Yesterday (12 June), the Accountability Framework Initiative (AFi) launched version 1.0 of their Accountability Framework. The online platform aims to help companies and others deliver their ethical supply chain commitments.
The AFi is a partnership of 14 social and environmental NGOs representing global and tropical country perspectives. Members include the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Proforest, and Rainforest Alliance.
According to Jeffrey Milder, who heads up global programmes at Rainforest Alliance, the coalition is targeting those involved in agricultural and forest commodities, to "accelerate progress and improve accountability around ethical supply chain commitments".
In the food industry, the commodities most associated with deforestation include soy, palm oil, beef and cocoa.
Filling ‘deep implementation gaps’ in deforestation
The framework responds to a lack of action and accountability regarding companies’ commitments to deforestation and human rights.
The NGOs observed “deep implementation gaps” regarding deforestation and land rights agendas, Milder told delegates yesterday at the Round Table for Responsible Soy (RTRS) annual conference in Utrecht. “We saw that the commitments were not translated into action on the ground, and results.”
Another key driver was an apparent lack of clarity and misunderstanding among firms looking to implement sustainability measures. “Companies were complaining they were receiving mixed messages from civil society [on how] to demonstrate they were responsible actors in the market place,” Milder continued.
After two years of deliberation with producers from the tropics, supply chain companies, and governments, as well as three open consultation periods, the AFi has now developed a common position and a common guide for ethical supply chains.
The guidelines: commitment, action, progress
The framework focuses on a number of the “most fundamental issues” in social and environmental responsibility, Milder told delegates. These include no conversion, no deforestation, and respect for the rights of indigenous peoples, local communities and workers.
Set out in three-phases, players adhering to the guidelines are required to determine clear and strong commitments, take action – both on the ground where the commodities are produced as well as in the management of the supply chain – and demonstrate progress “in a clear and credible way” through monitoring, verification reporting, and claims, we were told.
According to Rainforest Alliance’s Milder, the AFi framework successfully provides a more coherent signal to supply chain actors regarding what constitutes responsible practice. “As a consolidated position from civil society, the position is closely aligned with the signal coming from retailers and manufacturers,” he said.
The guidance also offers companies managing supply chains, across multiple commodities and multiple geographies, a way to track their global commitments. The AFi framework offers content specific tools within an overall coherence framework to do this, he continued.
Further, the framework helps the NGOs “converge on common measures of progress”. This will help stakeholders “agree on what ‘good’ looks like, how it can be tracked and reported quantitatively”. This information can then be summarised to track overall progress.
Compared to two or three years ago, before the development of AFi and its recently launched framework, “we are now in a much better place”, said Milder. “We have much greater clarity on definitions, on implementation guidelines, on best practice around implementing deforestation, no conversion, and human rights commitments.”
Looking behind certification
To date, certification has held an important place in working towards the abolition of deforestation, child labour, and the abuse of human rights. Rainforest Alliance and the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), for example, are two non-profits that encourage companies to measure progress by attaining certification.
Indeed, many of AFi’s coalition members support, or are involved in, certification. And the framework recognises certification as a strong implementation tool, Milder told delegates.
However, as the AFi does not aim to duplicate or replacing existing initiatives – such as round tables or certification models – the guidelines do not require companies to attain such credentials.
“It is very clear from the numbers that we are nowhere near where we need to be in mainstream responsible practice,” argued Milder. “If we are to get there, we need additional implementation approaches.”
Therefore the guidance looks beyond certification, to bring in other principles of “effectiveness and credibility” as a way to accelerate progress.
“The message from our coalition is that for companies that share our values around safeguarding the earth’s climate, biodiversity, as well as human rights, we have the tools and now is the time to act,” Milder concluded.