Certification Program Rebuttal

A June 23 article written by the Organic Consumers Association about the Rainforest Alliance certification program contained a large number of unfortunate errors, uses outdated information and is inadequately cited. To set the record straight:
The Rainforest Alliance is a 501©3 nonprofit and an organization whose mission, work, and on-the-ground achievements are dependent upon credibility to the consumer and the public-at-large.

Transparency, integrity, and accountability are principles that have guided the Rainforest Alliance throughout its 23 year history. These principles are integrated into the policies and procedures that inform Rainforest Alliance's actions at every level, ensuring that at every step Rainforest Alliance is accountable to producers, consumers, companies, stakeholders and the general public.

The Rainforest Alliance has defined policies for financial independence, decision making, disclosure, oversight and accountability, stakeholder feedback and whistleblowing.
Please review these policies here: http://www.rainforest-alliance.org/about.cfm?id=policies
The Rainforest Alliance has received consistently outstanding reviews by internationally-recognized leading independent charity watchdogs:

The Better Business Bureau –Rainforest Alliance meets all 20 of the BBB's Standards for Charity Accountability ( http://charityreports.bbb.org/public/report.aspx?charityid=2096 )
Guidestar Charity Navigator –Rainforest Alliance has earned Charity Navigator's highest rating (4 starts) ( http://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=search.summary&orgid=4980 )
CharityWatch, of the American Institute of Philanthropy – Rainforest Alliance is a "top-rated charity", having earned an "A" ranking. ( http://www.charitywatch.org/toprated.html )

The Rainforest Alliance is the secretariat of the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN), the oldest and largest coalition of NGOs striving to improve commodity production in the tropics. Most of these NGOs are from the developing world and are often the leading environmental group in their country. The SAN develops criteria for responsible farm management. Those farms that can meet the criteria of the SAN are awarded the Rainforest Alliance CertifiedTM seal of approval.

The standards development processes comply with the Code of Good Practice for Setting Social and Environmental Standards of the International Social and Environmental Accreditation and Labeling (ISEAL) Alliance, which requires an extensive and balanced multi-stakeholder process for standards setting ( http://www.isealalliance.org/ ). The ISEAL Alliance is an association of leading voluntary international standard-setting and conformity assessment organizations that focus on social and environmental issues, including Rainforest Alliance, Fair Trade, Forest Stewardship Council, IFOAM (organic) and the Marine Stewardship Council. ISEAL Alliance members collaborate to build international recognition and legitimacy for their programs.

The SAN's transparency and robustness with respect to standard setting has been reflected in the creation of the independent International Standards Committee (ISC). This is the body that decides on the contents of new and revised SAN standards, as well as the geographical scope and length of the international public consultation processes on standard drafts. It assures even more diverse and updated technical input to the SAN's standard setting efforts.

The 12 current members of ISC – which include representatives from industry, international NGOs, experts in international and child labor standards as well as farmers and experts from producing countries – were elected by consensus by the SAN's board of directors and govern for a term of two years. The current members of the ISC can be seen here: http://www.rainforest-alliance.org/agriculture.cfm?id=standards_development.

Additional information about the SAN's Public Consultation Process can be accessed here:

For Rainforest Alliance Certified farms, an independent certification body, Sustainable Farm Certification, International is responsible for making certification decisions. The decisions are a result of its evaluation of audit reports provided by authorized inspection bodies (typically local NGOs). Sustainable Farm Certification, Intl. has an internal audit program that ensures quality control by verifying the application of system processes, documentation and operational objectives.

A list of all Rainforest Alliance Certified™ farms is available on http://www.sustainablefarmcert.com/ and anyone interested in visiting these farms is welcome to do so. A farm visit and direct communication with farmers from certified farms are the best way to see the impact of our standards on the ground.

The Sustainable Agriculture Standard is a truly integrated and comprehensive approach to sustainable farm management, based on the three pillars of sustainability – economic, social and the environmental.

The program was developed in the tropics in the early 1990s by farmers, NGOs, worker groups, scientists and other stakeholders who believed that a scheme that only addressed one of the pillars would not be effective in the long run.

Derived from these three pillars are the ten guiding principles of the Standard, followed by the number of criteria for each standard in parenthesis:

1. Social and Environmental Management system (10)
2. Ecosystem Conservation (8)
3. Wildlife Protection (6)
4. Water Conservation (9)
5. Fair Treatment and Good Working Conditions for Workers (19)
6. Occupational Health and Safety (20)
7. Community Relations (5)
8. Integrated Crop Management (7)
9. Soil Management and Conservation (5)
10. Integrated Waste Management (5)

In addition to the collaborative, multi-stakeholder standard development process, the standard is informed by highly recognized and respected international organizations and conventions including:

• Convention on Biological Diversity. http://www.cbd.int/
• European Commission. Health & Consumer Protection Directorate – General. Directive 79/117/EEC, Council Regulation 805/2004/EC, Directive 91/414/EEC and regulation (EC) of the European Parliament and of the Council No. 689/2008 http://ec.europa.eu/food/plant/protection/evaluation/exist_subs_rep_en.htm
• European Commission Joint Research Centre. Institute for Health and Consumer Protection. http://edexim.jrc.it/
• International Labor Organization. Convention 138 and Recommendation 146; Convention 182; Conventions 100 and 111; Conventions 29 and 105; Conventions 87 and 98 and Convention 169 concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries. Geneva, Switzerland. www.ilo.org
• International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. 2007 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™. 2007. Geneva, Switzerland: http://www.iucnredlist.org
• Pesticide Action Network. Dirty Dozen pesticides: http://www.pesticideinfo.org/Docs/ref_toxicity7.html#DirtyDozen
• United Nations. Convention on the Rights of the Child: http://www.unhchr.ch/html/menu3/b/k2crc.htm
• United Nations. Universal Declaration of Human Rights: http://www.un.org/Overview/rights.html
• United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES): http://www.cites.org
• United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs). http://www.pic.int/home.php?type=t&id=29&sid=30 guidelines to classification: 2004

The complete list is included on page 9 of the Sustainable Agriculture Standard. http://www.rainforest-alliance.org/agriculture.cfm?id=standards

The Rainforest Alliance is committed to bringing sustainability to farms of all sizes. The great majority of the 30,000 farms in the Rainforest Alliance Certified program are smallholders, but there are also many large farms/plantations. Plantations around the world are major sources of employment and workers on them are often poor and under represented. By certifying plantations the Rainforest Alliance Certified program proactively reaches out to these workers, improving their lives and livelihoods. Currently the Fairtrade Labeling Organization does not have a set of standards for coffee estates and plantations with hired workers.

In order to obtain and maintain certification, farmers must comply with:
• 100% of all critical criteria, in addition to:
• At least 80% of all applicable criteria; and
• At least 50% of the applicable criteria of each and every principle

The critical criteria and the scoring system are all part of the Sustainable Agriculture Standard, which can be viewed on our website at: http://www.rainforest-alliance.org/agriculture/documents/sust_ag_standard.pdf

The Rainforest Alliance has developed a set of Use of Seal Guidelines to protect the value and integrity of the green frog seal.

Single ingredient products must contain a minimum of 30% Rainforest Alliance Certified content to bear the seal on product packaging. To ensure transparency to the consumers, for any single ingredient products (coffee beans or fruit juice, for example) that contain between 30% and 90% certified content the seal on the packaging must state clearly the percentage of certified content.

In the case of products made up of more than one ingredient, such as chocolate bars which contain cocoa, sugar and milk, at least 30% of the dry weight of the core ingredient (cocoa in this case) and at least 30% of the total dry weight of the product (chocolate bar) must be sourced from certified farms. In these cases, the core ingredient must be named under the seal, and the percentage of that ingredient's certified content must be disclosed on the packaging as well.

Currently, there are certain origins and quantities that are not yet available in the Rainforest Alliance system to make it possible for all products to contain 100% certified ingredients. Uninformed parties mistakenly believe that our 30% minimum guidelines reduce on-the-ground impacts. However, the effectiveness of a program is measured by how many hectares are brought under sustainable management, how many people benefit, how many local communities are improved, and how many ecosystems are conserved, not by what percentage of certified product is in a package. The Rainforest Alliance CertifiedTM program uses these factors as benchmarks for its success and is proud of the progress it has made on these fronts.

TransFair USA (the Fairtrade Labeling Initiative in the United States) charges licensed companies a per-pound fee. The fee is TransFair's largest source of revenue and is used to support its operations and marketing activities. ( http://www.transfairusa.org/content/resources/faq-advanced.php, June 25, 2009)

The Rainforest Alliance does not charge a license fee and our work is supported primarily by grants from foundations, international development agencies, philanthropic organizations and individual donations. These include the United Nations Development Program, the Global Environment Facility, GTZ, the International Finance Corporation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the DOEN Foundation.

The Rainforest Alliance has staff members from many countries and regions of the world and has staff working on the ground in Latin America, Africa and Asia each and every day with farmers, foresters and tourism providers. While we see the incredible impacts of our work on a daily basis, the public does not often directly witness these major environmental, social and economic improvements associated with certification. We invite the staff and Board of the Organic Consumers Association and supporters of the organization to see the positive impacts of certification firsthand and to understand just how important of a tool Rainforest Alliance certification is to thousands of farmers around the world.

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