The Rainforest Alliance is an international non-governmental organization (NGO) based in New York City and Amsterdam, with offices throughout the world, it operates in more than 60 countries. It was founded in 1987 by Daniel Katz, who serves on its board of directors, and is currently led by CEO Han de Groot. Its main work is the provision of an environmental certification on sustainable forestry and agriculture and tourism. Its certificate seal gives information to consumers over about business practices, based on certain standards they set.
The Rainforest Alliance Certified seal
|Headquarters||New York City|
They claim to be "an international non-profit organization working at the intersection of business, agriculture, and forests to make responsible business the new normal. We are an alliance of companies, farmers, foresters, communities, and consumers committed to creating a world where people and nature thrive in harmony."
Merger with UTZ
In June 2017, the Rainforest Alliance and UTZ announced the intention to merge, and in January 2018 the merger was legally closed and completed. The organizations merged in recognition of their similar work to address deforestation, climate change, systemic poverty, and social inequity. The merged organization, going by the name the Rainforest Alliance, points to the increased size and strength of their combined expertise to achieve a scale of impact necessary to meet these challenges effectively.
The Rainforest Alliance's work continues in Latin America, Africa, and South and Southeast Asia.
The new Rainforest Alliance plans to release a new certification standard in 2019, building upon the existing Rainforest Alliance Sustainable Agriculture Standard and the UTZ Certification Standard. The UTZ and Rainforest Alliance certification programs are running separately and in parallel until the publication of the new program in 2020. Additionally, releasing one standard will help the 182,000 cocoa, coffee, and tea farmers currently certified under both standards, avoiding a double administrative load of working with two standards and certification systems.
The two certification programs will continue to operate in parallel, and farms will continue to be either Rainforest Alliance or UTZ certified until the release of the new standard in 2020.
Rainforest Alliance programs
Sustainable forestry certification
The Rainforest Alliance launched the world’s first sustainable forestry certification program in 1989 to encourage market-driven and environmentally and socially responsible management of forests, tree farms, and forest resources. As of October 1, 2018, the Rainforest Alliance transitioned its certification business, including all related services, personnel and clients, to Nature Economy and People Connected (NEPCon), a non-profit organization based in Copenhagen, Denmark, with a global network. NEPCon has been a member of the FSC© since 1996.
Sustainable agriculture certification
The Rainforest Alliance's sustainable agriculture program includes training programs for farmers and the certification of small, medium and large farms that produce more than 100 different crops, including avocado, cattle, cinnamon, coffee, palm oil, and potatoes, as well as tea, cocoa, and bananas. In recent years, the Rainforest Alliance has greatly expanded its work with smallholders, who now account for 75% of the farms (more than 783,000 farmers in all) certified by the organization. To obtain certification, farms must meet the Sustainable Agriculture Standard, which is designed to conserve ecosystems, protect biodiversity and waterways, conserve forests, reduce agrochemical use, and safeguard the well-being of workers and local communities. The Rainforest Alliance encourages businesses and consumers to support sustainable agriculture by sourcing or choosing products grown on certified farms. More than 7 million hectares of farmland—are being managed sustainably under Rainforest Alliance certification, as of 2018.
Crop standards and criteria
The organization requires that 50% of criteria under a certain principle (group of criteria) be achieved, and 80% overall. Several of these criteria are "critical" and must be complied with for a farm to earn certification. They include an ecosystem conservation program, protection of wild animals and waterways, the prohibition of discrimination in work and hiring practices, the prohibition of contracting children under the age of 15, the use of protective gear for workers, guidelines about agrochemical use and the prohibition of transgenic crops.
Rainforest Alliance Certified Seal
The Rainforest Alliance Certified seal appears only on products that meet the crop standards and criteria detailed above. According to Consumer Reports, "The Rainforest Alliance Certified label is clear and meaningful in support of sustainable agriculture, social responsibility and integrated pest management. The label is consistent in meaning among all certified. The label does not consist of farmers and none of the members are certified by the Rainforest Alliance. In this sense, the organizations behind these labels are independent from the products they certify." In February 2008, Ethical Corporation called Rainforest Alliance certification a "rigorous, independently verified scheme". As of 2015, more than 4,300 companies buy or sell products from Rainforest Alliance Certified farms, and the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal can be seen in more than 120 countries. As of June 2015, 13.6 percent of the world’s cocoa, 5.4 percent of coffee and 15.1 percent of tea comes from Rainforest Alliance Certified farms.
The Rainforest Alliance was a pioneer in third-party sustainable tourism recognition, working with hotels, inbound and outbound tour operators, and other tourism businesses to help them improve their environmental, social, and economic practices. As of October 1, 2018, NEPCon assumed management of the Rainforest Alliance Sustainable Tourism Standards for Hotel and Lodging Services and Inbound Tour Operators. These standards include all elements of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) Criteria for Hotels and Tour Operators.
Criticism and response
Minimum price issues
Rainforest Alliance sustainable agriculture certification, like the certification schemes UTZ Certified and organic, does not offer producers minimum or guaranteed price, therefore leaving them vulnerable to market price variations. For example, in the 1980s, a pound of standard-grade coffee sold for around US $1.20; in 2003, however, a pound sold for about $0.50, which was not enough to cover the costs of production in much of the world. The price of coffee has since rebounded somewhat, with prices for arabica reaching $1.18/pound by the end of 2007.
Although many Rainforest Alliance Certified farms do in fact achieve price premiums for high-quality product, Rainforest Alliance focuses on improving the entire spectrum of farming practices. Third-party studies have shown the organization’s approach to be effective in raising both income and net revenue for farmers.
Michigan State University professor of sociology Daniel Jaffee has criticized Rainforest Alliance certification, claiming that its standards are "arguably far lower than fair trade's" and saying "they establish minimum housing and sanitary conditions but do not stipulate a minimum price for coffee. Critically, they require plantation owners only to pay laborers the national minimum wage, a notoriously inadequate standard."
The Economist favors the Rainforest Alliance's method and notes that "guaranteeing a minimum price [as Fairtrade does] means there is no incentive to improve quality." They also note that coffee drinkers say "the quality of Fairtrade brews varies widely. The Rainforest Alliance does things differently. It does not guarantee a minimum price or offer a premium but provides training advice. That consumers are often willing to pay more for a product with the [Rainforest Alliance] logo on it is an added bonus, not the result of a formal subsidy scheme; such products must still fend for themselves in the marketplace."
Use of seal
The organization certification has been criticized for allowing the use of the seal on products containing a minimum of 30% of certified content. According to Michael Conroy, former chairman of the board for Fair Trade USA, this use of the seal is the "most damaging dimension" of [Rainforest Alliance's] agricultural certification program and "a serious blow to the integrity of certification".
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