you will receive an email with a password for Marketplace, as well as general information, including information on SAN/Rainforest Alliance Chain-of-Custody certification (CoC).
  3. Once registered in Marketplace, companies can access information on how to use the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal and have the ability to upload artwork to the portal for approval.
  4. Upon buying or selling products from Rainforest Alliance Certified farms, your business must also comply with the Rainforest Alliance's traceability requirements. For further information contact traceability@ra.org.
  5. After registering in Marketplace (step 2) and establishing your traceability system (step 4), it's time to apply for CoC certification. You will have 12 months from the date of your Marketplace registration to apply for CoC certification and 18 months to complete the audit process.
  6. Next, choose your Certification Body (CB) from a list of accredited certifiers (see map in Overview tab). Once the application has been submitted to the CB, they will provide a budget for the certification audit and work with you to schedule the audit. The audit will be based on the SAN/Rainforest Alliance CoC Standard and Policy. The auditor will review the companies' applicable systems for management, training, traceability, the use of the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal (when applicable) and multi-site procedures (when applicable).
  7. If the audit results are positive and all certification payments and agreements have been finalized, then the company will be issued a CoC certificate and appear as CoC certified on the Sustainable Agriculture Network's website. Each company is expected to maintain its systems and continue compliance with traceability and Use-of-Seal requirements in order to maintain their certification.
Document Name Download Links
Chain of Custody Policy
Chain of Custody Standard
Glossary of Terms

The Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) and the Rainforest Alliance have approved an exemption policy for Small Volume Operators within the Chain of Custody Certification requirements. The guidelines for applicability have been highlighted within the Small Volume Exemption Policy below. Companies interested in applying for the exemption must complete the Small Volume Exemption Application, which will be reviewed by the SAN/Rainforest Alliance Exemption Committee for applicability. For any questions regarding this exemption, or to submit an application, please email sanracoc@ra.org. There is no cost to the operator for this exemption process.

Document Name Download Links
Small Volume Exemption Requirements
Application for Small Volume Exemption

 

Food companies, retailers, governments, NGOs and consumers are increasingly interested in knowing the origins of farm goods. The Rainforest Alliance Certified™ seal is supported by traceability from farm to market. With input from industry valuechain experts, the Rainforest Alliance and Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) have been fine-tuning our Chain of Custody certification, and a new standard and policy will be effective in May 2012 to ensure traceability while making the system business friendly.

FAQs

Why are SAN and Rainforest Alliance introducing this new certification?

Chain of Custody certification is a cornerstone of any credible certification. As part of its new accreditation program, which is based on ISO65 conformance and additional SAN criteria, SAN and the Rainforest Alliance needed to upgrade their Chain of Custody approval into a global certification program. The new system is designed to complement our traceability and Use of Seal systems.

The accreditation program will further enhance the credibility, competitiveness and efficiency of Rainforest Alliance certification. By July 2012 five newly accredited Certification Bodies (CB) will begin issuing certifications for farms, farmer groups and Chain of Custody operations. When the system is fully operational, other CBs can apply for accreditation. Updates on the accreditation system can be found on the SAN website.

Who needs Chain of Custody certification?

Chain of Custody certification applies to any entity that legally owns or manipulates the product originating from a certified farm and matches with any of the following categories:

  • Certified farms that handle, buy or mix products originating from non-certified farms.
  • Certified group administrators that handle, buy or mix products originating from non-certified farms.
  • Entities that buy or sell products from certified farms or group administrators and mix it with product originating from non-certified farms or group administrators;
  • Exporters, importers, other traders and brokers, warehouse managers or auctioneers that handle and make certification claims about products originating from certified farms or group administrators;
  • Entities processing, selling or packaging final products with Rainforest Alliance Certified claims;
  • Entities receiving the approval to use the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal on packaging of the final product.
  • You can find some examples by scrolling down to the last question.
Who does not need to apply for a Chain of Custody audit?

The Chain of Custody system does not apply to:

  • Certified farms that do not handle, buy or mix products from non-certified farms;
  • Certified group administrators that do not handle, buy or mix products from noncertified farms;
  • Entities that only provide financial services and who act on behalf of a third party making claims about products originating from certified farms;
  • Entities that only provide transport, storing or brokerage services and come into physical, but not legal ownership of certified products;
  • Subcontracted entities or any outsourcing activity in which legal ownership of Rainforest Alliance Certified product is not taken;
  • Retailers that have physical possession of products bearing the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal on the final packaging for consumption;
  • Entities and their subsequent supply chain that do not wish to recognize, offer or commercialize their products as Rainforest Alliance Certified or make claims to that effect.
  • You can find some examples by scrolling down to the last question.
If we are still not sure if we need a Chain of Custody audit, what do we do?

Please contact the nearest accredited Certification Body for further guidance. You can find a Certification Body by country on our map.

What’s the deadline for applying for and getting an audit?

The Chain of Custody program becomes effective on May 1, 2012. SAN and the Rainforest Alliance have laid out an implementation schedule linked to registration in Marketplace (all farms and entities involved in the supply chain of products from Rainforest Alliance Certified farms must register at www.rainforestalliance.org/farmproducts)

The following time table applies:

Entities that are registered on Marketplace: Must Submit the Application Form for an Audit: Must be Audited by:
Before February 1, 2012 By May 1, 2013 October 31, 2013
After February 1, 2012 Within 12 months following their registration on Marketplace Within 18 months following their registration on Marketplace
What have SAN and the Rainforest Alliance done to make Chain of Custody certification an agile system, and what does an audit cost?

The Chain of Custody program enhances the credibility of the Rainforest Alliance Certified™ claim, thereby directly supporting our mission to conserve biodiversity and improve livelihoods on farms. To maximize credibility while minimizing costs, SAN and the Rainforest Alliance created a streamlined Chain of Custody program with the following attributes:

  • High levels of compliance recorded in the first audit are rewarded with desk audits in years two and three of the three-year certification cycle.
  • Multi-site certification allows companies that manage products and processes at separate locations to include all under a single certificate, thus reducing auditing costs.
  • Multi-site certification may have a regional scope in Europe, the United States & Canada, and select countries in Asia Pacific. In countries with certified farms, Multi-site certification is available with a national scope.
  • Participants in the system that fall under the Chain of Custody scope have up to 12 months to apply for an audit, and 18 months to complete their first audit.

The Chain of Custody audit is straightforward and efficient. Its cost depends on a variety of factors including:

  • Single entity or Multi-site
  • Location
  • The complexity of the production processes
  • The number of facilities that the auditor needs to visit.

Price quotes are available from any accredited Certification Body.

We do not use the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal; do we need to have Chain of Custody certification?

If you (nor any entity in your subsequent supply chain) do not wish to recognize, offer or commercialize the product as Rainforest Alliance Certified or make claims to that effect, then you do not need Chain of Custody certification.

If you do not use our seal, but do wish to claim the products as Rainforest Alliance Certified and/or sell RAC products to other entities that use the RAC seal, then you do need Chain of Custody certification.

What happens if we purchased products from a supplier who does not have a Chain of Custody certificate?

As this is a new global program, entities have been given ample time to get their first audit and achieve certification (see the table under What’s the deadline for applying for and getting an audit?). This phase-in period minimizes risks of disruption to your supply chain. We encourage you to make your suppliers aware of the Chain of Custody certification requirements, as the requirements may apply to them, too.

What does the Chain of Custody certification do for us?

The certification is a formal recognition to you, your suppliers and clients that you comply with SAN and Rainforest Alliance certification requirements for processing products from Rainforest Alliance Certified farms. With your Chain of Custody certification you may legitimately claim that your products come from certified farms and may use the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal on those products as established by the Rainforest Alliance Certified Use of Seal Guidelines.

What happens if we do not pass the Chain of Custody audit?

The applicant for certification must implement corrective actions to address identified nonconformances. Once corrective actions are taken, the Certification Body can do a verification audit (no later than four months after the initial audit) to re-evaluate compliance. If you do not pass the verification audit either, you will need to apply for a new certification audit.

What happens if we lose our Chain of Custody certification?

You will get a notification by the Certification Body that your certificate is canceled. From this moment, you may not sell or transfer ownership of any product as Rainforest Alliance Certified from that date onward. You may sell product as Rainforest Alliance Certified only if the sales contract is dated prior to the date of the cancelation notification and if the volume of product does not exceed the volume registered with the traceability system of the Rainforest Alliance. After cancelation, you will also be deactivated in the Rainforest Alliance’s traceability system. After cancelation you may not use the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal on any product or packaging, promotional material or media, or other type of documentation. In case you opt to reapply for certification, you may not sell as Rainforest Alliance Certified any products that come into your possession after cancelation but before achieving your new Chain of Custody certification.

How often do we need to have an audit?

The certification cycle lasts three years and the certificate is also valid for three years.

Certification is initiated after a successful Certification audit. During the first and second annual audit, any minor nonconformities that were found in previous audits will be assessed either by means of a desk or an on-site audit. These audits need to be conducted between 12 and 15 months after the last audit.

The Certification Body will conduct a research audit or a non-programmed audit of certified companies at any time during the Chain of Custody audit cycle. These audits address complaints about a certified Chain of Custody operation or serve as a method of supervision with respect to year-round compliance with the Chain of Custody program.

If a certified operation completes a three-year cycle with no major or minor nonconformities or complaints filed against it, the new cycle can start with a desk audit.

Are there critical criteria in the Chain of Custody certification?

No, the Chain of Custody program has a different evaluation system from the farm certification program, and it does not include critical criteria.

What are the requirements for Chain of Custody certification?

In order to obtain Chain of Custody certification for the first time, you must:

  • Comply with the contents of the Chain of Custody Standard and Policy.
  • Sign a certification agreement with the Certification Body.
  • Comply with all administrative processes defined by the Certification Body.
  • Be evaluated in a certification audit conducted by the Certification Body.

The evaluation system distinguishes major nonconformities and minor nonconformities.

Major nonconformities represent a proven risk to the certified product integrity due to mixing with uncertified product, significant system gaps, untrained personnel or seal-use violation. No major nonconformities are permitted for Chain of Custody certification.

Minor nonconformities are findings of limited impact for the Chain of Custody system, product or seal integrity. A maximum of 10 (out of a total of 20 criteria) minor nonconformities are permitted for Chain of Custody certification.

Tell me more about Multi-site certification

Multi-site certification is for participating operators that administer two or more sites where handling or processing of certified product occurs. A defined Multi-site group administrator represents all sites and maintains required systems and internal conformance with the Chain of Custody standard. The different sites do not necessarily have to be in a legal relationship with each other nor with the Multi-site administrator but each site must give consent to participate in the certification. Multi-site certification is offered on a regional basis in Europe, the United States & Canada, and select countries in Asia Pacific. A national scope applies to all countries in which farms are certified.

A Participating Operator may define which sites are included in their Multi-site certificate and it may hold more than one Chain of Custody certificate (i.e. have a combination of Single- and Multi-site certificates).

A Multi-site certificate may expand up to 25% of the total actual sites included in the certificate scope without a new external audit if these new sites were inspected internally beforehand and found to be compliant with the Chain of Custody Standard and Policy.

The awarded certificate will include the names and locations of all sites included in the Multi-site Participating Operator’s certification.

During an on-site audit, the Certification Body auditor visits a sample of the total number of sites (determined by using the square root of the total number of sites, e.g. for 16 sites, 4 will be visited). The auditor will select the sites in such a way that they represent statistically the complete list of all participating sites, processes and products.

We are an operation that processes Rainforest Alliance Certified products, and we already have Chain of Custody approval by the SAN. How does this new certification affect us?

From May 1 2012 until September 1 2012, your Certification Body will let you choose if you want to be audited against the new standard or against the 2008 requirements for Chain of Custody approval.

From September 1 2012 onwards, the 2008 requirements can no longer be used. If you need to obtain Chain of Custody certification, the new Standard and Policy (version May 2012) applies.

Also see question below.

We are a certified farm (or group of farms) and process non-certified products from other farms. What happens now?

Certified farms or group administrators that process products from non-certified farms will need to be audited against the new Chain of Custody Standard and Policy in addition to the standards defined in SAN’s certification policies.

The farm’s evaluation with Sustainable Agriculture Standard’s critical criterion 1.10 on traceability will be replaced with the criteria of the Chain of Custody Standard. The group administrator’s evaluation with Group Certification Standard’s critical criterion 2.3 on traceability will be replaced with the criteria of the Chain of Custody Standard. The Chain of Custody audit may be held at the same time as the farm or group audit.

From May 1, 2012 until September 1, 2012, your Certification Body will let you choose if you want to be audited against the new standard or against the 2008 requirements for Chain of Custody approval if you had obtained approval previously.

From September 1, 2012 onwards, if you need to obtain Chain of Custody certification, the new Standard and Policy (version May 2012) applies.

Where can we find out who has been awarded a Chain of Custody certificate?

Consult the SAN website for a complete list of certified farms, groups and Chain of Custody operators.

What are the official documents that are part of the Chain of Custody certification program?
  • SAN/RA Chain of Custody Policy, May 2012
  • SAN/RA Chain of Custody Standard, May 2012
  • SAN/RA List of Permitted Mass Balance Products, May 2012
  • Rainforest Alliance Certified Sustainable Agriculture Use of Seal Guidelines

These documents can be found on in the tab labeled Standards and Policies and www.rainforest-alliance.org/marketing/marks/certified.

Some examples of who needs Chain of Custody certification and who does not:

Example 1

A small cocoa farm is certified to the SAN agriculture farm standard. The farm does not produce enough cocoa to fill the growing demand for certified cocoa beans and has started purchasing supplementary cocoa beans from a neighbouring farm, which is also SAN certified. Does the farm need a Chain of Custody certification in addition to its farm certification?

Answer: No, because all cocoa handled by the farm is certified.

Example 2

A distributor of cocoa products has been contacted by their customer who produces and sells Rainforest Alliance Certified chocolate bars. The customer has notified the distributor that as part of their supply chain they must obtain SAN/RA Chain of Custody certification. The distributor does not take physical possession of any of the material, but subcontracts with several warehouses for the receipt, storage and distribution of the Rainforest Alliance Certified products. The distributor has legal ownership of the products while in storage at the subcontracted warehouses. Does the distributor need SAN/RA Chain of Custody certification?

Answer: Yes, as it is an entity that handles and claims products originating from certified farms or group administrators.

Example 3

A coffee exporter sends beans out for decaffeination. Legal ownership is maintained by the exporter the entire time and once the decaffeination process is complete the beans are returned to the exporter. Does the company performing the decaffeination need to be Chain of Custody certified?

Answer: No, the decaffeination company is a subcontractor and as such does not need a Chain of Custody certificate. The subcontractor will undergo an internal audit by the exporter as part of its Chain of Custody system.

Example 4

A tea shop is offering Rainforest Alliance Certified teas wants to be certain that the certified tea can be displayed with the seal on its packaging. The shop purchases the tea already packaged and labeled. Does the shop need to be Chain of Custody certified?

Answer: No, the shop is a retailer selling already packaged goods to end consumers, thus Chain of Custody certification is not required.

Example 5

A coffee roaster has limited warehouse space and has contracted with an outside company in order to increase its capacity. The warehouse is in the same city as the company’s main facility and is staffed by individuals hired by the coffee roaster. The roaster maintains ownership of the material. Should this warehouse obtain its own Chain of Custody certificate?

Answer: No, the warehouse is a subcontractor and as such does not need a Chain of Custody certificate. The subcontractor will undergo an internal audit by the coffee roaster as part of its Chain of Custody certification.

Example 6

A company buys Rainforest Alliance Certified coffee beans that have been previously roasted and ground by its supplier. The company packages the coffee into bags for end consumers, and the bags bear the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal. Does the company need Chain of Custody certification?

Answer: Yes, the company is packaging final products with Rainforest Alliance Certified claims.

Additional Information

Download our Frequently Asked Questions [PDF 176KB].

To view a webinar that explains the new Chain of Custody certification system, visit: https://vimeo.com/75589795.

Please contact the Sustainable Agriculture Network / Rainforest Alliance at info@ra.org for more information about Chain of Custody requirements, or view the map on this page to find the nearest Certification Body that can help you with more information or the scheduling of an audit.