The Future of Certification: Farmers Must Come First

Last Thursday, SustainAbility published a study to consider the future of certification systems. The study, Signed, Sealed, Delivered, was supported by Mars (along with many other companies) and found:

[…] there is a need to deconstruct and evolve the old model that combines standards, certification and on-pack marks. Instead we urge a shift towards a new model based upon increasingly demanding and pre-competitive standards [for sustainable farming], above which brands compete, collaborate and partner with civil society to transform supply chains […], and where civil society and government evolve more effective and efficient ways of holding business accountable.

Since Max Havelaar first introduced certification to coffee production in the late 1980s, certification has expanded to everything from bananas to paper, and along with hundreds of new labels, complex global trade systems and a huge variety of cross sector collaborations have emerged to create and verify the supply chain conditions that each label represents.

Mars Chocolate has made the most ambitious commitment of any chocolate manufacturer to certification, and we strongly believe that we need credible systems to make sure small producers have the tools they need to thrive alongside multinational exporters, processors and manufacturers.

To be able to operate effectively at a global scale, however, certification must bring the entire sector together in a pre-competitive effort to emphasize farmer benefit at origin over competitive advantage in the consumer market.  To be credible and effective, certification systems must demonstrate concrete results in increasing farmers’ yields and incomes, protecting the environment and improving social conditions, especially labor practices.  While it’s healthy to have multiple certifiers competing to drive greater efficiency and impact, certifiers should work together to achieve basic outcomes defined by rigorous standards, especially regarding critical economic, environmental and social issues.

This is why we agree with the findings in the SustainAbility paper, and why we have been encouraged over the past two years by our certification partners’  (Fairtrade International, Rainforest Alliance and UTZ Good Inside) willingness to work with us to develop new and more effective ways to make sure that, regardless of the label or product, farmers come first.  We have a long road ahead of us, but we believe that with greater cross sector collaboration and larger commitments to buy certified commodities from major industry actors, certification will be able to achieve meaningful and lasting change – for everybody.

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