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Rainforest Alliance-UTZ merger aims to cut red tape

UTZ brand to be phased out as new organisation seeks simplify attainment amid growing trend for self-certification
New York-based Rainforest Alliance and Amsterdam-headquartered UTZ have announced they will merge operations following a consultation period in 2017.

The new organisation will consolidate accreditations from the two ethical trading bodies, with the more widely-recognised Rainforest Alliance name and green frog logo becoming the standard for the new seal.

In a joint statement, the two bodies said the move would allow them to better tackle issues such as climate change, deforestation, poverty, and unsustainable farming.

“This new alliance moves us forward… it combines first-rate global conservation efforts with the gold standards of independent third-party certification,” said Daniel Katz, Founder and Chairman of the Board of the Rainforest Alliance.

Currently, Rainforest Alliance and UTZ-aligned bodies do not automatically certify each other, a situation that has created an unnecessary administrative burden to tackling their joint aims, the organisations said.

Outgoing president of the New York-based Rainforest Alliance, Nigel Sizer, said that there are currently more than 200,000 farmers who currently belong to both schemes, adding that the merger will create operational efficiencies to benefit both suppliers and companies seeking accreditation.

Sizer has previously acknowledged the prohibitive cost of attaining certification, saying the factor “may be driving a lot of corporate decisions” to pull ethical labels, such as Fairtrade, from their products.

In mid-2017, UK supermarket giant, Sainsbury’s pulled Fairtrade certification from its tea, replacing it with its own controversial ‘Fairly Traded’ logo. Confectionary giant, Modalez, followed suite by replacing the Fairtrade seal with its own ‘Cocoa Life’ symbol.

UTZ executive director, Han de Groot, will become the new organisation’s CEO, with Sizer stepping down from his role to become programme officer for advocacy, landscapes and livelihoods.

Brands such as McCafe, Nespresso, Caribou Coffee and Keurig Green Mountain already use Rainforest Alliance certification. But other, mainly European firms, including Douwe Egberts, Jacobs, Kenco, Lavazza, and Tchibo will eventually need to change the UTZ logo on their products.

Rainforest Alliance and UTZ have confirmed that companies can continue labelling UTZ-certified products until “at least 3 years” after the publication of the new certification program in 2019. The two standards will operate in tandem until the new certification is rolled out with a “gradual transition”, the organisations said.

However, aside from the news that the organisational structures of the two NGOs will merge, details of the new accreditation remain to be seen. So far it has been confirmed that the new certification programme will involve a new fee structure and labelling policy. Interchangeable use between the brands will be prohibited during the transition phase.

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