Utz Certified (known as Utz Kapeh until 2007) is a mainstream certification programme operating in the coffee, cocoa and tea sectors.
Originally launched by Dutch food retailer Ahold, it is one of the world's fastest-growing certification programmes, and by the end of 2012, 13% of all cocoa, 8% of the global coffee harvest and 2% of all tea produced worldwide originated from almost 500,000 Utz Certified farmers.
By 2020 the initiative has an ambitious target of 50% coverage across each of these sectors, in order to “increase impact through volume”.
Utz Certified was founded as a market-friendly alternative to Fair Trade, preferring to encourage rather than compel buyers to offer premiums to farmers.
Utz Certified is governed by a ten-member Supervisory Board, while day-to-day affairs are run by the Executive Team, based in Amsterdam - see Utz Governance.
The main source of Utz Certified's income is fees, with a smaller portion from subsidies.
In recent years, Utz Certified has expanded beyond its core consumer base in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Switzerland, and is now available in more than 50 countries, including the UK.
Coffee continues to be Utz Certified's biggest seller by far. Utz’s program reached 575,000 farmers and 335,000 workers in 2014. See Utz Annual Report
The remit of Utz Certified's standards is broad, encompassing managerial, environmental and social/labour concerns.
The Code of Conduct focuses on good agricultural practices, enabling farmers to strengthen their productivity – producing a higher yield of a better quality, more efficiently.
At the same time, social and environmental requirements contribute to better lives for farmers, their families and workers, and the protection of the earth’s natural resources.
The rapid rise of Utz Certified over the past decade has unsurprisingly raised its public profile, and with this has come an increased amount of scrutiny and criticism.
The Observer was one of the first to question its ethical credentials, in particular for its lack of a Fairtrade-style minimum price.
There is also a growing body of academic literature criticising the programme as a less stringent alternative to Fair Trade. One paper*, for example, argues that the rapid growth in certified coverage of programmes such as Utz Certified is arguably due to their 'mainstream', 'business-friendly', and hence less strict, social and environmental standards.
Another paper** argues that mainstream certification programmes such as Utz Certified (and Rainforest Alliance) are a threat to Fair Trade because they allow consumers to believe that they can enjoy ethical coffee without any form of premium at the point of purchase.
Utz Certified uses a distinctive consumer-facing label to indicate that a particular product has been produced in a responsible manner.
Utz Certified does not make public the results from audits of certified farms.
Utz Certified places great emphasis on traceability. For example, IKEA claims that all “coffee sold and served at IKEA shall be Utz Certified and traceable all the way back to the plantations”. In reality, however, tracing IKEA coffee on its website often results in a long list of coffee-growing estates across the globe, any of which could be the source of a particular product.
* Kilian, B., Pratt, L., Jones, C. and Villalobos, A. (2004) 'Can the private sector be competitive and contribute to development through sustainable agricultural business? A case study of coffee in Latin America', International Food and Agribusiness Management Review 7 (3): 21-54.
**Neilson (2008) 'Global Private Regulation and Value-chain restructuring in Indonesian smallholder coffee systems', World Development 36 (9): 1607-1622.