Rainforest Alliance

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Rainforest Alliance
The Rainforest Alliance Certified seal
Formation 1987
Founder Daniel Katz
Type NGO
Headquarters New York City
The Rainforest Alliance certification logo on a bottle of ice tea

The Rainforest Alliance is a non-governmental organization (NGO) working to conserve biodiversity and ensure sustainable livelihoods by transforming land-use practices, business practices and consumer behavior. Based in New York City with offices throughout North and South America, Asia, Africa and Europe, it operates in more than 70 countries. It was founded in 1987 by Daniel Katz, who serves on its board of directors, and is led by CEO Han de Groot.

Merger with UTZ

In June 2017, the Rainforest Alliance and UTZ announced the intention to merge[1], and in January 2018, the merger was legally closed and completed. The organizations merged in response to the critical challenges facing humanity today: deforestation, climate change, systemic poverty, and social inequity. The merged organization, going by the name 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.[2]

The Rainforest Alliance's sustainable development work will continue 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 2019[3]. 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.[4]

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 2019.

Rainforest Alliance programs

A woman picks coffee on the slopes of the Rainforest Alliance Certified cooperative Ciudad Barrios in El Salvador.

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. The organization helped to found the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), the non-profit international body that manages the standard, in 1993. Through its certification arm, RA-Cert, the Rainforest Alliance is accredited to certify forestry operations that meet the FSC's standards. The Rainforest Alliance has certified more than 113 million acres (45.9 million hectares) of forest worldwide, as of 2016, making it the largest FSC certifier of forestlands in the world. The Rainforest Alliance's forest certification program was ranked "top of the class" according to "Wood Products Legality Verification Systems: An Assessment," an independent report compiled by Greenpeace, a global environmental organization.[5]

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 Network (SAN) standard,[6] 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 is a member of the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN), an international group works to promote and increase the use of sustainable agricultural practices and manage the certification program. The Rainforest Alliance encourages businesses and consumers to support sustainable agriculture by source or choose products grown on certified farms. More than 1.2 million farms and cooperatives across more than 42 countries—covering nearly 8.6 million acres (3.5 million hectares) of land—are being managed sustainably under Rainforest Alliance certification, as of 2015.[7]

Crop standards and criteria

The organization requires that 50% of criteria under a certain principle (group of criteria) be achieved, and 80% overall.[8] 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.[9]

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."[10] In February 2008, Ethical Corporation called Rainforest Alliance certification a "rigorous, independently verified scheme".[11] 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.[citation needed]

Sustainable tourism

The organization launched a sustainable tourism program in 2000 and provides small- and medium-sized tourism businesses in Latin America with training and tools to minimize their impacts on the environment and local communities.[citation needed]

Criticism and response

Some academics, environmental groups, and media sources have criticized Rainforest Alliance agricultural certification, mostly with accusations of greenwashing. The Manchester Evening News notes that some critics have dubbed the Rainforest Alliance "Fairtrade lite",[12] offering companies such as Chiquita and Kraft a way to tap into the ethical consumer market. Alex Nicholls, professor of social entrepreneurship at Oxford University, called Rainforest Alliance certification "a less expensive way for companies to answer consumers’ concerns about sustainability than to achieve Fair Trade certification."[13]

Minimum price issues

Rainforest Alliance sustainable agriculture certification, like the certification schemes UTZ Certified and organic,[14] does not offer producers minimum or guaranteed price,[15] 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.[16] The price of coffee has since rebounded somewhat, with prices for arabica reaching $1.18/pound by the end of 2007.[17]

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.[18]

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."[19]

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."[20]

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.[21] According to Michael Conroy, former chairman of the board for Fair Trade USA,[22] 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".

See also


  1. ^ "The Rainforest Alliance and UTZ to Merge, Forming New, Stronger Organization". Rainforest Alliance. Retrieved 2018-01-17.
  2. ^ "'Together Rainforest Alliance and UTZ will be a more powerful force for positive change' | Ethical Corporation". www.ethicalcorp.com. Retrieved 2018-01-17.
  3. ^ "Q&A on the UTZ / Rainforest Alliance Merger". Rainforest Alliance. Retrieved 2018-01-17.
  4. ^ "Rainforest Alliance, UTZ announce merger to create single sustainability standard and certification program". news.mongabay.com. Retrieved 2018-01-17.
  5. ^ Publication - 30 January 2008 (2008-01-30). "Wood Products Legality Verification Systems | Greenpeace International". Greenpeace.org. Archived from the original on 10 April 2010. Retrieved 2015-05-29.
  6. ^ [1] Archived March 26, 2014, at the Wayback Machine.
  7. ^ "Agriculture Certification". Rainforest-alliance.org. Retrieved 2015-05-29.
  8. ^ Rainforest Alliance (2006). Sustainable Agriculture Standards Archived November 15, 2006, at the Wayback Machine.. URL accessed on October 27, 2006.
  9. ^ [2] Archived November 15, 2006, at the Wayback Machine.
  10. ^ Consumer Reports: Greener Choices (March 2008). "Resources: Eco-labels Center: Rainforest Alliance"[dead link] Accessed March 24, 2008.
  11. ^ Balch, Oliver (11 February 2008). "Brazilian Coffee: A Heady Brew of Higher Standards".[dead link] Ethical Corporation.
  12. ^ Manchester Evening News (2007). McDonald's brew a forest-friendly coffee. URL accessed on January 20, 2007.
  13. ^ Nicholls, Alex; Opal, Charlotte (2005). Fair Trade: Market-Driven Ethical Consumption
  14. ^ "Organic Certification | USDA". Usda.gov. 2011-11-15. Archived from the original on 2010-04-13. Retrieved 2011-12-06.
  15. ^ Ethical Corporation (January 2005). Bean Wars[permanent dead link]. URL accessed on September 3, 2006.
  16. ^ National Geographic (April 24, 2003). Coffee Glut Brews Crisis For Farmers, Wildlife. URL accessed on August 12, 2007.
  17. ^ "Coffee costs soar into 2008". Beveragedaily.com. Retrieved 2011-12-06.
  18. ^ "Certification on Cocoa Farms in Côte d'Ivoire". Rainforest-alliance.org. Retrieved 2015-05-29.
  19. ^ Jaffee, Daniel (2007). Brewing Justice: Fair Trade Coffee, Sustainability and Survival. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-24959-2
  20. ^ The Economist (2006, December 7)Voting with your trolley URL accessed on August 10, 2007
  21. ^ The Guardian (2004, November 24).Who Is the Fairest of them All?. URL accessed on August 30, 2006.
  22. ^ "TransFair USA | Board Members". Web.archive.org. 2009-06-27. Archived from the original on January 9, 2011. Retrieved 2015-05-29.

External links

  • Rainforest Alliance - official website
  • What Does “Rainforest Alliance Certified” Mean? - Mother Earth News magazine
  • Rainforest Alliance: Sustainable Agriculture Certification profile page on database of Market Governance Mechanisms
  • Theguardian.com
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