Blog by: Ryan Thompson, Communications Manager for AFi, Rainforest Alliance
Beneath the crispy surface of a store-bought chocolate chip cookie lie hidden consequences that have nothing to do with extra calories. That cookie might contain palm oil from Indonesia, cocoa from Côte d’Ivoire, soy from Brazil, and milk from Colombian cattle. Even the paper in the packaging could come from any of these locations. Like many other consumer products, cookies arrive at store shelves through an intricate global web of commodity supply chains, each of which has potential links to deforestation and other adverse impacts. The complexity of these supply chains both hides deforestation and hinders efforts to stop it.
Rather than ask billions of people worldwide to stop eating cookies, the more practical solution rests with those who trade and process the ingredients in those cookies. This must happen through the collaborative efforts of producers, companies, civil society, and government.
The Gap Between Commitment and Action
As a major leap forward, companies worldwide have made commitments to transform their supply chains to eliminate deforestation, conversion of ecosystems, and human rights abuses. But despite these commitments on paper, real progress on the ground remains limited. Furthermore, companies who are making progress often have difficulties in demonstrating this progress in ways that are credible to an increasingly skeptical public.
Producing a deforestation-free (d-free) cookie may not happen overnight. The complexity of even a single value chain has inherent challenges. For example, managing smallholders, traceability limitations, and supplier non-compliance can present barriers to uncovering and eliminating deforestation. For products linked to multiple value chains across commodities and regions, the challenges are even greater.
A further complication arises when trying to measure progress against supply chain commitments. With multiple standards, systems, tools, and metrics to consider for a given commodity or region, it’s difficult to assess whether a company has fulfilled its commitment to d-free sourcing.
Closing the critical “implementation gap” between commitments, progress, and demonstrated results calls for unprecedented collaboration to clarify common guidelines and best practices and support their adoption on a global scale.
Accelerating Progress and Improving Accountability
The Accountability Framework initiative (AFi) emerged in 2017 as a response to these challenges. The AFi seeks to clarify “what good looks like” in setting, implementing, and demonstrating progress on supply chain commitments in agriculture and forestry – in turn accelerating progress and improving accountability on the fulfillment of these commitments.
The initiative is publishing and supporting the application of the Accountability Framework: a set of norms, definitions, and guidance based on a working consensus of leading environmental and social organizations and reflecting collective experience of companies, NGOs, and governments about what works for achieving ethical supply chains. The Framework has been developed through an open consultative process with stakeholders across commodities, sectors, and regions. The Framework aims to be an essential guide for companies and others committed to eliminating deforestation, human rights violations, and other adverse impacts of commodity production.
Recipes don’t typically mix different measurement systems – for instance, using the metric system for liquids and imperial system for solid ingredients. Likewise, it’s difficult to ensure supplies of d-free products without a consistent system applicable to all those involved in producing, trading, and selling forest-risk commodities. The Framework provides consistent measures of progress across commodities, regions, and supply chain positions. In this way, soy producers in South America, cocoa growers in West Africa, and multinational retailers can use the same terms, norms, and metrics to define, implement, and monitor their policies. This also brings coherence between the private sector, government, and other actors – supporting collaboration to promote good practices and to hold accountable those whose actions fall short of their pledges.
To effectively address the complexity of global supply chains, companies need a way to take progressive and incremental action. The Framework presents a path for companies to credibly demonstrate continuous improvement and fulfillment of commitments across their value chains, providing both clear guidance and motivation to continue taking action beyond 2020. Even if they fall short of 2020 targets, companies can continue to show real-time progress to customers and stakeholders.
To 2020 and Beyond
As 2020 fast approaches, we need harmonized approaches and standardization guided by sound principles to achieve the progress we all hope to make in protecting the world’s forests. Collaborative efforts such as the Accountability Framework will serve as a vital tool in this mission. Companies and other supply chain actors can move from commitments to action to results. Forests can be conserved. We can look at 2020 as merely a signpost on the journey toward making these kinds of ethical practices the new business-as-usual.
We have the recipe for a D-free cookie. Time to start baking. And as we achieve this, we can eat our cookies without worrying about anything but the extra calories.
The first version of the Accountability Framework will be launched in June 2019. To receive updates and announcements of the launch, please subscribe.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the Tropical Forest Alliance.