Coffee Assurance Services continues 4C’s work

Over the past decade, certified coffee has gone from being a niche segment of the industry to becoming an extremely high profile, and increasingly in-demand part of the mainstream coffee industry. While certification marks such as Fairtrade and Rainforest Alliance may have greater visibility on the consumer side, there is one certification standard that has managed to establish a broader footprint than any other on the supply side – the 4C baseline standard. The 4C baseline standard was established to set, as the name implies, a minimum level of practices that must be adhered to for consideration as a member of the sustainable coffee producing community. According to 4C’s figures, in 2014 almost a third (29 per cent) of the world’s coffee production met its entry-level standard. However, 4C’s success has also forced the organisation to look at new ways of operating in order to keep up with the growing demand for its services. That is why in April this year the 4C Association and the Sustainable Coffee Program joined forces and co-created the Global Coffee Platform. The verification operations of the 4C Entry-level Standard are to be spun off into a separate independent company, Coffee Assurance Services, while the competitive Field-Level Projects of the Sustainable Coffee Program are to be absorbed by its parent organisation, the IDH Sustainable Trade Initiative, which is funded by the Dutch, Swiss, and Danish governments. Gustavo Bacchi is Verification Manager for the newly established Coffee Assurance Services (CAS), which is set to take over the verification functions from 4C in 2017. Bacchi tells Global Coffee Report that the change in 4C’s structure has come about as a result of the increasing demand for its services. “As more and more members joined the Association they found that standards are of great value but cannot address systemic issues like climate change or gender problems,” Bacchi says. “Members got active and the 4C platform work started addressing overarching sustainability issues in the coffee sector. Parallel to this, the supply and demand for 4C-compliant coffee grew, whereas membership fees remained the same. In recent years it became clear that the platform work and the 4C verification started to compete for fees. At the same time the platform was pre-competitive whereas the demand for 4C compliant coffee was very competitive. As a result, members decided that both activities cannot be housed under one roof anymore.” What has until now been known as the 4C Association will continue its work as the Global Coffee Platform. “The Global Coffee Platform is an inclusive multi-stakeholder sustainability platform aligning the activities of a diverse network of stakeholders to set into action the global commitments made through Vision 2020 and create a thriving and sustainable coffee sector,” Bacchi says. “Combining the expansive membership of the 4C Association with the pre-competitive activities of the Sustainable Coffee Program, the Global Coffee Platform marks a new era of sustainability for the coffee sector.” Vision 2020 is a blueprint for public and private actors coming together to align and coordinate their sustainability efforts and activities.
Through a farmer-centric common agenda at national and global levels, an expansive network of governments, producers, traders, roasters, donors, standards, and research bodies aim to make a collective impact against the common challenges faced by the sector in order to safeguard the resilience and livelihoods of coffee farming communities. The new CAS will give the organisation the ability to continue its certification work according to a more commercial model while freeing up Global Coffee Platform to pursue more overarching, and less commercial, initiatives in pursuit of the goals of Vision 2020, Bacchi says. “CAS will run in a similar way to the part of 4C Association relating to 4C compliant coffee,” he says. “CAS’ main services are to validate licenses, approve 4C verifiers, integrity assurance of the verifiers and the 4C code and provide training on the 4C Code. CAS is a commercially run business, which is probably the biggest difference to how it was run previously. The customers of 4C compliant coffee pay a volume-based fee to CAS.” While such a significant change in the structure of such a broad-based organisation will always carry the risk of member backlash, Bacchi says this has not been an issue so far as the change has been member-driven. “The split has been well received,”he says. “There are many sustainability initiatives in the coffee sector that allow for coordination and alignment. This will reduce fragmentation and waist of resources and hopefully accelerate impact. Having said that the Global Coffee Platform and CAS will need 2016 to get fully operating, so 2016 can be seen as a bit of a transition year.” That said, there have been some small expressions of concern, but Bacchi says they have been easy to address. “There are always people who have concerns when something new springs up,” he tells GCR. “But Global Coffee Platform shows that it will facilitate Vision 2020 through its members and partners. CAS can now better focus on its customers and provide services on demand better. Generally this has been well received – not to forget that it was the 4C Associations’ membership that decided on this, so members from the trade and industry, producers, civil society, and other stakeholders approved the step.” GCR

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