Rainforest Alliance (RA)
The Rainforest Alliance works to conserve biodiversity and ensure sustainable livelihoods. It was established in 1987 in response to the environmental emergency of uncontrolled deforestation.
Initially operating solely as a forest certification programme, RA launched its first certified farms in 1992. In 1993, RA helped establish the Forest Stewardship Council, as well as launching a sustainable tourism programme.
Day-to-day operations are led by the New York-based President. Strategic governance is steered by a Board of Directors.
The RA funding model is primarily based on government grants and contracts, certification fees, participation agreements, contributions/membership and corporate grants.
Rainforest Alliance has won wide support from some of the world's best-known food brands.
The initiative's Shop the Frog site allows ethically minded consumers to search easily for products by category.
A number of retailers also offer own-brand RA-certified products.
As of 2012, RA had certified over 1,500 sites covering 1.53m hectares of farmland to its SAN standard, and another 75 million hectares to the FSC standard.
The Rainforest Alliance Certified Seal is awarded to farms and forestlands that meet the standards of the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN), a third-party auditor made up of a coalition of conservation NGOs.
RA is also a founding member of the Forest Stewardship Council, pledging to work only with businesses that meet FSC standards.
Three key criticisms can be made against Rainforest Alliance.
1. RA offers no minimum or guaranteed price to producers, which does nothing to reduce the precarious position of, for example, coffee farmers, while also allowing consumers to believe that ethical purchases do not require any redistribution of value to producers*.
2. RA is criticised for certifying coffee products that can contain as little as 30% certified content.
3. RA does not require buyers to offer crop pre-financing to farmers**.
Similar criticisms have been made against Utz Certified, which can be grouped alongside RA as a mainstream, 'business-friendly' alternative to Fair Trade in that free market forces are not tampered with through the use of premiums or targeted finance for producers.
Critics would argue that this enables big brands, at minimal expense, to reap the reputational benefits of being associated with initiatives superficially akin to Fair Trade.
Rainforest Alliance has a consumer-facing label, and certifies individual products rather than entire companies.
Due to its support and links to the FSC, it is also possible to find double-certified RA and FSC products.
The RA has a list of all certified sites.
RA also publishes a certification policy, with details about how farms should be audited. However, specific farm audit reports along with recommendations for remediation are not publicly available.
* Neilson 2008 'Global Private Regulation and Value-chain restructuring in Indonesian smallholder coffee systems', World Development 36 9 : 1607-1622.
**Thomas, W. 2005 Financing Fair Trade. London: Sage.