Businesses are under increasing pressure to measure and report on their social and environmental impacts, whether from interested consumers or involved boards. But, more fundamentally, the data they gather can help them make better-informed decisions. In our certification program, we work together with farmers and companies, supporting them to use data to improve their risk analysis, measure progress along their sustainability journey, and support future claims. For example, our data approach supports our risk-based assurance model, highlighting risks that auditors need to focus on for a specific sector or country. We also work to help our stakeholders manage risk with the Rainforest Alliance child labor and forced labor sectoral risk maps.
New ways to measure sustainability performance over time
In the past, the information we collected through our programs could only show Certificate Holders complied with our requirements or not. With the rollout of the 2020 Sustainable Agriculture Standard, we now have a comprehensive set of indicators for Certificate Holders to measure progress against key metrics. Indicators allow us to measure how practices are being implemented and the impact they have, over time, from human rights issues, to geodata and other information on deforestation, to traceability.
The full list of data points that we collect and the indicators they reflect can be found here. Users would then be able to see data specific to their supply chains. The level of detail and how it is shared is governed by our data sharing and ethics policy described further below, and will depend on the type of data, and the traceability level of each actor that has access to it.
The data collection process
Our process to collect and make the data available for reporting is still a work in progress, but we believe it reflects our commitment to transparency and data ethics. Above all we seek to safeguard data quality. Since the transition period for the Certification Program ended in July 2023, we have been testing our systems and procedures to ensure that we are able to support data collection and assessment.
In our system, Certificate Holders provide information on their scope, indicator data, reach, geodata, self-assessments and other data points. Certification Bodies verify whether the Certificate Holder complies with the requirements of the Rainforest Alliance’s 2020 Sustainable Agriculture Standard and provide additional information regarding the audit and any non-conformities. We monitor the data as it comes in, through automatic validations and manual sample checks, to review for quality. If it is identified either by the Certification Body or by the Rainforest Alliance that data is missing or inaccurately recorded, we request the Certificate Holder or the Certification Body to re-send it.
As these new data points flow through our systems, we continuously assess them for data quality and use these learnings to inform future developments in the data collection, training, and assurance processes.
We are gradually working on building and improving the platforms to support certification, data collection, and traceability. This will make it easier, faster, and more accurate to share data, in accordance with our data-sharing policy. We also plan to provide data for at least country level, in most cases, alllowing broader examination of impacts and areas for potential investment and improvement.
Opportunities for collaboration
As we continue rolling out our Certification Program and IT platform, different types of data will become available. We already collect and report on the numbers of farm and supply chain Certificate Holders entering our program for different crops and in different countries. Going forward, we will be able to report on a wider range of data, and we will be working with our different stakeholders to ensure that the information collected is reliable and fit for purpose—and that it can be presented in the most useful way for each of them. In 2024, certificate holders at farm level will also start reporting on Smart meters. These will allow Certificate Holders to measure progress on a number of specific topics against targets that they set themselves, based on their own context and objectives. Some of these Smart Meters are mandatory for farmers and in due time this data will become part of the reporting for supply chain actors where relevant, including most recently our data collection on certain requirements of the European Union Deforestation Regulation. Other Smart Meters are self-selected, so farmers will not automatically collect this data and might rely on additional investments from buyers to implement data collection. An example is the measurement of a farm’s Carbon Footprint.
At the other end of the supply chain, we are encouraging retailers who sell products with the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal to register for our certification program and to make use of added functionalities for traceability and reporting afforded by data streams. This data can help them better understand their supply chain and the impact achieved by the certified suppliers they source from.
Responsible Data Sharing
Data can be a powerful tool, which is why it must be gathered and shared responsibly. Our data sharing policy provides a framework governing the publication and sharing of the data we collect. Our aim is to provide our partners with data and usable insights. This will allow us to support continuous improvements and shared accountability across the entire supply chain, to achieve our impact goals, encourage sustainable practices, foster fairness, and improve the lives of farmers, farm workers and forest communities. Our policy outlines our data ethics principles, which include communicating transparently, striving for and promoting data quality, and protecting sensitive data through security and privacy practices. It also sets out expectations we have of our partners to help us further these principles and our broader goals. While data sharing has many benefits, there are also risks and limitations to data sharing that must be considered, addressed, and governed. This new data sharing policy helps us use the power of data while balancing the related responsibilities and will further our mission to create a more sustainable world.
This policy is intended for internal use. It may be shared with an external partner upon request and on a confidential basis. Please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org for any questions.
As necessary to provide transparency in the Rainforest Alliance Certification Program, the Rainforest Alliance will publish for each certificate holder: the name, location, crop, and the certification status subject to any ongoing investigation.