Is there a place for certified cocoa after the ISO/CEN sustainability standard?

By Oliver Nieburg

- Last updated on GMT

ISO/CEN aims to set a sustainable cocoa standard that goes beyond box ticking. What role can UTZ, Rainforest Alliance and Fairtrade play?
ISO/CEN aims to set a sustainable cocoa standard that goes beyond box ticking. What role can UTZ, Rainforest Alliance and Fairtrade play?

Related tags Sustainable cocoa Certification Cocoa Rainforest alliance

Certified cocoa bodies can co-exist with an international standard for sustainable cocoa that will be finalized in 2016, according to delegates at the World Cocoa Foundation’s partnership meeting.

By the end of 2016, The European Committee for Standardization (CEN) and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) will create a joint standard for traceable and sustainable cocoa​ that can be used as a voluntary reference for company programs and certification bodies.

Delegates at the WCF meeting in Copenhagen last week widely agreed that the standard could align industry sustainability efforts to the benefit of 40-50 million people working in the cocoa sector.

But what will it mean for certified cocoa organizations such as UTZ Certified, Rainforest Alliance and Fairtrade?

Important for the future

“The role of the existing certification schemes might be just as important in future as it is now,”​ Jack Steijn, chair of CEN committee on sustainable and traceable cocoa, told ConfectioneryNews.

He said that the ISO/CEN would not verify or certify conformity with its standards nor provide farmer training.

“It will not be a scheme that will be marketed as a new certification label: it will be a standard, a set of requirements…Others may certify that our requirements have been met.”

The ISO has yet to discuss how it will track conformity to its standard, but one option is to involve certification bodies.

Asking legitimate questions

Steijn said that Rainforest Alliance, UTZ Certified, Fairtrade and ISEAL had been on board with the ISO/CEN standard from the beginning.

“I cannot say anything about their motives for joining our debates, I can only say that they have been constructive at all times. Of course they have put the question of the extra value of the new standard, but this is a legitimate question that others have put as well.”

Premiums for ISO/CEN standard?

Certification bodies reward farmers with a premium, typically $150-200 per MT. ISO/CEN is considering if premiums should be part of the standard. Antoine Fountain of the Voice Network said that it was generally accepted that the market price for cocoa was not fair remuneration for farmers, but it is undecided if premiums are the solution.

An independent standard

Antonie Fountain, coordinator of the Voice Network, one of many organizations and companies involved in the multistakeholder ISO/CEN process, said in an interview that he initially thought that the certification bodies could align to be the new sustainable cocoa standard. But his position has since changed and he now views the standard as more independent because it does not have its own value chain and certifiers are still ultimately compete with one another.

“It would be foolish if they [the certifiers] did not approach this with some carefulness because there is some overlap,”​ but he added that the ISO/CEN standard could also help certifiers increase impact at farm level.

Certified cocoa volumes and sales are already set to grow as major cocoa users such as Mars, Hershey and Ferrero scale up towards 100% by 2020. But could other major cocoa users that have not made certified cocoa pledges – such as Mondelēz and Nestlé – move away from certification when the ISO/CEN standard is finalized in favor of their own compliant programs?

Götz Schroth, senior manager for cocoa at Rainforest Alliance said in a interview that it was possible, but said it was equally conceivable that cocoa-using companies could tire of sitting on CEN/ISO committees. “I’m not particularly worried,”​ he said in an interview. “I think the company programs and certification will probably coexist in the future.”

Low threshold

Galaxy rainforest alliance label
ISO/CEN will not have a label.

Fountain said that certification bodies were likely to already be in conformity with the low to medium level of the CEN/ISO standard, but may need to make changes to reach the highest level.

Schroth of Rainforest Alliance said during the WCF meeting that the ISO/CEN standards – although yet to be finalized – were already present in Rainforest Alliance’s certification system. “The entry level is not very high.”

Under the ISO/CEN standard a cocoa farmer will be identified as sustainable when they join the standard and must reach a high level of sustainability in about three years – although finite timescales and definitions are still undecided.

Capping efforts?

In a later interview with us, Schroth warned of the involvement of too many parties having a lowest common denominator effect.

“There’s a possibility that you end up capping the sustainability efforts,”​ he said, adding that he preferred national standards because they were more readily enforced and could create competition between nations to be the most sustainable.

Certification bodies were reaching five times the amount of farmers as in 2011, especially among smaller operations. “Obviously the bar is low enough for smallholder farmers.”

kit kat cocoa plan logo
Companies may use their own logo to promote compliant sustainable products that are not third party certified.

Cargill: Certification around for the medium-term

Taco Terheijden, manager of sustainable cocoa at Cargill, told this site that certification will provide extra value when the ISO/CEN standard kicks in as it better connects the market with the farmer.

“We still need third party certification and verification for the medium term at least – I would say at least until 2020…I’m not saying it will disappear, I just don’t know.”

“The standards will be equal, so the market will decide which certification or label will be the one that will be surviving.”

“For us if we talk about sustainable cocoa it is third party certified…we believe in the value of third party certification.”

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