The Rainforest Alliance is committed to driving positive impacts in the cocoa sector in West Africa and other cocoa growing regions around the world. Over recent years, the UTZ and Rainforest Alliance cocoa programs have expanded significantly and with that expansion comes greater responsibility. In May 2018 following the merger with UTZ, the Rainforest Alliance began working on a joint and stricter assurance approach for West Africa.
Our certification systems are built on trust and transparency; they are designed to provide the highest level of assurance regarding the origins and conditions under which certified cocoa is produced. As a result of our strong systems, we have discovered that non-certified cocoa has potentially been entering certified supply chains. We have identified groups with cases of mismanagement, and severe non-compliances in the areas of traceability, deforestation and farming in protected areas. As a consequence, some certificate holders have been decertified. These breaches jeopardize trust in our programs and are unacceptable. More importantly, these breaches could reduce the positive impact of our programs in the future.
We have made the decision to place a temporary pause on further expansion of our certification programs in Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire for one year in order to focus our efforts on improving the quality of our current certified groups through controlled growth. We will also put in place stricter GPS mapping requirements for all certified groups.
The Rainforest Alliance recognizes this decision may have an effect on sourcing options for companies. However, the pause in expansion is temporary; the goal is to lift the pause in one year and re-open both the Rainforest Alliance and UTZ Certified certification programs for new producer groups once these actions have had the desired effect of significant improvements. We expect this to happen in time for the October 2020/2021 harvest cycle. All partners will be informed of the status of the re-opening by April 2020 at the latest.
It is our top priority to protect the credibility of our programs and the partners associated with it. Moreover, in the long run, we believe this decision, complemented by corrective action, will benefit many actors in the supply chain – primarily cocoa farmers and cocoa producing communities in West Africa.
The Rainforest Alliance believes that partnership and collaboration are key in addressing the major sustainability challenges faced by farmers and producers in the cocoa sector. Certification alone cannot solve these challenges; to drive change we need to work together with producers as well as companies, governments and NGOs. We take our role in this context very seriously.
The Rainforest Alliance is a partner in the Cocoa & Forests Initiative, which is a multi-stakeholder initiative including the governments of Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana, which aims to end deforestation and restore forests. In addition, the Rainforest Alliance is also a partner in the International Cocoa Initiative, a foundation that unites the forces of the cocoa and chocolate industry, civil society, farming communities, and national governments in cocoa-producing countries to ensure a better future for children and to advance the elimination of child labor.
The Rainforest Alliance remains committed to improving environmental and social issues on certified cocoa farms in West Africa. We believe we have a shared responsibility, along with other actors in the global supply chain, to help bring the cocoa sector in West Africa to a more sustainable reality.