Rainforest Alliance and UTZ to merge

by JulieCraves on June 20, 2017

Rainforest Alliance and UTZ (Certified), two major certifiers of coffee and other products, are merging later this year, and will operate under the Rainforest Alliance name. The current executive director of UTZ, Han de Groot, will head up the new organization. They plan to come out with a new standard, codifying the requirements for certification, in early 2019.

The strengths of UTZ certification are in supply chain traceability and transparency, but overall the environmental criteria are not very specific or quantifiable, and the requirement for shade in coffee is especially loose and subjective.  The standard for Rainforest Alliance certification just underwent a major overhaul that more or less gutted the formerly decent shade requirements for coffee.

Both are process-oriented certifications. That is, certification is granted for farms working towards the criteria in the standard. There is no way to distinguish which or how many of the criteria have been met.

News of the merger didn’t surprise me. In many ways, the standards of the two organizations were becoming more similar, and both have become largely engaged with large coffee and food corporations (which I believe is largely responsible for the downward pressure on the stringency of environmental requirements). Many coffee producers had dual certifications, and this merger will mean they only have to go through one certification process, which is much more efficient and definitely a positive development.

If the new standard contains the best of both current standards (which is hardly a given, considering the simplification and easing of many of the requirements that have taken place over time) I will consider this a solid foundation certification. Currently, the ground floor is occupied by the Baseline Common Code of the Global Coffee Platform (formerly the 4C Code of Conduct), the bare minimum of decent human and environmental practices in coffee production.  If all coffee can instead meet a new, non-waterered-down Rainforest Alliance/UTZ standard, the world will be a better place. But from a habitat and environmental point of view, we will still have a long way to go, as there is a very wide gap between the Rainforest Alliance shade and habitat requirements and those of Bird-Friendly certification. Further, it is not known how requirements for fair prices (such as those in Fairtrade/Fair Trade certification) will be incorporated, as neither RA nor UTZ has any price guarantees built into their current standards.

We will have to see how the new organization develops requirements in the year ahead.

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Posted in Certifications,Rainforest Alliance

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