Q&A on the Rainforest Alliance-UTZ Merger

The Rainforest Alliance and UTZ (a leading certification program for coffee, cocoa, tea, and hazelnuts) formally merged on January 9, 2018! The new organization carries 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 did you merge?

The Rainforest Alliance and UTZ merged in response to the critical challenges facing humanity: 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 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.

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Did you merge 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 continue to be at the forefront of certification. We 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 the constant innovation in this area.

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Did you merge to save costs?

No. We merged because we are driven by a common mission. The merger allows us to generate greater impact and be more efficient. By joining forces, we can 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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Did one organization take over the other?

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

Both organizations approached 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 took this step because we know we are even better together.

All the board members from both organizations have joined the new board, and there are two main offices, in Amsterdam and New York. The name of the organization is the Rainforest Alliance, and the CEO is Han de Groot from UTZ.

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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 do we this? We bring together businesses, governments, farming and forest communities, scientists, and civil society to create a more sustainable world. Together, we 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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Does 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 continues 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 also conducts advocacy to advance policy and jurisdictional initiatives to conserve forests in priority landscapes and sectors. Finally, the new Rainforest Alliance continues its integrated sustainable landscape development programs, which include rigorous training and technical assistance in responsible forestry.

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Is the Rainforest Alliance continuing 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 is continuing 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 is the name of the new organization?

The organization is called the Rainforest Alliance, carrying forward the strong public-facing name.

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Who is the CEO?

Han de Groot, the Executive Director of UTZ, has taken on the role of CEO of the Rainforest Alliance. Nigel Sizer, the President of the Rainforest Alliance, is now the Chief Program Officer, directing the new organization’s advocacy, landscapes, and livelihoods programs. The new Rainforest Alliance continues to operate as a nongovernmental organization and a not-for-profit.

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Where is the head office?

The new organization does not have a single head office. The two main locations are Amsterdam and New York, but the organization of course maintains a global presence with offices around the world.

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Will you create a new certification program?

Yes. In 2019 we will publish our new certification program, bringing together the best of the current UTZ and Rainforest Alliance systems. It will include a new standard for producers and a new chain of custody. 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?

We want to bring together and build upon the best of both current programs. 2018 will be dedicated to building our new organization and completing a far-reaching consultation process with all our stakeholder groups.

Timeline:

  • June 2018: Our new approach. We will set out our high level goals for the new certification program in a Terms of Reference document.
  • November-December 2018: Have your say. A first draft of the standard will be published, and we will run a full public consultation. This will include workshops and an open online survey.
  • January-March 2019: Review and improve. Based on the input from the public consultation we will review and improve the first draft of the standard.
  • June-July 2019: Have your say. If necessary, a second consultation round will give the opportunity for further stakeholder input on some aspects.
  • End 2019: Final approval and publication. The standard will be approved by the Rainforest Alliance Standards Committee and the program will be published: a new standard for farmers, chain of custody, labeling policy and fee structure.
  • 2020: Transition begins. We will guide all stakeholders through a gradual, step-by-step transition process.

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

Our organization is called the Rainforest Alliance, and alongside this, we will continue to use and invest in the Rainforest Alliance CertifiedTM green frog seal, which brings strong consumer recognition and brand value.

We have consulted with companies on our full value offering, including the future of the UTZ label, and this will feed into the development of our new program. Whatever the outcome, companies can continue to submit UTZ labeling approval requests for at least three years after the publication of the new certification program in 2019.

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

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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 is doing the audits?

We are retaining the principle of working with independent certification bodies, our valued partners.

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Are the UTZ and Rainforest Alliance programs/labels 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 RA 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?

In the future, this merger will reduce the complexity of the certification process for companies that are now working with both programs, and at the same time it will increase efficiency and flexibility so that we can continuously improve services to meet business needs.

Our new certification program will bring together the best of UTZ and the Rainforest Alliance, and we will guide companies through a step-by-step transition.

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Do I now have to be certified against both standards?

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

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I want to start sourcing certified ingredients. Should I choose Rainforest Alliance or UTZ now?

You should choose whichever program is best for your business for the coming two years.

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

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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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Can we still 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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What does the merger mean for farmers?

Farmers should continue following the Rainforest Alliance standard as usual. Continue to arrange audits and register sales of certified ingredients following the same processes already in place.

We will publish a new certification program in 2019, bringing together and building upon the best of the current UTZ and Rainforest Alliance systems. We will guide you through a step by step transition and ensure you have enough time to make any necessary changes.

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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. It must create positive impact for the farmers who work with it, 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 is doing 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?

Approved Certification Bodies can continue carrying out audits against the Rainforest Alliance standard as usual. In 2019, we will publish a new certification program. We will continue to work with independent certification bodies.

The Rainforest Alliance's certification body, RA-Cert, continues 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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Is the new organization 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 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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Does 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, 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 are running 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 does 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 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 the 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, exclusive 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 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, the 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 the 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 does the SAN do now that the Rainforest Alliance has assumed 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 ended and as of January 1, 2018, the Rainforest Alliance is 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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