FAQ: What Is the Difference Between Rainforest Alliance and Fairtrade Certification?

The Rainforest Alliance and Fairtrade International are non-profit organizations that share similar missions and goals but differ in their focus and approach. Both organizations believe in the urgent need to transform agricultural practices—and both believe that certification, through credible systems such as ours, can accelerate that transformation. Both are committed to tackling unsustainable production and market practices.

We also share a commitment to high standards in our work, which is why we are both members of ISEAL, the global association for social and environmental standards that works with companies, non-profit organizations, and governments to support the use of voluntary standards. Both the Rainforest Alliance and Fairtrade are also founding members of the Global Living Wage Coalition and the Living Income Community of Practice.

Different focuses

Both Rainforest Alliance and Fairtrade certification programs include requirements on the three pillars of sustainability–social, environmental, and economic. However, each has a different emphasis. Fairtrade focuses on the economic side. Their program is designed to tackle poverty and help producers in the world’s poorest countries, giving them a guaranteed price for their products.

The Rainforest Alliance addresses social, economic, and environmental improvement as inseparable elements of the broader goal of sustainability. Following the 2018 merger between the Rainforest Alliance and UTZ, we have worked for more than a year to build on the strengths of the Rainforest Alliance and UTZ certification programs to create our new 2020 Certification Program, which takes effect July 2021. Our new standard includes “critical criteria” in all three areas—requirements that farms and supply chain actors must meet in order to earn and maintain certification—and takes an ambitious new approach to how we measure continuous improvement.

Different approaches to improving incomes for farmers

Improving farmer livelihoods is an important goal for the Rainforest Alliance, just as it is for many other organizations that have certification programs. Our particular approach is holistic and focuses on helping farmers grow their businesses and become more profitable and resilient through training in farm management, financial literacy, and market access. We are also promoting a shared responsibility approach that encourages companies to do their part as well.

A requirement for additional cash payments for certified crops is an important facet of our 2020 Certification Program. Our new program requires buyers to pay a Sustainability Differential, a mandatory additional cash payment to certified farms over and above the market price; this payment is designed to be completely free of restrictions or requirements on how it is used. The amount of the Sustainability Differential is not fixed, but for some key crops we provide additional guidance on determining the differential. Under the cocoa program we will be introducing a minimum Sustainability Differential as of July 2022.

In addition, we are introducing a Sustainability Investment requirement for buyers, who must make cash or in-kind investments to farmers based on the needs identified in their own investment plans. This investment is critical not just for the implementation of our certification scheme, but for ongoing sustainability improvements. It also centers the expertise and voices of farmers in our ongoing effort to build a more equitable supply chain.

The Fairtrade Premium and the Rainforest Alliance Sustainability Differential should not be directly compared, as the two are based on different approaches. To read more about the Fairtrade Premium, which is paid at the cooperative level rather than to certified producers directly, please visit the Fairtrade website.

Both responsible business practices and sustainable farming methods are key in improving farmer livelihoods. With the Sustainability Differential and Sustainability Investments, we are encouraging companies to acknowledge the price of sustainability and invest in and reward more sustainable production. In addition, the rigorous environmental criteria in our new standard help farmers build climate resilience and protect soil health, waterways, tropical forests, and overall ecosystem health that are vital to crop production.

Ramon nut, a sustainable superfood - photo by Sergio Izquierdo

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