Q&A on the UTZ / Rainforest Alliance Merger

The Rainforest Alliance and UTZ (a leading certification program for coffee, cocoa, tea, and hazelnuts) are merging! We will begin working to build our new organization in January 2018. The new organization will carry forward the Rainforest Alliance name.

Below are some questions and answers related to the merger.

General

Certification

Companies

Farmers & Producers

Certification Bodies

The Sustainable Agriculture Network

Why are you merging?

The Rainforest Alliance and UTZ are merging in response to the critical challenges facing humanity today: deforestation, climate change, systemic poverty, and social inequity. We are combining our respective strengths because we know that together, we will be in a better position to achieve the scale of impact necessary to meet these challenges effectively.

Our mission is to build a future in which nature is protected and biodiversity flourishes, where farmers, workers, and communities prosper, and where sustainable land use and responsible business practices are the norm. We envision a world where people and nature thrive in harmony.

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Why a full merger, rather than just collaborating?

Both organizations have a long history of meaningful impact on sustainable agriculture and driving certification, with strengths in varied sectors and geographies. The Rainforest Alliance brings brand value and effective landscape conservation expertise that drives responsible supply chains. UTZ delivers proven success at bringing sustainable value chains to scale. Together we will have greater reach and a stronger voice, enabling us to create even more impact.

By fully merging, rather than collaborating as separate organizations, we can focus our combined talent, expertise, and capabilities on a singular mission. By combining our respective strengths, we can build an organization with the depth and breadth to achieve greater impact on the ground than either organization could do alone.

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Why now?

Climate change. Drought. Rural poverty. Deforestation. In order to address the world’s most urgent challenges, sustainability organizations must constantly evolve and innovate. For every urgent crisis we face, there are proven solutions, but these solutions require bold and effective collaboration by companies and governments, farmers and forest communities—and of course, each and every one of us. We believe that the Rainforest Alliance and UTZ—two organizations with a proven record of transforming the sectors and landscapes in which they work—can best scale up and accelerate this transformation by combining forces at this time.

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Are you merging because certification is losing ground?

No. As certification continues to grow in popularity, so too does the importance of independent and rigorous third-party monitoring, assurance, and traceability. As one organization, we will continue to be at the forefront of certification. We will also have a broader geographical reach and a stronger voice, which means greater benefits for farming and forest communities, companies, consumers, and, ultimately, our planet. We are committed to improving certification systems, investing more in the technology and research that backs them up and to constant innovation in this area.

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Are you merging to save costs?

No. We are merging because we are driven by a common mission. The merger will allow us to generate greater impact and be more efficient. By joining forces, we will be able to focus on innovation across all our service offerings, invest in new technologies, and advocate for the policy changes needed to create a world where people and nature thrive together.

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Is one organization taking over the other?

No, this is a merger of two organizations on equal terms.

Both organizations are approaching the merger from a position of strength, with a track record of positive impact for farming and forest communities, companies, consumers, and our planet—30 years of impact for the Rainforest Alliance and 15 for UTZ at the time of the merger. While both organizations could have continued working side by side, we are taking this step because we know we will be even better together.

All the board members from both organizations will join the new board, and there will be two main offices, in Amsterdam and New York. The name of the organization will be the Rainforest Alliance, and the CEO will be Han de Groot from UTZ. Nigel Sizer will shift from being President of the current Rainforest Alliance to being Chief Program Officer of the New Rainforest Alliance.

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What is your mission as a new organization?

We are building a future in which nature is protected and biodiversity flourishes, where farmers, workers, and communities prosper, and where sustainable land use and responsible business practices are the norm. We envision a world where people and nature thrive in harmony.

How will we do this? We will bring together businesses, governments, farming and forest communities, scientists, and civil society to create a more sustainable world. Together, we will rejuvenate agricultural landscapes and protect forests; foster sustainable livelihoods and build climate resilience across vulnerable regions; transform business practices, drive supply chain innovation, and engage consumers in positive change.

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Will the new Rainforest Alliance still work in forestry?

Yes. The leadership of the Rainforest Alliance remains deeply committed to its forestry work and fighting deforestation. The new Rainforest Alliance will continue to advance sustainable forestry through its community enterprise initiatives, training and technical assistance projects, and assurance and sourcing services for companies seeking to implement a deforestation-free supply chain. The new Rainforest Alliance will also conduct advocacy to advance policy and jurisdictional initiatives to conserve forests in priority landscapes and sectors. Finally, the new Rainforest Alliance will continue its integrated sustainable landscape development programs, which include rigorous training and technical assistance in responsible forestry.

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Will the Rainforest Alliance continue programs and initiatives that fall outside of certification, such as its sustainable landscapes work and its extensive training and technical assistance program?

The Rainforest Alliance will continue its sustainable landscape development work, as well as its training and technical assistance programs. These programs are central to the Rainforest Alliance’s proven strategy to conserve natural resources and improve livelihoods. Our goal to integrate these longstanding programs even more effectively with an improved and more powerful certification system is one of the most exciting aspects of this merger.

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What will be the name of the new organization?

The organization will carry forward the Rainforest Alliance name, which has strong brand recognition in a number of key consumer markets around the world, and this is a key asset we did not wish to lose in the merger. This asset, coupled with the business and sector engagement expertise of UTZ, means we will grow to be even stronger through the work of the new organization.

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Who will be the CEO?

Han de Groot, currently the executive director of UTZ, will take on the role of CEO at the Rainforest Alliance. Nigel Sizer, the current president of the Rainforest Alliance, will take on the role of Chief Program Officer, directing the new organization’s advocacy, landscapes, and livelihoods programs. The new Rainforest Alliance will continue to operate as a nongovernmental organization and a not-for-profit.

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Where will the head office be?

The new organization will not have a single head office. The two main locations will be Amsterdam and New York, but the organization will of course maintain a global presence.

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Will you create a new certification program?

Yes. In 2019 we will publish our new certification program, building upon the best of the current UTZ and Rainforest Alliance systems. It will include a new standard for producers and a new chain of custody system. There will also be a new fee structure and labeling policy for companies sourcing certified ingredients.

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How will the new certification program be developed?

2018 will be dedicated to building our new organization and completing a far-reaching consultation process with all our stakeholders. We will hold a consultation process on our brand identity and value offering to companies (including the future of the UTZ label, the fee structure, labeling policy, and marketing approaches), and we will open a full consultation on the development of the standard, per ISEAL requirements. We will also consult on how best to manage the transition to the new certification program.

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What is the future of the UTZ label and the Rainforest Alliance seal?

We will continue using and investing in the Rainforest Alliance logo and seal, both of which have strong brand recognition among consumers in many key markets. We will carry out market research and a comprehensive consultation process to develop our full value offering to companies, including the future of the UTZ label, the fee structure, labeling policy, and marketing approaches. 

Whatever the outcome of the consultation, we will provide step-by-step guidance to help companies sourcing either Rainforest Alliance Certified™ goods and/or UTZ certified goods to transition to the new system. Companies sourcing UTZ certified goods can continue to submit UTZ labeling approval requests for at least three years after the publication of the new certification program in 2019. We will guide companies through a step-by-step transition that provides ample time to implement necessary changes.

It is not permitted to use the labels interchangeably. UTZ certified ingredients can only be sold or labeled as UTZ, and Rainforest Alliance Certified ingredients can only be sold or labeled as Rainforest Alliance certified.

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What products will you work with?

We will determine this in 2018 as we build the strategy for our new organization.

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Why is it certain that the Rainforest Alliance seal continues but unclear what happens to the UTZ label?

We decided that the new organization would carry the name of the Rainforest Alliance, and by extension that we would continue using and investing in the Rainforest Alliance seal. We made this choice due to its strong consumer recognition—a valuable asset that we did not wish to lose.

However, since we will be building a completely new certification program based on bringing together the best of both systems, we want decisions on a broad array of topics—including the future of the UTZ label, the fee structure, labeling policy, and marketing approaches—to be informed by stakeholder consultation and market research.

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Who will do the audits?

We will retain the principle of working with independent certification bodies, our valued partners.

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Will the UTZ and Rainforest Alliance programs/labels be interchangeable from now on?

No. The UTZ and Rainforest Alliance certification programs will run separately and in parallel until the publication of the new program in 2019. This means that UTZ certified ingredients can only be sold, sourced, and labeled as UTZ certified, and Rainforest Alliance Certified ingredients can only be sold, sourced, and labeled as Rainforest Alliance Certified.

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Why aren’t you making more interim arrangements—e.g. mutual recognition of standards, interchangeable logos, etc.?

We want to focus our efforts on developing the new standard and system that will be launched in 2019; interim arrangements would draw our energies away from that and will therefore be very limited.

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What does the merger mean for those companies that work with the Rainforest Alliance and source Rainforest Alliance Certified goods?

The current UTZ and Rainforest Alliance programs will run in parallel until the publication of one new certification standard and launch of the certification program in 2019. If you are already sourcing Rainforest Alliance Certified goods, you can continue to do so. We will continue to use and invest in the Rainforest Alliance “green frog seal” in the future, but the new certification program after 2019 will not be identical to the existing Rainforest Alliance certification program.

Instead, the new program will be designed to bring together and build upon the best of the current Rainforest Alliance and UTZ programs. There will be changes, and these changes will be informed by the broad consultation process we will launch in 2018. Guided by your input and that of other stakeholders, we will develop our full value offering to companies including the fee structure, labeling policy, and marketing approaches. When our new certification system is published in 2019, there will be a generous transition period for companies and producers to change over to the new system.

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Do I now have to be certified against both standards?

No. The UTZ and Rainforest Alliance certification programs will run separately and in parallel until the publication of the new program in 2019.

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Can I source UTZ and use the Rainforest Alliance seal or vice versa?

No. Until the launch of the new Rainforest Alliance certification program, UTZ certified ingredients can only be sold, sourced and labeled as UTZ certified, and Rainforest Alliance Certified ingredients can only be sold, sourced and labeled as Rainforest Alliance Certified.

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Will the new program after 2019 use the 30 percent rule that the Rainforest Alliance currently uses? Will the new program use the UTZ or Rainforest Alliance mass balance rules?

Specific rules regarding mass balance will be determined after we conduct market research and stakeholder consultation, prior to the development of our new system, which will be published in 2019.

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Will we still be able to contact you in the same way as usual?

Yes. For the foreseeable future nothing changes. You can still contact us in the usual way.

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I own a Rainforest Alliance Certified farm. What should I do?

You can continue following the Rainforest Alliance Sustainable Agriculture Standard (formerly the 2017 SAN standard) as usual. We will publish a new certification program in 2019, and we will guide you through a step-by-step and generous transition to the new program.

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I am a producer certified against both the UTZ and the Rainforest Alliance programs. What should I do?

You can continue following both programs in the same way you do now. During this period, it is not possible to sell UTZ certified crops as Rainforest Alliance Certified or vice versa. The two programs are still separate.

We will publish a new standard and a certification program in 2019. The new standard will be a change from both the current UTZ and Rainforest Alliance standards. When the new certification program is published, you will benefit from only needing one audit instead of two.

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Can I sell my UTZ certified crops as Rainforest Alliance Certified or vice versa?

No. UTZ certified crops can only be sold as UTZ certified, and Rainforest Alliance Certified crops can only be sold as Rainforest Alliance Certified. The two programs both continue to run separately for now.

We will publish one new certification program in 2019. The new standard will different from both of the current standards.

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Why aren’t you making it possible for us to sell UTZ as Rainforest Alliance or vice versa?

We want to focus our efforts on developing the new certification program that will be published in 2019, rather than making interim arrangements.

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I want to get certified for the first time. Should I choose UTZ or Rainforest Alliance now?

You should choose whichever program is best for you now and for the coming period until 2019.

We will publish a new certification program in 2019 that brings together the best of both systems and provide step-by-step support at that time, but we do not yet know the details. The new system will include changes to both current systems.

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Will the new standard be lower or higher (weaker or stricter) for farmers?

Our goal is to develop a standard that is impactful and scalable, bringing together the best elements of both standards. This does not necessarily mean stricter or more difficult. Our focus will be delivering positive impact to the farmers who work with it and providing a framework for them to improve their livelihoods while protecting the landscapes where they live and work. It must be scalable, so that we can extend the benefits of certification even further.

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Will the new standard be more improvement/performance-based?

Both the UTZ and the Rainforest Alliance Sustainable Agriculture standards are currently based on a standard that requires a certain level of compliance from Year One followed by continuous improvement over a number of years. With our new standard we aim to bring together the best of both, and we will explore how we can strengthen the recognition of improvement. There will be a broad-reaching consultation on the development of the new standard in 2018, in line with ISEAL requirements.

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Will the new standard be for the whole farm or crop specific?

This is still to be determined, and it will be one of the topics of the consultation process in 2018.

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Who will do the audits?

For now, you can continue arranging audits in the same way and using the same certification body as usual. We will continue working with independent certification bodies, our valued partners.

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Will there be changes to the market demand for certified crops in the future?

We will publish our new certification program in 2019, bringing together the UTZ and Rainforest Alliance programs. This means there is likely to be a bigger market for certified ingredients than if you currently only follow one or the other.

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How can I have my say in the new standard?

In 2018 there will be a global consultation on the development of the new standard, open to all stakeholder groups. We will be in touch with you again about this consultation.

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What does the merger mean for certification bodies?

Authorized Rainforest Alliance certification bodies will continue carrying out audits and certifications against the Rainforest Alliance Sustainable Agriculture Standard (formerly known as the 2017 Sustainable Agriculture Network Standard or SAN Standard). Approved UTZ certification bodies will continue carrying out audits against the UTZ Codes, as usual, and the same goes for those certification bodies that are authorized to audit against both systems. Certification bodies can only carry out audits against the Rainforest Alliance Sustainable Agriculture Standard or the UTZ Codes if they are authorized to do so.

The Rainforest Alliance's certification body, RA-Cert, will continue to function as a certification body. The Rainforest Alliance is committed to protecting the credibility and transparency of the scheme and is taking additional steps to further enhance RA-Cert’s independence and the integrity of the Rainforest Alliance certification program.

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How should certification bodies proceed?

For now, certification bodies should continue carrying out audits in the same way (business as usual). Approved UTZ certification bodies can continue carrying out audits against the UTZ standard and approved Rainforest Alliance certification bodies can carry out audits against the 2017 Rainforest Alliance Sustainable Agriculture Standard (formerly the SAN Standard).

In 2019 we will publish a new certification program. We will continue to work with independent certification bodies, who are our valued partners. If you receive questions from your clients, please reassure them that the UTZ and Rainforest Alliance certification programs will continue to run in the same way for the next few years.

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Will the new organization keep working with all the certification bodies that UTZ and the Rainforest Alliance currently work with, or will that number be reduced?

In 2019 we will publish a new certification program. We will continue to work with independent certification bodies, who are valued partners. How exactly we will work with certification bodies is still to be determined, but we will inform you in good time of any changes.

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Will the new organization welcome new certification body applications?

We have not yet determined this. We are looking at the certification body approval and management system of both UTZ and the Rainforest Alliance to see how we can best move forward.

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Can UTZ-approved certification bodies now also conduct audits for the Rainforest Alliance/SAN, and the other way around?

No. The approval status of certification bodies stays the same. You cannot automatically conduct audits for both programs if you are only approved for one.

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In the period before 2019 will certification bodies be able to offer combined or joint audits?

If you are already approved to perform combined audits then you can continue to do so. If you are not approved to do so, then you cannot.

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Are the UTZ and Rainforest Alliance standards already recognizing each other (meaning an UTZ certified member automatically gets Rainforest Alliance certification and vice versa?)

No. The two programs will run in parallel, meaning that there is no mutual recognition in place. UTZ certified members are only UTZ certified, and Rainforest Alliance Certified members are only Rainforest Alliance Certified.

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Should UTZ-approved certification bodies apply for Rainforest Alliance authorization, and vice versa?

The merger will not require UTZ approved certification bodies to apply for Rainforest Alliance authorization, or vice versa. The merged organization will publish one certification program in 2019, to be accompanied by a new protocol and CB approval and management system. You will be informed of the details of this well in advance, and there will be a transition period to move to this new standard.

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What should certification bodies tell producers and companies who aren’t sure what to do about the merger?

Please reassure producers and companies you work with that the two systems will continue to run in parallel until the publication of the new standard in 2019. Leading up to that and following publication, we will provide step-by-step guidance for producers and companies on how to make the transition.

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How can certification bodies give their input?

Certification bodies can give their input to the new standard and certification system during our stakeholder consultation process in 2018.

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What is the new relationship with the Sustainable Agriculture Network?

The Rainforest Alliance remains a member of the SAN and SAN remains an important partner

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Is the SAN supportive of the merger between the Rainforest Alliance and UTZ?

Yes. The SAN has been supportive of this merger and the opportunities it presents from the very beginning.

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When will the SAN phase out of its role in Rainforest Alliance certification?

The SAN’s oversight role of the standard ended in November 2017. Responsibility for the management of the administration of the standard has been transferred to the Rainforest Alliance, which has a perpetual, exclusiv license for the standard from the SAN. The new name for the standard is the Rainforest Alliance Sustainable Agriculture Standard.

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How is the transfer of the Rainforest Alliance/Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) certification system related to the intended merger between the Rainforest Alliance and UTZ?

In June 2017, the Rainforest Alliance announced an intention to merge with Dutch-based certification organization UTZ under the Rainforest Alliance name and brand. The new organization aims to create a single agriculture sustainability standard that will simplify the certification process and in doing so, continue to improve livelihoods for farmers around the world. As part of that process, SAN began to discuss internally if the organization should remain focused on certification or if there were more effective options for it to deliver on its mission. This led to the decision that SAN will refocus its work in other areas, making better use of its network of local partners around the world.

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What will the SAN do after the Rainforest Alliance assumes ownership of the Rainforest Alliance/SAN certification system?

For more information please go to: www.sustainableagriculture.eco.

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What is the timeline for the transition?

By November 15, 2017, the transfer of operations was completed. On December 31, 2017, the SAN’s responsibilities end and as of January 1, 2018, the Rainforest Alliance will be the sole owner and operator of the certification scheme.

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What are the logistical implications of this change?

The Rainforest Alliance and the SAN have managed the transfer through a detailed transition plan that provided continuity to the program. Both organizations have worked diligently to ensure the system continued to operate without interruption.

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Ramon nut, a sustainable superfood - photo by Sergio Izquierdo

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