A comprehensive review of 15 popular sustainable production standards fail to show they improve the environment or the lives of poor farmers – igniting once again the debate of whether certification from the likes of UTZ, Rainforest Alliance and Fairtrade can be trusted.
The report – Farms, Fisheries and Forests: Does Certification Make a Difference? - was conducted by the Context Group, a leading sustainability consultancy based in the UK and the US.
Many companies purchase certified materials to demonstrate that the raw materials used in their products are sustainably produced. But certification is coming under fire by critics from industry and NGOs, who say it is failing to improve the environment and the lives of small farmers.
“We studied publicly available assessments of the standards looking for evidence of change for the better. We were disappointed to find that half showed minimal or no difference,” says Francesca Ward, senior consultant at Context.
Many voluntary certifications are used by food manufacturers and retailers to assure consumers their food is produced without harming the environment or exploiting farmers and workers.
The report’s findings will have significant implications for their future. Some major food companies are losing confidence in certification because of its cost and perceived failure to encourage change. Mondelēz, the owner of Cadbury, is shifting its cocoa sourcing away from certification towards its own Cocoa Life programme. Sainsbury’s, a major UK supermarket, announced last year it would pilot its own ‘fairly traded’ certification system that goes beyond Fairtrade.
Other companies are expected to follow this trend.
The report concludes that, unless standards organisations can demonstrate more evidence of positive change, they risk becoming irrelevant.
- How to get the full report: Farms, Fisheries and Forests: Does Certification Make a Difference? Is available free from: firstname.lastname@example.org