In addition to these FAQs about our Farm Requirements, we also have specific FAQs for other areas within our 2020 Certification Program:
- FAQ: General Questions
- FAQ: Supply Chain Requirements
- FAQ: Assurance
- FAQ: Transitioning to the new standard
FAQ: Farm requirements
What is the purpose of the Sustainable Agriculture Standard’s Farm Requirements?
By providing a definition of sustainable agriculture, the Farm Requirements can help farmers produce better crops, adapt to climate change, increase their productivity, and reduce costs. The standard is designed to support certificate holders to maximize the positive social, environmental, and economic impact of agriculture, while offering farmers an enhanced framework to improve their livelihoods and protecting the landscapes where they live and work.
How does the Rainforest Alliance differentiate between small and large farms, and does it work with group certification?
The 2020 Sustainable Agriculture Standard continues to differentiate between smallholders and large producers. Small farms are small-scale agricultural producers that primarily rely on family or household labor, or workforce exchange with other members of the community. They might hire temporary workers for seasonal tasks or even hire (few) permanent workers when the farmer or his/her family cannot do the work by themselves. Small farms can’t afford to be certified individually and usually need to rely on the Group Management for record development and record keeping. Large producers are defined as producers that use hired labor, and therefore do not rely primarily on family labor.
Note: These definitions are independent of farm size, since farm size depends significantly on crop and geography.
The standard treats small farmers and large producers differently so that each producer type can focus on topics that are most relevant for their situation. For example, for large producers, there is a stronger focus in the core criteria on social issues related to workers and families that live on-site, as well as on certain environmental topics. For smallholders, the standard gives special attention to strengthening the group management capacity over time.
Small farmers commonly use group certification; therefore, group management requirements are placed in the standard for smallholders. large producers can under certain conditions also apply for joint certification or they can form part of a mixed group with both smallholders as well as large farms. The rules and conditions for this are determined in the 2020 Rainforest Alliance Certification and Auditing Rules.
What is the system of "core requirements", "improvement requirements" and “Smart Meters”?
The foundation of the standard are the core requirements, which address fundamental areas of sustainable agriculture. These always have to be met in order to achieve certification. The core requirements prescribe good practices with respect to key sustainability topics and are formulated as pass/fail requirements, sometimes containing a set threshold. Core requirements make up the majority of those contained in the standard.
Next to these we have the improvement requirements that are also pass/fail requirements, but the producers have more time to reach compliance, three years for the level 1 and six years for the level 2 improvements. If they are already compliant with these requirements at an earlier stage, they can voluntarily be audited against these requirements, and publish this on their public profile.
However, our Reimagining Certification vision aims to go beyond this ‘pass/fail’ approach, and to support context-specific improvements, through insights from data, and a more accurate measurement of progress. To this end, we have introduced a new approach to improvement – the Smart Meters.
Will herbs and spices be included in the program?
Find out the latest information about the Rainforest Alliance’s work on herbs and spices here.
Will vegetables or palm oil be included in the program?
Vegetables and palm are currently covered by the 2020 Program – subject to confirmation.
Why will the Rainforest Alliance now require GPS data?
In the new standard GPS data is added as a new request for each farm unit of each farmer. Starting with data points for smallholders, in the improvement topics polygons (data of the outlines of all actual farm units included in the certificate) will be required over time. It is acknowledged that collecting full polygon data can be a laborious and costly task, therefore the collection can be spread over time.
For the producers, GPS data can be used in dashboard tooling for more efficient group management, compliance maps and risk maps. Polygons give much more accurate risk maps and facilitate yield estimation.
By requesting certificate holders to comply with the improvement criteria of progressive digitalization of internal inspection, the Rainforest Alliance aims to promote certificate holders to use data in a management (PDCA) cycle to be able to make better informed decisions. Data should increasingly be digital so the certificate holder can more easily analyze it to identify issues and priorities in a management plan.
Improvement criteria require the use of digital data by the group management for improvement plans at farm level and not only at group level. Beyond assessing compliance, the Group Management will have a role in providing services to individual group members with the support and the use of digital data. For producers, polygons can be valuable to facilitate land title recognition and other types of benefits like subsidies. For the Rainforest Alliance the data will help assess risks (for example of deforestation or water scarcity) and support in identifying duplicates in certificates as well as support certification bodies in the preparation of the audit.
Why is yield estimation important?
Certification systems face risks, such as inaccurate yield estimations, fraud of documentation, and lack of record keeping. A combination of a strong assurance model and concrete control points is required. Lack of accuracy is a major issue in yield estimations. In order to work towards more accurate yield estimations, we first need to clarify what a credible yield estimation methodology is. It is important to make this methodology applicable for yield estimations per group member and consider farmers who grow more than one certified product on their farms.
The new standard includes core criteria on yield estimation, which must be calculated annually and with a credible methodology. In the process of supporting producers to increase productivity, making accurate estimations of their production is important. This information can be used in strategic decisions, planning, and marketing, as well as adding to their professional and development of business models and empowerment towards buyers. For groups, the yield estimation can be calculated based on a sample of representative farmers. For large plantations with several plots, the yield can be calculated based on a sample of representative plots. Sampling and credible methodology consider but are not limited to: previous yields, the density and age of the trees, plant variety, pests and diseases, soil quality, geographic location, and climate.
What are the costs of the new Certification Program for farms and farm groups?
The costs of the new program for farms and farm groups are related to the implementation of the new standard, such as training, human resources, inputs and equipment and the audit costs. With the Sustainability Differential and the Sustainability Investments the buyers will contribute to the costs for the investments in sustainability improvements and the hidden operational costs of achieving certification at producer level.
How has the issue of farm income been addressed?
The 2020 Certification Program seeks to improve rural livelihoods by helping farmers boost their productivity and by introducing new mechanisms to reduce the systemic imbalances in global supply chains.
Shared responsibility: The best way to tackle imbalances in supply chains is by promoting greater shared responsibility across the entire supply chain. Accordingly, our new certification program aims to ensure that the risks, costs, and benefits of sustainability transformation are spread more evenly between producers and buyers.
For this reason, the Rainforest Alliance 2020 Sustainable Agriculture Standard includes requirements related to two new concepts: Sustainability Differential and Sustainability Investments, with different responsibilities both at farm and supply chain level.
Find out more about the Rainforest Alliance’s approach to shared responsibility in this overview.
Living wage & living income: To drive progress towards achieving a living income for producers and a living wage for workers, it is crucial to first help farms to assess their current situation and then create a pathway to close the gap between current wage or income levels and a relevant benchmarked living wage or living income. In the new program, large farms are required to complete a salary matrix tool to identify the difference between current payment levels to workers and the living wage benchmark. If current wages are lower than the living wage they must then develop a wage improvement plan in consultation with workers’ representatives to gradually achieve the payment of living wages.
How is gender equity addressed in the new standard?
The new standard also takes a stronger and more consistent approach to addressing gender in-equality, requiring the collection of disaggregated data to identify gaps. The requirements oblige certified farms and supply chain actors to appoint a liaison representative or committee to prevent, monitor, and remediate gender discrimination or harassment. As with the previous Rainforest Alliance and UTZ standards, the new standard continues to include protections for vulnerable groups, such as pregnant women, workers who handle pesticides, workers who live in employer-provided housing, and migrant workers recruited through third-party labor providers.
What is the “assess-and-address” approach?
Assess-and-address is a new, risk-based approach that focuses on prevention, engagement, improvement, and incentivizing farm owners to tackle these issues rather than hiding them. It also aligns with the growing international consensus around good practices in human rights due diligence as laid out by the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.
Find out more in our overview of the assess-and-address approach in the new program.
What is meant by child labor and how are child labor issues managed in the standard?
The Rainforest Alliance standard defines child labor as work that deprives children of their dignity, their potential, and their childhood. This includes:
- Work conducted by children under 15 years for the farm, group or group members. In case national law has set the minimum work age at 14 years (or an age higher than 15), this age applies.
- Work conducted by children under 18 years, for the farm, group, or group members that may harm their physical, mental, or moral wellbeing, because of the nature of the work and/or the number of working hours.
- This includes but not limited to, carrying heavy loads, or work in dangerous locations, in unhealthy situations, at night, or with hazardous substances or equipment, as well as trafficked, bonded or forced labor.
Children’s or adolescents’ participation in work that does not affect their health and personal development or does not interfere with their schooling, is generally regarded as being something positive. This includes activities such as helping their parents around the home, assisting in a family business or earning pocket money outside school hours and during school holidays. These kinds of activities contribute to children’s development and to the welfare of their families; they provide them with skills and experience and help to prepare them to be productive members of society during their adult life.
- Regular employment/work: From the age of 15 (in developing economies 14) can start general employment or work not exceeding 48 hours per week. In countries where the minimum age is higher or the number of permitted hours of work is lower, the national set minimum age and maximum hours apply. Children’s work should be non-hazardous, safe and age-appropriate and not interfere with compulsory education.
- Light work: Children in the age of 13-14 years may perform light work, provided that the work not be harmful to their health and development, does not interfere with their schooling or training, is under the supervision of an adult, and does not exceed 14 hours a week. In case national law has set the light work ages at 12-13 years, these ages apply.
- Family labor: Farming activities done by children living on small-scale family farms that consist of light, age-appropriate duties that give them an opportunity to develop skills, does not classify as child labor provided that the activities are not harmful to their health and development, do not interfere with schooling and leisure time, and are under the supervision of an adult.
The 2020 Sustainable Agriculture Standard introduces an assess-and-address approach to tackling child labor. More information about how this works can be found in this overview.
What is meant by discrimination and how is this managed in the standard?
The Rainforest Alliance defines discrimination as per the ILO Convention 111: “Discrimination implies any distinction, exclusion or preference made on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national extraction or social origin, which has the effect of nullifying or impairing equality of opportunity or treatment in employment or occupation”.
Gender based discrimination refers to any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on the basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.
In the context of the certification program, vulnerable groups include especially women, indigenous people, migrants, temporary workers and youth. In the current Rainforest Alliance and UTZ standards there is a specific criterion on discrimination, which expresses a no-tolerance approach.
The 2020 Sustainable Agriculture Standard introduces an assess-and-address approach to tackling discrimination. More information about how this works can be found in this overview.
What is meant by workplace harassment and violence and how is this managed in the standard?
Rainforest Alliance considers human rights, specifically labor rights, to be an integral part of sustainable farming. An essential part of labor rights is the right on a safe working environment.
In the former UTZ and Rainforest Alliance standards, this was expressed as a prohibition of any physical, psychological or sexual harassment or intimidation at the workplace.
The new standard addresses all forms of workplace harassment and violence of which sexual harassment forms part. There is no common agreement on the definitions of harassment, abuse and violence, and following the example of the ILO, it has been decided to use the terminology “workplace harassment and violence” as “The continuum of behaviors that result in physical, psychological and sexual harm of workers”* whereas with harassment is understood:
“Incidents where staff are abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances related to their work, including commuting to and from work, involving an explicit or implicit challenge to their safety, well-being or health.
Workplace violence includes both physical and non-physical violence. It finds its expression in physical assault, homicide, verbal abuse, bullying/mobbing, sexual/racial harassment and making threats.” Source: WHO.
Sexual harassment is defined as: behavior that is sex-based that is unwelcome and offensive to its recipient. For sexual harassment to exist these two conditions must be present. Sexual harassment may take two forms:
- ‘Quid Pro Quo’ when a job benefit – such as a pay rise, a promotion, or even continued employment – is made conditional on the victim acceding to demands to engage in some form of sexual behavior; or;
- A hostile working environment in which the conduct creates conditions that are intimidating or humiliating for the victim = Behavior that qualifies as sexual harassment (Source:
- Physical: violence, touching, unnecessary proximity
- Verbal: Comments and questions about the appearance, lifestyle, sexual orientation, offensive phone calls
- Non-Verbal: Whistling, sexually-suggestive gestures, display of sexual materials
The 2020 Sustainable Agriculture Standard introduces an assess-and-address approach to tackling workplace harassment and violence. More information about how this works can be found in this overview.
*Definition, according to terminology of Report V (1) Ending violence and harassment against women and men in the world of work International Labour Conference 107th Session, 2018, page 5, also in line with conclusions of the Meeting of Experts as mentioned in ILO, 2016a, Appendix I
What is meant by forced labor and how is this issue managed in the standard?
The Rainforest Alliance standard defines forced labor as all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered herself or himself voluntarily. A person is classified as being in forced labor if they are engaged in work that is involuntary (without the free and informed consent of the worker) and is exacted through threats, penalties, or some form of coercion.(See the Definitions section of the standard for examples of involuntariness and coercion as they relate to forced labor.) If a worker has paid a recruitment fee, this is an indicator that he/she may be in forced labor.
The 2020 Sustainable Agriculture Standard introduces an Assess and Address approach to tackling forced labor. More information about how this works can be found in the Assess and Address Position Paper.
Is discrimination/forced labor/child labor/workplace harassment & violence still prohibited under your standard?
Yes. There is no place in Rainforest Alliance Certified farms for human rights abuses. We require our certificate holders to commit to compliance with all applicable laws and to respect internationally recognized human rights standards. We recognize the high risk of certain labor abuses within agricultural supply chains, and therefore we require producers and producer groups to commit to continuous improvement, put a rigorous risk assessment and mitigation system in place, and take immediate action on any cases of discrimination, forced labor, child labor and workplace harassment and violence. These requirements align with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), relevant ILO conventions, and other multi-stakeholder concepts such as living wage, developed in coordination with the Global Living Wage Coalition.
Does this system mean that farmers can still be certified even if discrimination/child labor/forced labor/workplace harassment and violence are found?
Farms will not be certified if these issues are found when they are first audited for certification. If a case is found during an audit of a certified farm, the auditor will carry out a “severity test” that examines the level of impact of the issue on the worker, how widespread it is on the farm, and whether farm management deliberately perpetrated the violation. Auditors have discretion to decertify a farm in cases where the violations are severe. If not severe, farms will be given an opportunity to take corrective action following the process laid out in the Rainforest Alliance Remediation Protocol. In addition, the farm must have effectively implemented the “assess-and-address” system to identify the risks of violations, mitigate these risks, and and put in place a plan to remediate any cases identified. The implementation of the “assess-and-address” system is part of the core requirements of the Standard, and certification is granted only if core requirements are met.
What kind of cases of discrimination/forced labor/child labor/workplace harassment and violence would lead to suspension/decertification, and what kind would not?
The decision to suspend or decertify depends on the severity of the case. Situations will be evaluated on criteria such as whether it will cause lasting impact on the physical and/or psychological wellbeing/integrity of the worker; whether it is taking place on a large scale or continuously on the farm, and whether the farm/group management has deliberately committed or continued the practice.
How will cases be remediated in practice? What investment is needed?
Known cases of discrimination, child labor, forced labor, and workplace harassment and violence are required to be remediated and documented in accordance with the Rainforest Alliance Remediation Protocol and included in the Management Plan.
How does the draft standard differ from the previous Rainforest Alliance and UTZ approaches?
Find a summary of the innovations in the program in the “Introduction to the Sustainable Agriculture Standard” one-page overview.
What is meant by overtime and how is this managed in the new standard?
In the standard, the Rainforest Alliance has tried to find the best balance in regulating overtime, while working in sectors with peak seasons.
The maximum overtime of 12 hours in the current Rainforest Alliance standard creates challenges for certain agricultural sectors during peak season. Some sectors have several peaks of harvest during which trained labor is required with a shortage of workers. While in some sectors notable efforts are made to mechanize processes, other sectors like flowers still strongly depend on human labor. In certain cases, workers might be very willing to work overtime since this can significantly improve their income remarkably and the when hours are paid according to the law.
The Rainforest Alliance investigated existing practices in other standards and the relevant ILO conventions. The ILO Reduction of Hours of Work Recommendation, 1962 (No 116) sets out an overall objective of progressive reduction of hours of work to the standard of 48 hours per week without reducing wages. The establishment of specific limits to the total number of additional hours or overtime is left to the competent authorities by all ILO Conventions. However, overtime limits still have to be reasonable, and the public authority should make a thorough evaluation of the intensity of the respective work and the risks to cause physical or mental fatigue. Some countries allow more than 12 hours of overtime provided that some conditions are met (for example, that the overtime is only temporary, and certain precautions are taken to guarantee safety and health of workers.
The Rainforest Alliance recognizes that the overtime regulation in agriculture might be necessary to accommodate peak seasons. There is no international convention on this, especially not in agriculture. The standard does not prescribe a hard limit of overtime, but instead indicates the national authorities’ judgement to be leading, as exemplified in the country’s national law.
How does the Rainforest Alliance address deforestation in the standard?
Forests and other natural ecosystems are critical to the survival of every living thing on earth. Forests clean the air, absorb greenhouse gas emissions, and stabilize the climate—both globally and locally. Forests also provide habitat for 80 percent of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity and livelihoods for 1.6 billion people.
Find out more about how the Rainforest Alliance’s 2020 Certification Program addresses deforestation in this overview.
How are the assessment of areas with High Conservation Values (HCV) approached in the standard?
Learn more about the 2020 Sustainable Agriculture Standard’s approach to HCV in this overview.
How does the standard address climate change?
The new standard continues to recognize the challenges that already exist from climate change and seeks to address these issues by actively promoting climate smart agriculture while improving the resilience of farms and farming communities.
Find out more about climate-smart agriculture in the new standard in this overview.
What is on-farm vegetation and how is this covered in the standard?
The new standard seeks to contribute to the protection and conservation of on-farm natural ecosystems and other on-farm native vegetation. Through agroforestry, set aside areas, cover crops and other improvement pathways, the new standard helps producers maintain and increase the amount and of native vegetation on the farm. Depending on the context, crops grown under a diverse native tree canopy cover, help conserve biodiversity and increase farm resilience. We will develop revised parameters for tree canopy cover and tree species diversity.
In other cropping systems, maintaining and increasing the amount of land set aside as conservation helps to diversify production systems, conserve native habitats and their biodiversity, and supporting critical ecosystem services such as pollination, pest control, and water purification.
To contribute to conservation in the broader landscape, our new standard helps producers maintaining vegetated buffers along aquatic ecosystems, while avoiding negative impacts to surrounding protected areas.
How are genetically modified crops covered in the standard?
The use of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) in agricultural systems is not in alignment with the Rainforest Alliance mission and vision on how to achieve sustainable and resilient farming systems. We believe that in the light of consequences of their use over the last two decades, strict measures need to be taken with regards to the research, commercialization and use, and that use of genetically modified crops should be used as a last resort. To increase the resilience of producers, other alternatives must be first further researched and supported, focused on production systems, using existing local agro-biodiversity, use of on-farm resources, integrated pest management, and comprehensive good agricultural practices.
The new standard has a core criterion that follows the current Rainforest Alliance standard of banning GMOs for certified crops. With regards to the rest of the crops grown on the farm, in particular subsistence food crops, the Rainforest Alliance acknowledges the difficulty for producers and auditors to identify the origin and the nature of the planting material, and do not wish to exclude currently certified producers from the certification program. The phasing out of GMO for the whole farm is thus added as an improvement criterion.
The use or not of genetically-modified crops has been subject to controversy over the past years. There is no consensus about their usage in agricultural systems among different governments, organizations and other stakeholders. The Rainforest Alliance acknowledges the potential and opportunities brought forth by the development of different types of GMOs (e.g. transgenic, cisgenics), but also recognizes that their development and commercialization have brought forth several complex issues and risks to the sustainability of farming systems.
How are pesticides managed in the standard?
The Rainforest Alliance agrochemicals management approach will be based on a strong Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategy. IPM combines different practices to grow healthy crops and minimize the use of agrochemicals, including the monitoring and prevention of pests as the first step, and the use of agrochemicals as the last resort. The more sustainable farming practices put in place through the IPM strategy benefit farms as a whole, from good soil management to proper pruning, which in turn supports farms’ productivity and climate resilience and mitigation potential.
One of the goals of IPM is reducing the risk posed when using agrochemicals, by reducing hazards and reducing exposure to ensure safe and sustainable pest management. The hazard is reduced by selecting less toxic products, while exposure is reduced by using fewer agrochemicals, better application methods and protective equipment. In cases when, after having proper prevention and monitoring, producers need to rely on agrochemicals, the following agrochemicals lists are being used by the Rainforest Alliance:
- A prohibited list with pesticides that cannot be used anywhere on the farm due to their highly hazardous nature, and
- A Risk Mitigation list with pesticides to be used only under specific conditions to limit the risks for specific non-target groups, such as pollinators, vertebrate wildlife and aquatic life
- An exemption list for agrochemicals that are difficult to phase out immediately, to be used under specific conditions.