Dispute Resolution: Certification Complaints and Appeals

A. Introduction and Objective

Complaints and appeals, collectively referred to as disputes, may be submitted to Rainforest Alliance (RA)1 by certification2 applicants, RA clients3, as well as any other stakeholders (e.g., community residents, adjoining landowners, consulting technicians, government officials, or environmental organizations). This public policy and internal procedure establishes the system for receiving, evaluating, and resolving complaints and appeals. This policy may be updated from time to time and replace any previous versions of this policy, though a public version of the policy will always be available on the RA website.

B. Scope of Application

It is intended that the Rainforest Alliance RA-Cert division, which oversees RA auditing and certification services, will use this policy and procedure with respect to dispute resolution. It is not intended to be comprehensive or to address all possible applications of, or exceptions to, the practices described.

C. Reference Documents

  • ISO/IEC Guide 65: 1996
  • ISO 14065: 2007
  • FSC-STD-20-001 General Requirements for FSC® Accredited Certification Bodies (FSC® A000520)
  • SAN-R-1-1 Accreditation Requirements for Certification Bodies
  • G-03a Dispute Resolution Process Flow Chart
  • G-03b Dispute Resolution Form: Complaints and Appeals

D. Definitions and Acronyms

Appeal: A formal, written request by a client or applicant (i.e., the affected party) for formal reconsideration of an adverse decision made by RA related to an RA certificate, or verification or validation statement.

Client: Collective term used to refer to auditee, certified organization, certificate holder, verification/validation statement recipient, applicant for certification/verification/validation.

Complaint (formal): A written communication of dissatisfaction, other than appeal, by any complainant, relating to the activities of RA staff/contractors and/or organizations holding an RA certificate, or verification or validation statement, where a response from RA is expected. Complaints may arise about or in relation to an applicant or client before, during or after the initial assessment process. Complaints submitted just prior to or during the assessment or annual audit will usually be considered as part of the audit process. Complaints received at other times during the year will be considered for the best approach to evaluation, which may be with the next scheduled annual audit.

Complaint (informal): Initial expression of dissatisfaction relating to the activities of RA staff/contractors and/or organizations holding a RA certificate, or verification or validation statement. Informal complaints are typically handled at the local and personal level to achieve resolution. If not satisfied, individuals may submit a formal, written complaint.

Complainant: Collective term for appellants and complainants.

Dispute: The collective term used for complaints and appeals. Differentiation between formal and informal complaint is used with “dispute” terminology in the policy.

Dispute evaluation team: Individuals assigned for impartial and independent4 review of the dispute.

Quality Assurance (QA) unit: The RA-Cert team that oversees the systems in place for RA’s auditing services. QA is responsible for RA’s third-party accreditations as well as quality monitoring of work performed against our accredited systems for auditing.

RA: Rainforest Alliance; also refers to the RA-Cert division in the context of this policy.

RA designate: Individual assigned by RA to oversee the dispute resolution process per each individual dispute received.

Technical Expert (TX): Designated individual within RA-Cert that serves as the global resource for personnel regarding policies, procedures, interpretations, etc. related to a specific auditing service. The TX may be a QA Specialist or another assigned individual. TXs are listed on the Technical Expert Resource Center (TXRC).

E. Policy

Executive summary of RA’s dispute resolution policy:

  1. In the case of complaints against the actions of a Rainforest Alliance certified client, the complainant should first attempt to resolve the issue directly with the client prior to requesting that RA become involved. The client’s own dispute resolution process may be required prior to RA involvement.
  2. Formal5 disputes subject to RA’s dispute resolution process shall be submitted in writing, and include: the complainant’s name and contact details, the description/objective of the dispute, and details of evidence for the dispute. Details of the dispute shall be included as requested in the RA Dispute Resolution Form available on the RA website or from an RA representative.
  3. Complainants shall have the opportunity for formal disputes to be evaluated by entities under the organizational or contractual control of Rainforest Alliance. The RA dispute evaluation team shall be impartial and independent from the certification and audit activities related to the dispute (e.g., independent from the audit evaluation and certification decision). Complainants will be provided with a designated RA contact (RA designate) for corresponding communications.
  4. For appeals related to SAN, the client has a maximum of 10 business days after receiving RA’s final audit report to submit an appeal. Resolution shall not be achieved through a change in an issued certificate’s scope in order to eliminate the issue.
  5. Appeals by a client against a suspension or cancellation/termination shall not change the decision and steps to suspend or cancel the certification while the dispute resolution is in process.
  6. RA shall provide the complainant with acknowledgement of the dispute, including its proposed course of action, within 2 weeks (10 business days) of receipt.
  7. The complainant may contact RA at any time during the dispute resolution process to inquire about progress of the evaluation.
  8. RA shall provide the complainant with a formal response regarding the dispute resolution, including any follow up actions, within 90 days (60 days for SAN disputes) of receipt. The results are communicated in a way that respects confidentiality requirements and agreements that are in place for certification.
  9. RA shall keep a record of formal disputes, actions taken, and the effectiveness of these actions.
  10. For disputes related to SAN, information received only verbally shall be recorded and appropriate next steps determined.
  11. For disputes related to FSC, if the complainant is not satisfied with the resolution concluded within Rainforest Alliance, there is an option to submit the dispute through the FSC dispute resolution process as documented on the FSC website.

Please use the following form to submit formal disputes: G-03b Dispute Resolution Form for Complaints and Appeals, and send to your local Rainforest Alliance Certification representative. Visit our contact page for our regional offices and partner organizations.

Note: Following the receipt of a dispute, RA shall in no way implement discriminatory action against the complainant.

  1. Rainforest Alliance auditing and certification services are managed and implemented within its RA-Cert division. All related personnel responsible for audit design, evaluation, and certification/verification/validation decisions are under the purview of the RA-Cert division, hereafter referred to as Rainforest Alliance or RA. For the purpose of this policy and associated procedures RA is inclusive of all organizations subcontracted to perform auditing services on behalf of Rainforest Alliance.

  2. Certification refers to all auditing services implemented by RA-Cert, including verifications and validations.

  3. For the purposes of this document, the term “client” includes organizations holding certificates, or validation and verification statements.

  4. Independent from the certification activities related to the dispute.

  5. It is an option to first initiate the dispute informally through the local representative of RA.

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