The Accountability Framework: Aligning Company Commitments With Sustainability

Q&A with Adrienne Stork, the Rainforest Alliance's Senior Program Manager of Supply Chain Accountability.

1. What is the Accountability Framework initiative, and what makes it unique?

Adrienne Stork, Senior Program Manager, Supply Chain Accountability

Adrienne Stork, Senior Program Manager, Supply Chain Accountability.

Photo credit: Justin Valdes

Today, hundreds of companies have pledged to protect ecosystems, people, and communities by transforming their commodity supply chains through targets like the ones defined in the New York Declaration of Forests and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. However, despite the proliferation of tools intended to help these companies reach their commitments, it’s often unclear which tools are best to use, and how to use them effectively. The Accountability Framework initiative (AFi) aims to address this specific challenge by representing the consensus of leading NGOs and CSOs around these issues that would help companies and governments “walk the talk.” The Steering Group coalition consists of leading environmental and social NGOs: the Forest Peoples Programme, Greenpeace, Imaflora, National Wildlife Federation, The Nature Conservancy, Proforest, the Rainforest Alliance, Rights and Resources Initiative, Proforest, World Resources Institute, and World Wildlife Fund. The Rainforest Alliance and Meridian Institute jointly host the secretariat for the initiative.

2. How is this different from certification and industry standards that were set in the past?

The AFi is NOT a new certification standard, and does not seek to duplicate or replace any existing instruments or tools. Rather, it seeks to align existing tools and instruments to clarify and provide greater transparency and accountability for companies utilizing these tools to meet their ethical supply chain commitments. To ensure this, it is being developed in close coordination with other relevant global platforms such as Consumer Goods Forum and Tropical Forest Alliance 2020; with monitoring, reporting, and transparency tools such as Global Forest Watch, Carbon Disclosure Project, TRASE, and Supply Change; with regionally-focused initiatives such as Collaboration on Forests and Agriculture in South America; and with the certification community including the ISEAL Alliance and its members. The Framework thusly serves as an overarching umbrella that clarifies how existing instruments can be used in a complementary way to fulfill commitments, as well as to identify and fill critical gaps. In this way, existing tools can gain more credibility and recognition, while new and emerging tools can “plug in” to an established global framework, giving companies greater clarity as to how and when to use the tools.

3. What does the current focus/phase of this project look like?

The Steering Group has developed a first draft of the Framework’s core document, which provides overall global guidance on key ethical supply chain issues following the scope of the various commitments that have been made, and welcomes public feedback from October 10, 2017 to December 10, 2017. The Group maintains regular engagement with companies to ensure that we are addressing their supply chain needs. In addition, we are mobilizing regional engagement to make sure that the contents of the Framework are coherent with existing initiatives in tropical producing regions, including the Collaboration for Forests and Agriculture in South America, as well as with ongoing processes and platforms in West/Central Africa and Southeast Asia. In parallel, we are developing thematic working groups with expertise in land, verification, and reporting and disclosure that will develop the additional commodity and geography-specific content for the AFi Operational Manual, which will complement the global guidance in the Framework’s Core Document. In addition, we are in consultation with leading social accountability expert groups working in labor rights and human rights to determine how these issues will be addressed in the Framework and how the AFi can help to advance progress on these issues. Over the coming months, we will be participating in global and regional events and conducting in-person workshops to increase visibility and to capture as much feedback as possible.

4. How do you operationalize this project?

With the input of regional consultations and thematic working groups, the Steering Group will be developing the Operational Manual over the 2017–2018 period to supplement the Core Document. The Operational Manual will provide details of how elements of the core document can be implemented on the ground, depending on region, commodity, and on companies’ individual operational levels. The Manual will also contain common definitions for disputed terms such as “forest” and “deforestation,” and provide an alignment of existing, supporting tools. In addition, we are working with our digital team to develop online prototypes of a user interface, and are exploring the level of interactivity and analysis users will have with the overall Framework.

5. What is the biggest challenge associated with the AFi, and how are partners working together to address it?

One of the biggest challenges has been to ensure that the Accountability Framework is adopted not just by companies and civil society, but that it will support governments in producing regions in their policy development—whether at the jurisdictional level or national level—as well. It is critical to have the buy-in of jurisdictions to ensure that governments and companies work in tandem to reach supply chain commitments. Governments can be a catalyst in ensuring and encouraging uptake at a regional level. To address this, we are relying closely on the expertise of our regional counterparts to ensure that the Framework aligns with national and subnational initiatives, and are also in the process of incorporating policymakers into our conversations.

6. How do I get involved?!

We welcome all contributions to the consultation of the Accountability Framework’s Core Document and future products. Go to accountability-framework.org to provide feedback, sign up for our updates and newsletters, and see our calendar to attend our regional and thematic workshops. For general inquiries, please email contact@accountability-framework.org.

Forest canopy - photo by Sergio Izquierdo

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