Farms, fisheries and forests: Does certification make a difference?

Can sustainability certification help companies do good?

Does sustainability certification help make the world a better place? Can certifications, such as Fairtrade and Friend of the Sea, help companies reduce deforestation, tackle over-fishing and end poverty?

That’s what we set out to answer in our new report.

We examined online, publicly-accessible literature on 15 well-known standards (list below). This included assessments by academics, non-governmental organisations and by the certification programmes themselves.

We looked for evidence of positive change. We were disappointed by what we found.

Only half the major agriculture, fishery and forestry sustainability standards were shown to spark improvements under all their criteria.

This is especially worrying because we used a sympathetic methodology that looked for at least one example of positive change to award points.

We found examples of programmes helping improve the environment and worker livelihoods. But when you consider available data across commodities and geographies, the inescapable conclusion is that often no one knows if certification systems make a difference. There is insufficient evidence in the public domain.

No wonder major companies such as Mondelez, Unilever and Sainsbury’s are moving away from certification in favour of their own programmes. This trend could grow unless certification systems start demonstrating impact that justifies costs. Those who run programmes must provide evidence that their systems work. Otherwise the programmes risk becoming irrelevant.

Who’s in the report?

The 38-page report Farms, fisheries and forests: Does certification make a difference?  collates available data on whether certification drives positive change for the following programmes:

  • Bonsucro
  • Fairtrade
  • Friend of the Sea
  • Forest Stewardship Council
  • GlobalG.A.P.
  • Linking Environment and Farming
  • Marine Stewardship Council
  • Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification
  • Rainforest Alliance
  • Red Tractor
  • Round Table on Responsible Soy
  • Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil
  • Skylark
  • Sustainable Rice Platform
  • UTZ

Note: Rainforest Alliance and UTZ have merged.

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