Rainforest Alliance is Strengthening its Cocoa Certification Program

Author Alex Morgan

Chief Markets Officer
Rainforest Alliance
Field training for cocoa farmers in Côte d'Ivoire. Training in more sustainable farming, social, and environmental practices helps farmers achieve certification. Photo by Rainforest Alliance, Giuseppe Cipriani.

Cocoa is one of nature’s greatest gifts; however, the sector is struggling with environmental and social challenges in many countries where it is grown, including extreme poverty, deforestation and child labor. This in turn creates sustainability challenges for the whole supply chain.

We at the Rainforest Alliance have been working to address these challenges on the ground with farmers for nearly 20 years. However, our efforts – and those of others in the sector – have thus far not driven the sector-wide, long-term sustainability improvements necessary for all cocoa farmers and farming communities.

The time is now for every actor in the cocoa supply chain to commit unequivocally to the farmers that are the backbone of the chocolate industry. We need the sector to deepen its investments in the millions of smallholder cocoa farmers, and hold itself accountable to improving the economic, social, and environmental conditions of those small holder farmers.  Our new certification system is focused on improvements in end to end transparency in the supply chain, and clear accountability of market actors in providing adequate resources and support to farmers in advancing sustainable production.

Certification has had and continues to have a key role to play in driving impact in the cocoa sector. After two years of comprehensive analysis on the necessary evolution of certification, we recently unveiled an end-to-end strengthening of our cocoa program. These new measures mark the first stage of Rainforest Alliance’s enhanced certification program for all sectors that will be published in June under our new 2020 Standard.

The measures include stricter audit rules and enhanced traceability and performance monitoring systems. In order to drive supply chain accountability, the improved certification program also features clear metrics on shared responsibility, the idea that every actor in the supply chain has an obligation to incentivize sustainability improvements on the ground. These efforts are fortified by advanced monitoring techniques, far greater supply chain transparency and more robust risk-based auditing approaches on the ground.

One of the most exciting aspects of this new approach is so-called intelligent auditing, informed by data and technology and tailored to account for risks that are prevalent in each region or even within specific farmer cooperatives.

We are also moving away from the idea that certification is a series of pass/fail requirements. Instead, we will adopt a continuous improvement approach that drives change from a set of core criteria. This system will support farmers to work towards relevant improvements.

The Rainforest Alliance is implementing stringent requirements for every individual certified cocoa farmer to have specific, quality GPS coordinates placed in our system across West Africa to avoid deforestation. But farmers do not have the means to make this a reality. These more robust requirements therefore must go hand in hand with enhanced market incentives and investments being made available to farmers who are implementing sustainable practices. We will strive to hold our supply chain actors accountable to this transparent approach, beginning with transparency on investments in farm co-ops and the cash payments made to the individual farmer for the sale of his or her certified cocoa.

Beyond the improvements we are making to our programs, we are amplifying the call for all participants in the cocoa industry to take a more proactive role in creating improvement through stronger interventions:

  • one in which cocoa producers have the knowledge, resources and incentives to produce in an environmentally, economically and socially responsible fashion;
  • where all supply chain actors fulfill their role through sourcing and pricing practices that promote resilience from price volatility and climate change;
  • and where governments fulfill their vital role in bringing about sustainable change.

Above all, the reinvigorated program aims to increase transparency in the certification process throughout the supply chain, from consumer back to the individual farmer.

Ultimately, third-party certification remains an unparalleled tool in helping address the most difficult challenges in the cocoa sector—but it can only be effective if NGOs, traders, companies, and governments work together to address poverty. We have a shared responsibility to drive a sustainable future for the entire cocoa sector, from the individual farmer on the ground in Côte d’Ivoire to the consumer eating a chocolate bar in the USA. Every actor must do their part in order to succeed. The time to act is now and we at the Rainforest Alliance are calling on all actors in the sector to help make this a reality.