4.7 One Standard, Multiple Standards, Dynamic Standards

Should you use one or several standards for the same agricultural raw material?

For some commodities, there is a great variety of standards available. Most of these standards have been mapped out by ITC in an interactive online database called Standards Map – see Example 6. A good example is ‘coffee’ with, just to mention a few of them: the Common Code for the Coffee Community (4C), Rainforest Alliance (RA), UTZ Certified, Fairtrade and Organic. In such a situation, different solutions are possible:

  • Choose one preferred high standard and do not accept lower standards. This strategy depends strongly on brand positioning and the quality profile of the branded product, as it is potentially relatively costly and limits the supply universe. Nespresso’s AAA standard which builds on the Rainforest Alliance standard is an example.
  • Choose one preferred high standard and work with suppliers to gradually enable them to reach this standard without losing them. Starbucks’ C.A.F.E. practices (cited earlier) is a good example.
  • Define your company ‘meta-standard’. Thereafter, benchmark standards available on the market against that meta-standard, and source preferably from those that are most aligned. For example, Unilever’s Sustainable Agriculture Code is used as a metastandard on the basis of which the acceptability of external standards are judged.
  • Use different standards for sourcing from different countries or regions. Even if a company has preference for the multi-stakeholder endorsed RTRS standard when sourcing soy, the reality is that other sustainable soy schemes are dominant (and better known by suppliers and farmers) in other countries: for example, the US national scheme, SojaPlus in Brazil.
  • Define a baseline minimum standard and work towards gradually implementing a higher standard. For example, starting Nestlé’s coffee strategy with 4C as the baseline, with the Rainforest Alliance SAN criteria as the target.
  • Decide on a preferred standard, but allow for other standards as long as supply according to the preferred standard is not sufficiently available. Encourage continuous improvement.
  • Allow for multiple standards in the sourcing strategy. Tchibo’s coffee sourcing strategy, for example, aims at increasing proportions of ‘sustainable’ raw materials, in which ‘sustainable’ may mean ‘organic’, ‘Fairtrade’ or ‘Rainforest Alliance’ certified.
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