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The 4C Association’s new code

From the July 2015 issue.

After more than 18 months of consultation with stakeholders around the globe the 4C Association launched a new Code of Conduct this year.

It is some 25 years since the movement towards a more sustainable coffee industry began.

Since then a range of organisations have embraced the ideals of this movement and sought to enact them through various certification programs run around the world.

Of these organisations, the 4C Association is perhaps the broadest, with its inclusive approach of working with most other certification bodies and stakeholders.

It is known for its entry-level standard that set a baseline for inclusion as a member of the sustainable coffee-producing community.

According to 4C’s own figures, in 2014 almost one third (29 per cent) of the world’s coffee production met its entry-level standard.

With such a vast reach, the 4C Association’s Executive Director, Melanie Rutten-Sülz, tells GCR Magazine it was time for the organisation to review its standard.

“Given the significant number of farmers and producer groups that are implementing the entry-level standard around the world, it was necessary to have a very thorough and serious revision process,” Rutten-Sülz says.

After more than 18 months of work, which involved initial scoping and two rounds of consultation with more than 300 stakeholders from 244 organisations around the world, the 4C Association released its revised code of conduct this past April.

The result is an updated entry-level standard that is more reflective of the realities for, and priorities of, the coffee producers around the world.

The 4C Code of Conduct contains 27 principles that cover good practice in what it regards as the “three dimensions of sustainability”: social, economic, and environmental conduct.

The Code of Conduct also describes 10 unacceptable practices such as forced and child labour, environmentally destructive practices, and flouting basic rules of business. Any organisation engaging in an unacceptable practice will be excluded from verification under the 4C system.

The revision process for the new Code of Conduct included 15 workshops in seven countries in the key production regions around the world, as well as field tests in Brazil, Uganda, Honduras, and Vietnam to make sure the new standard was practical in its implementation.

Based on feedback from its members, 4C’s revised document places a new emphasis on farming as a business.

This is because the results of the consultations and revision process showed that 4C members wanted the updated code to serve as a tool that could help farmers improve their businesses and thus improve their livelihoods.

“Previously the code started with the social dimension, followed by the environment and then the economic aspects. What we learned is that it is really important to put what matters most to producers first,” says Rutten-Sülz.

This new structure reinforces the focus of the document on smallholder producers for whom the viability of their business is the primary concern. This, Rutten-Sülz says, will make it more inclusive of, and appealing to, those farmers.

“Without the economic business case, it’s really challenging for farmers to implement more sustainable social and environmental practices,” she says. “Really the economics are at the heart of it and we have restructured the entire code to reflect that.”

This has resulted in the introduction of a new principle that focuses on raising awareness among producers about practices that lead to increased profitability and long-term productivity.

“This is a really new approach and we expect it to drive huge change on the ground for farmers,” Rutten-Sülz says.

Other changes in this area are a simplification of the focus on record keeping to just cover main coffee costs and income. The intention is that this will give smallholders more time to implement their record keeping and the ability to assess their businesses in a more entrepreneurial way.

The economic dimension of the Code of Conduct contains a total of eight principles.

These also include a principle requiring the 4C Units to make market information accessible to their farmers so that they can have clear knowledge of the prices of their product and the drivers behind those prices.

Other principles in the section look at the monitoring of quality, business integrity and transparent business practices, and mechanisms for traceability of produce.

Rutten-Sülz says that the consultation process reinforced her confidence in the value of the 4C Association’s work.

“The most fascinating experience is when you really talk to the farmers, and they are telling you how this work benefits them,” she says. “When you hear this directly, it goes beyond the numbers – there are so many individual stories of how the entry-level standard has benefited people by getting better productivity, getting better livelihoods.”

And with its member-owned structure and stakeholder-led strategic direction, Rutten-Sülz says that the sense of ownership over this document by the people it is intended to help is extremely strong.

“We hear a lot from producers that they feel a very strong connection to 4C and to the standard because it is a stakeholder-led organisation,” she says.

Other changes in the document are a revised approach to pesticides, shifting from being mainly focused on negative lists of pesticides to enhancing internal knowledge on pesticide use.

The document now provides more guidance on the use of Integrated Pest Management techniques and managing a list of pesticides that better reflects the day-to-day realities of coffee production and ensures practices that minimise risk.

Beyond this, the revision process resulted in structural changes, merging all of the requirements applying to 4C Units that were previously found in various other 4C documents into the Code of Conduct. In order to make the document even more accessible, the Code of Conduct’s terminology was also revised to make it more concrete and explicit, and a new document has been introduced that gives guidance on interpreting the Code’s principles.

While almost 50 million bags of coffee were produced in 2014 that met the 4C standard, Rutten-Sülz says there is still a long way to go.

“There is still a large number of farmers out there in the coffee community that have not been reached yet,” she says. “Especially for those farmers who have very challenging access to knowledge and services – for them it is already a real challenge just to reach the entry-level standard.”

As Rutten-Sülz points out, it is those farmers who have not yet been reached by the standard who are often most in need of the improvements and guidance they offer.

“We will continue to promote the code and to reach out to those unreached farmers to work towards 100 per cent baseline sustainability in the future,” she says. GCR

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