Addressing deep-rooted social and environmental issues requires a holistic vision and diverse approaches. The Rainforest Alliance considers human rights and environmental due diligence (HREDD)—a process by which companies identify, prevent, mitigate, and account for human rights and environmental risks and impacts in their supply chains—a fundamental corporate responsibility. As such, we support government initiatives to enact and enforce mandatory HREDD legislation for companies in their jurisdictions. Our certification program can help companies adhere to the due diligence laws we’re advocating for.
Certification as an aid—not a substitute—for due diligence
When it comes to complying with mandatory HREDD legislation, companies have an obligation to implement sound practices throughout their operations and supply chains. They may find certification useful for their efforts, provided they understand both its benefits and its limits. In other words, companies should build effective due diligence processes into all their business practices—not rely solely on sourcing certified volumes.
Our approach to due diligence
The Rainforest Alliance Certification Program’s 2020 Sustainable Agricultural Standard sets rigorous human rights and environmental requirements. We use a risk-based approach to implement and monitor these requirements, which align with international frameworks including the International Labor Organization conventions, the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.
It’s important to note that most of our standard’s due diligence requirements relate to activities at the farm level. Our standard’s Farm Requirements stipulate that farmers must implement and report on farm-level due diligence processes, using our assess-and-address approach. Certain supply chain actors (such as some agricultural processors) must also have operation-level due diligence mechanisms in place. Likewise, the Supply Chain Requirements stipulate that companies must have a human rights and environmental due diligence policy.
Our Advocacy and Tailored Supply Chain Services teams are available to help companies define and implement such policies. They can help companies build comprehensive due diligence strategies through monitoring and evaluation, risk assessment and mitigation, coaching and training of suppliers, and engagement in advocacy work, among other approaches. Companies can also use the Accountability Framework, co-developed by the Rainforest Alliance, which provides a roadmap to developing more responsible supply chains.
HREDD in the Rainforest Alliance Certification Program
We have integrated the following elements of robust HREDD systems into the design of our certification program:
1. Embed respect for human rights and the environment into policies and management systems
Opting to buy Rainforest Alliance Certified ingredients is one of the policy decisions that helps a company implement its sustainability commitments. Our standard includes criteria on human rights and environmental issues, such as child labor, forced labor, working conditions, living wages, deforestation, hazardous pesticides, and water pollution. These criteria align with—and sometimes exceed—international standards. Through training and local capacity-building, farmers gain the knowledge and skills to implement our standard. And these requirements go beyond the farm level; they are also applicable under our Supply Chain Requirements. However, with our standard’s focus on targeted and context-adaptable approaches at the farm level, companies must incorporate other tools to ensure thorough due diligence for the rest of their supply chains.
Furthermore, our program emphasizes the importance of shared responsibility. To operationalize this concept, our program outlines mandatory financial requirements for the buyers of Rainforest Alliance Certified commodities, one of which is the payment of a Sustainability Investment—a cash or in-kind investment that directly supports farmers to implement sustainable practices. These investments are made according to the needs identified by farmers in an investment plan. If the farmer’s investment plan identifies the need to invest in human rights or environmental topics, such as improving worker housing, paying children’s school fees, or supplementing worker wages, the buyers of certified commodities will make a payment directly toward this need. As a result, companies gain a better understanding of the sustainability needs at the farm level and make investments to address them.
2. Identify and assess adverse human rights and environmental impacts
One of the key components of effective due diligence is the ability to adequately prioritize risks. The Rainforest Alliance has published child labor and forced labor risk maps, which provide reliable data about these particular risks in the primary countries and sectors in which we operate. We require that certified farmers use these risk maps, as described below. We encourage companies to use these risk maps in their own risk assessment processes.
At the farm level, our certification system also requires all certificate holders to assess their own risks. Our Risk Assessment Tool, which is mandatory for all certificate holders, helps identify possible adverse impacts on a wide variety of environmental and social issues covered in the standard. Other assessments help to evaluate improvement potential, such as the Salary Matrix Tool which assesses the gap between current worker wages and the applicable living wage benchmark.
3. Cease, prevent, or mitigate adverse human rights and environmental impacts
The risk assessment tools and processes described in the previous section lead directly to mandatory mitigation and prevention measures. If a Rainforest Alliance Certified farm or group is operating in a country and sector designated as high or medium risk for child labor or forced labor, we require that it implements mitigation steps commensurate to that risk. Likewise, the results of the farm’s Risk Assessment Tool directly link to mitigation measures for each of the identified risks. All mitigation measures—either recommended by the Rainforest Alliance or chosen by certificate holders—must be included in the farm’s management plan, and their implementation is verified by auditors.
Grievance mechanisms are another important tool supporting farmers to assess, prevent, and mitigate adverse impacts. Our certification program requires all farms and supply chain actors to have a grievance mechanism in place. Auditors assess their effectiveness. Moreover, if farmers or farm workers do not find that their grievances have been appropriately resolved, they can escalate them to the relevant certification body’s (CB) grievance mechanism and then to Rainforest Alliance’s own grievance procedure.
4. Track and communicate implementation and results
At the farm level, our system provides for two types of tracking: self-tracking, in the form of mandatory self-assessments and internal inspections, and external tracking, in the form of independent third-party auditing.
We require certificate holders to carry out various forms of self-assessment. This includes monitoring for cases of child labor, forced labor, discrimination, and workplace violence and harassment as part of our assess-and-address approach. In the case of group certification, each group must also have an internal inspection system in place. This means that all farms belonging to the group are inspected yearly and non-compliance is reported to group management for correction.
On top of the internal inspections and self-assessment, Rainforest Alliance-authorized CBs audit farms and require corrective actions if cases of non-compliance are found. The Rainforest Alliance’s rules for CBs maintain and ensure integrity, consistency, and transparency on the part of our authorized CBs.
Another way our standard supports the tracking and communication of results at the farm level is through continuous improvement. Beyond meeting our Farm Requirements, we encourage farmers to set improvement targets to further promote and measure sustainability progress. After conducting a baseline assessment, farmers define context-specific targets on what they would like to improve. For example, they may choose to further monitor and reduce the use of pesticides. Then, they use Smart Meters to measure progress on these targets. Farmers use the indicator data to reflect on their progress annually; if they show little to no progress, it’s time to adapt their activities. This feedback loop is important for farmers to continuously improve their practices.
It is important to note that while we use processes like self-assessments, internal inspections, third-party auditing, and implementation of grievance mechanisms in our certification system, we do not disclose the related data to buyers of certified products. Our approach focuses on prevention, engagement, and improvement at the farm level. For this to work, farmers and farm workers must feel confident that they can be open about challenges and working towards solutions. Reporting violations to buyers would increase the risk of disengagement, and consequently, make it more difficult for farmers to address sustainability challenges. Our goal is always to help farms improve and not drive abuses underground; we evolved our certification program from a pass/fail model to a continuous improvement approach for this same reason.
5. Enable remediation when appropriate
For any human rights-related violation, certified farmers must follow our Remediation Protocol. Certificate holders must implement corrections. The protocol provides them with mandatory steps in this process, as well as good practices. Examples of remediation can include ensuring a child found in a child labor situation returns to school; repayment of unpaid wages, overtime, or illegal wage deductions; provision of needed social services; training; and/or sanctioning of a perpetrator (such as a supervisor) who committed sexual harassment.
We call on companies to work with us on due diligence both within and beyond our certification program. And as we continue to advocate for HREDD legislation, we invite companies to join us in these efforts, as well. Not only will these laws create a level playing field for companies that already have due diligence practices, but they will further open the door to a world where people and nature thrive in harmony.