With the merger of the Rainforest Alliance and UTZ in 2018, we decided to take a hard look at how certification delivers value to the many around the world that use it—and to reimagine certification. Drawing from the experience of both organizations, we developed the 2020 Sustainable Agriculture Standard, with a view to support its users on their sustainability journey with both the trusted mechanisms already in place, and with innovations.
That standard forms the backbone of our ambitious Rainforest Alliance Certification Program. For two years, we have been supporting our certificate holders in transitioning to the new program, and now, with the transition period almost complete, we are delighted to share the innovations we have introduced. They include:
Data centered: We ask farms to collect indicators for themselves to gain better insight into their businesses, and for the Rainforest Alliance to better learn how farmers are doing, how our system is working, and where we could support better practices.
Risk-based: We are focusing more on topics with high risk, to be able to prioritize efforts for certificate holders and for ourselves.
Assurance: We have a stronger assurance system, with a more balanced number of certification bodies in most countries, and with clearer rules of the certification and audit process, including rules related to the minimum duration of audits.
Assess-and-Address: We have moved from a black-and-white prohibition approach on four key human rights issues (child labor, forced labor, discrimination and workplace violence and harassment) to an assess-and-address approach. This means we focus on the systems for preventing, finding, and remediating these issues rather than on decertifying if a case is found. This is a much stronger mechanism to abate harmful practices. As the program started rolling out, we knew that our innovative approach would necessitate a period of adaptation and learning. We worked with a group of early implementersto give us feedback about how the standard and its assurance system work in practice, and about the challenges that these farms and supply chain actors encountered.
The early implementers were the first to provide feedback, but we were in constant dialogue with many other certificate holders that joined the new and ambitious certification program. Early on in the implementation process, however, supply chains around the world became disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic and geopolitical turmoil, a situation that to some extent continues until today. Already a complex undertaking, the transition was further challenged by these global events, so we took additional measures to support our stakeholders in the transition. The rollout made it apparent that in some areas, certificate holders needed more time for implementation
We listened to feedback from many users of the standard and have worked to make the requirements in version 1.3 easier to understand and apply and gave some more time for implementation. For example:
- Texts in the standard have been clarified, and some requirements were merged to shorten the overall standard.
- The required scope of certification is adapted so that pieces of land that are further away can be left out of the certification program if these only include non-certified crops.
- All farms with ten or more permanent workers are considered Large.
- Now, key social issues for which certificate holders have to set up committees may be covered jointly under one committee.
- Traceability requirements have been simplified to focus on the risk factors that are most urgent and ease up on the steps that certificate holders need to take.
- We have removed the minimum number of internal inspectors per farmer, as quality of internal inspection and implementation may be arranged in different ways.
We are proud to share that in the two years since the standard launched, many certificate holders have successfully transitioned to the new system. We look forward to continuing this journey of improvement with all our partners and to offering tools and methodologies to support farmers and supply chain actors in their efforts to make their agricultural practices and supply chains more sustainable.