Standards for group certification
Rainforest Alliance Certification
November 2004 Version
San José, Costa Rica
The Sustainable Agriculture Network and Rainforest Alliance............................................................................2
Rainforest Alliance Mission .................................................................................................................................2
Sustainable Agriculture Network Mission............................................................................................................2
Introduction to these standards............................................................................................................................3
Requirements for groups and producers ..............................................................................................................3
Models of groups..................................................................................................................................................4
1. ESTABLISHMENT OF A GROUP.................................................................................................................10
2. INTERNAL CONTROL SYSTEM ...................................................................................................................11
3. CHAIN OF CUSTODY...................................................................................................................................13
The Sustainable Agriculture Network and Rainforest Alliance
The Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) is a coalition of independent, nonprofit,
conservation organizations that promotes the socio-environmental sustainability of agricultural
activities through development projects and the certification of sustainable agriculture. Network
member organizations provide certification services to the producers and agricultural companies
in their country and contribute knowledge and experience to the development of Sustainable
Agriculture standards. Rainforest Alliance (RA) is the secretariat of the Network and administers
the certification systems. The farms certified by the SAN can use the Rainforest Alliance
Certified™ seal on their products.
Rainforest Alliance Mission
The mission of the Rainforest Alliance is to protect ecosystems and the people and wildlife that
depend on them by transforming land-use practices, business practices and consumer behavior.
Companies, cooperatives and landowners that participate in our programs meet rigorous
standards that conserve biodiversity and provide sustainable livelihoods.
Sustainable Agriculture Network Mission
The mission of the Sustainable Agriculture Network is to improve environmental and social
conditions in tropical agriculture through:
• Certification of sustainable farm management practices and issuing a credible seal of
approval to farms that meet certification standards.
• Transforming thinking on the part of farmers, marketers, consumers, and industries so
that we all assume responsibility for our actions.
• Connecting conservation activists in the North and South and providing them with a way
to work together.
• Raising public awareness about our interdependence on tropical ecosystems.
Introduction to these standards
OBJECTIVE OF THESE STANDARDS
These standards provide criteria for evaluating the viability and efficacy of the systems for
guaranteeing compliance of groups of farms with the Standards for sustainable agriculture –
Rainforest Alliance Certification™. The objective of group certification is to make Rainforest
Alliance certification accessible to producers who, for various reasons, do not have the means of
entering a RA certification process individually, or who will obtain substantial economic benefits
through the application of the standards to various farms under a single socio-environmental
The scope of group certification
These standards apply to eligible producers and farms, as well as the entities (group
administrators) that provide the tools and maintain the necessary systems for the producers to
become certified. To identify which groups, producers and administrators can be eligible for
group certification, it must be determined whether they have the characteristics described below.
These standards do not encompass socio-environmental performance requirements included in
the Standards for sustainable agriculture –Rainforest Alliance certification or the additional
standards for different crops. It is the responsibility of each farm to execute the best management
practices needed for compliance with those standards. In group certification, the SAN delegates
the compliance verification process for the standards to the group administrator, and verifies that
this process is completed through audits of the group and the administrator.
Requirements for groups and producers
Which groups qualify?
A group of farms is eligible for a group certification when it has the following general
• The group is relatively homogeneous in terms of production systems, geographic location
and farm size.
• There are no large differences in natural factors (climate, soils, and types of ecosystems
or natural vegetation) among the farms.
• For some group models, the cost of individual certification is disproportionately high in
comparison with the sales value of the product.
• The group is sufficiently large and has adequate resources to support an impartial entity
in managing a viable internal control system that objectively ensures that individual
producers conform to production standards.
• Products from the certified group of farms included in the group certification are traded
as a group and not individually.
• The group has or can implement a system of traceability that allows monitoring of the
flow of certified products (Chain of Custody).
The group does not have to be legally constituted; however, it is important that there is a
structure and system for facilitating the making and communication of decisions as well as
managing the administration system.
In order to obtain Rainforest Alliance certification, the farms and the group administrator must
achieve the following levels of performance:
• 80% general compliance with the applicable standards.
• 50% or higher compliance with any principle of the applicable standards.
• Compliance with all the critical standards indicated.
The applicable standards are:
Audited element Standard for compliance
Standards for sustainable agriculture –
Rainforest Alliance certification™
Member farms of the group
Additional standards for crop –
Rainforest Alliance certification™
Standards for groups of producers -
Group administrator Rainforest Alliance Certification ™
Details about the requirements and the qualification of the farms are found in the document
Requisitos técnicos y cíclo de certificación – certificación Rainforest Alliance™ (Technical
requirements and cycle of certification –Rainforest Alliance certification ™).
Models of groups
Experience has shown that there is no one group type or scheme. There are benefits of group
certification for all kinds of farms, from very small to large or industrial farms. Since the
objective of RA certification is fostering the implementation of best socio-environmental
management practices, group certification should make the benefits of RA certification more
accessible to the greatest number of farms possible. Therefore, RA offers various models of
group certification. It is important to emphasize that any model should have the characteristics
mentioned in the previous section.
Model 1: Membership groups or private farm organizations. This is the model that typifies
group certification. It consists of the certification of a group of private farms that are members
of an organization, such as an association of producers or a cooperative. The organization acts as
the administrator of the group and manages the internal control system (ICS), makes internal
audits and markets the farm products included in the certification. Typically, the organization
provides technical assistance and training opportunities to the farms and facilitates elements of
socio-environmental management for improving farm compliance with the certification
Model 2: Multiple farms of a single owner. This model applies to groups of farms of a single
private or company landowner that operates under one social and environmental management
and administration system. The farms cannot be independent entities with different systems for
administration, policies, or social or environmental management; however, they can be registered
under different owners for legal reasons, but their connections to one another and to the
landowner or the mother company must be clearly documented.
As with other models, certification under this model can only include farms that are relatively
homogeneous in their production systems and natural conditions, and that are relatively close to
one another geographically. It does not apply to farms of a single owner located in different
countries or in different geographic regions.
Model 3: Traders and suppliers. Today it is quite common to find traders that acquire products
from various farms and, because of the requirements of their clients they impose certain criteria
or standards for performance, quality or other sort on their suppliers. Many times the same trader
provides technical assistance and implements a kind of inspection system on the supplying farms
to guarantee compliance with the criteria of their clients.
This model contemplates the reality of clustering independent farms under one trader. In this
case, the trader assumes the role of group administrator and takes responsibility for the
development and management of an ICS for the farms included in the certification. Like other
group administrators, the trader can provide technical assistance and training opportunities to the
farms and facilitate elements of socio-environmental management for improving compliance
with certification standards. The members of the group cannot trade the certified products
independently because the certification applies to the group and not to each farm.
Model 4: Communal lands. Communal lands present a special challenge for group certification.
In general, the owners of communal lands are governments, ethnic or religious groups, or other
groups, and the private producers that form part of the group have rights of usufruct of the soils
for agricultural production and other related uses, although other models exist. The area that each
producer enjoys can be well defined or specific areas can be shared between various producers.
Examples include indigenous reserves, Mexico’s system of ejidos (communal lands), some
cooperatives and community lands.
When a group operates under a scheme of parcels or areas with usufruct rights defined for each
producer, it can opt for certification under Model 1. In that case, there should be an entity that
can assume the responsibilities of establishing and managing an ICS, making internal audits and
trading the products from the parcels or producers included in the certification. It is important to
indicate, as in all the models of group certification, the existence of a farm in the RA audit
sample that does not comply with the certification requirements means that the certification is
cancelled or not granted.
Communal lands that are managed and used jointly, without parcels or areas assigned to each
producer, can be certified. In this case, all the designated lands or areas are incorporated into the
certification and samples of the relevant areas are made (areas for production, infrastructure,
conservation and others) in proportion to the sampling requirements; for example, one third per
year for a small group. Again, there should be an entity or structure that assumes the
responsibilities of the group administrator.
Model 5. Federation of groups. Many cooperatives, associations, unions and other groups of
producers belong to federations or other groups. Many times these federations do not exercise
much influence on the daily operations of their members. On the other hand, there are
federations that group organizations for very specific purposes, such as agricultural cooperatives.
These federations carry out important activities for the group, for example, the processing and
the trading of products, training of members, administration and the provision of technical
assistance. In these cases, the federations are de facto group administrators, and they can opt for
a group certification that encompasses the organizations making up their membership.
Federations of organizations have two group certification options at present. The first is the
certification of the federation with its members forming the group, as described in the previous
paragraph. Under this scenario, the federation assumes the role of group administrator. The
second option is that each federation member organization is certified independently and
assumes the responsibilities of group administrator. In this case, the federation can continue to
provide some services to the members, such as the commercialization of products or some
technical assistance, but it does not function as the group administrator.
It is important that the federation analyzes the advantages and disadvantages of becoming
certified or certifying its members individually. As with any other group certification model,
non-compliance by one of the members of the group implies that RA certification will be
cancelled or not granted.
What is a small producer?
All producers and all sizes of farms are eligible to form part of a certified group. There are
various factors that influence the decision to include a producer as part of a group certification.
Not all factors apply to all producers, or all situations of the group. It is important that the group
and the group administrator define and document the criteria used to allow or deny entry of a
farm into the certification, as well as justify any exception to the entry process.
The members of the Sustainable Agriculture Network differentiate between small and large
farms in the design of the audit and in the sampling of the farms during the audit. The audit team
audits a sample of the small farms. This sample can be larger for large farms and processing
centers. The following criteria are considered in determining if a farm is small:
1. The producer does not depend on hired labor for most of the farm tasks. The exceptions
are peak work periods (such as harvest periods), the hiring of specialized services, or
short term jobs (weeding, fence repairs, etc.).
2. The cost of certification – audit and annual quota – is higher than two percent of the
value of the certified crop if the farm is certified individually.
3. The producer lacks the technical and economic capacity to cover the expense of the
improvements and the best management practices on the farm.
4. Generally, the producer has limited capacity for establishing and carrying out
administration activities, such as accounting, managing finances or complex inventories,
making payrolls that include social benefits, and others.
5. He also has limited capacity for accessing markets for his products other than local
6. The producer generally uses traditional production systems.
The large producers are those that do not have most of these characteristics and must be audited
annually. The criteria indicated are not definitive, but are guidelines for the selection of farms to
form part of the group, taking into account the objective mentioned for the group certification.
The Sustainable Agriculture Network does not have the right to determine if a farm, producer or
company can belong to an organization or group, but it can condition and limit their participation
in the certification granted to a group of farms. The SAN reserves the right to assign special
conditions to farms included in the group that are exceptions to the normal selection criteria.
What is a Group Administrator?
The group administrator (administrator) is the entity that signs the certification contract with
Rainforest Alliance. It is in charge of maintaining the Internal Control System (ICS), which
consists of a group administration system to ensure farm compliance with the Rainforest
Alliance certification standards. The following sections present specific aspects of the
The administrator can be legally incorporated as a legal corporate identity, as in the case of a
cooperative, an association, or an export firm. It can also be an entity formally recognized by the
producers without having a legal corporate identity. In both cases, the administrator has a
documented structure and meets Rainforest Alliance and SAN requirements.
Group administrator (Administrator) - The entity that signs the certification contract with
Rainforest Alliance and takes responsibility for the development, execution and maintenance of
the internal control system and for verification of farm compliance with Sustainable Agriculture
Document – Consists of information and its means of back-up. These means can be paper,
sample, photograph, or magnetic, optical or electronic disc.
Standards – The set of principles and sections that indicate the certification requirements for
Federation – An organization whose members are other organizations, such as associations,
cooperatives, unions, and others.
Farm – The unit or units subject to certification or auditing that form part of the group under RA
Small farm – Defined as a farm that does not depend structurally on hired labor to carry out most
of the farming, processing or packing tasks.
Large farm – A farm that depends on hired labor to carry out most of the farming, processing or
packing activities. In general, the cost of certification for a large farm is less than two percent of
the gross value of the certified products in the market.
Certified group – Various farms with similar characteristics under a single RA certification.
They must be committed to complying with internal control system requirements and Rainforest
Monitoring – A system for observing the surroundings to detect changes in the environmental or
human setting due to human activities, in this case, farming.
Critical standard – A standard that the group must comply with fully in order to obtain
certification. Partial compliance is not allowed.
Policy – Overall intentions and orientation of a farm or company regarding a requirement of the
Procedure – The specific way of carrying out an activity or a process for the purpose of
complying with the standards.
Producer – The administrator for the farm or group of farms with the same owner. This can be a
company, an individual farmer, a cooperative or other organization or individual in charge of
managing a farm.
Certified products – The agricultural products produced by a certified farm. These include
processed or semi-processed products that have not been mixed with products from farms that
are not certified.
Program – Element of a system that contains objectives, goals, policies, procedures, and other
elements and planning and execution documents needed for ensuring compliance with the
Record – A document that shows results obtained or provides evidence of activities performed.
System – A group of elements that are mutually related or that interact. A management system is
a system for establishing policies and objectives, and for attaining those objectives.
Socio-environmental management system – A system, applied at the farm level, which contains
the policies, programs and procedures necessary for complying with Sustainable Agriculture
standards and with relevant national legislation.
Internal control system – A documented management system that has the policies and
procedures that allow the group administrator to verify member farm compliance with the SAN
1. ESTABLISHMENT OF A GROUP
The administrator as well as the members of the group must demonstrate their commitment to
comply with these standards and with the standards for sustainable agriculture. Similarly, the
group administrator must demonstrate that it has the institutional capacity for ensuring that the
farms included in the certification comply with Rainforest Alliance certification requirements.
1.1 COMPLIANCE WITH THE STANDARDS
All the farms must comply with the certification standards of the Sustainable Agriculture Network
1.1.1 The group administrator and each producer must sign a declaration of their commitment to
comply with the certification requirements and the standards, the internal control system, and to
collaborate with the audit process. The group administrator must keep copies of the signed
declarations. Critical standard.
1.1.2 All the farms and their processing installations must attain the level of compliance with
Standards for sustainable agriculture – Rainforest Alliance certification™ indicated in the RA
certification policies. In the field, the farms of the group have the responsibility of implementing
any system, program or policy developed by the administrator for compliance with the indicated
standards and requirements. Critical standard.
1.2 GROUP ADMINISTRATOR
The group administrator must demonstrate that it has institutional capacity for managing farm
certification and performance verification against the Standards for sustainable agriculture –
Rainforest Alliance certification™.
1.2.1 There must be policies and procedures for clear communication between the group administrator
and the farms for transferring the information necessary for the proper functioning of the internal
control system as well as for complying with the requirements of these standards and those of
Rainforest Alliance certification.
1.2.2 The group administrator must demonstrate that it has the resources – human, financial, physical
and others – needed for carrying out the administrative and technical aspects related to farm
1.2.3 There must be a description of the general organizational structure (for example, with the board
of directors, management, administration and the technical component) of the group
administrator, with positions and responsibilities clearly identified.
1.2.4 In the case that the group administrator is not legally recognized or registered as an organization
(does not have legal corporate identity), it must have a documented description of its mission and
objectives, a list of its members, and documented policies and procedures for operations
management and decision-making.
1.2.5 The group must have policies and procedures for distributing the costs of maintaining the internal
control system and the costs associated with Rainforest Alliance certification among the private
farm members of the group.
2. INTERNAL CONTROL SYSTEM
The group administrator is in charge of verifying the compliance of the farms included in
the certification with the Standards for sustainable agriculture –Rainforest Alliance
certification™. The group administrator must have a documented internal control system
(ICS) that contains elements necessary for verifying the performance of farms in the group
and for managing the membership of the group.
2.1 ICS STRUCTURE AND CONTENT
The ICS must consist of an operational structure, with documented policies and procedures and
basic information about the farms included in the certification, to help the administrator manage
group membership and verify the performance of the farms against the Standards for sustainable
agriculture – Rainforest Alliance certification™.
2.1.1 The ICS must have an administrative operations structure that defines the person in charge of the
internal control system and a committee in charge of decision-making regarding the participation
of farms or producers in the group as well as the distribution of ICS costs. Critical standard.
2.1.2 There must be a documented operations manual that includes internal inspection protocols;
policies and procedures for accepting or removing producers or farms from the group; policies
and procedures for applying sanctions in the event of non-compliance with the standards;
procedures for communicating corrective actions; and policies and procedures for handling
complaints, appeals, sanctions, and other problems.
2.1.3 The group administrator must develop and maintain a database (physical and/or electronic,
depending on the nature of the information) of the farms included in the certification that covers
the information listed below as a minimum for each farm. Critical standard:
a. A copy of the data form for Rainforest Alliance producers with the information for each
farm. (Annex 1)
b. Map or chart of the farm.
c. Results from the last two internal and external audits, the plans for improvement and other
corrective actions proposed and implemented for the farm, the results from any oversight
by the producer or the group administrator and any other document that would indicate
tendencies in the farms’ socio-environmental performance with respect to sustainable
agriculture certification standards.
d. Total production and production per area (hectare) of the last two harvests or the last two
years since incorporation into the group and an estimate of total production and production
per area for this year or harvest.
e. The date of entry and the dates of internal and external inspections. In the event that a
producer resigns or is expelled, the reason and date of departure should be recorded.
f. Other documents related to compliance with certification standards and requirements, such
as the declarations of commitments to compliance, appeals regarding findings,
recommendations or other aspects.
2.1.4 A summary of all the data on land use (in hectares) must be kept for the entire group that includes
the following categories of use: total area of each farm; certified production area; other
production areas; area under conservation; area with infrastructure; other areas.
2.1.5 A summary of total production and production per area (hectare) per product for the last two
years or harvest must be kept, as well as estimates for the coming harvest, and for all the
producers included in the certification. This can be done for regions or zones.
2.1.6 The ICS must include a general map (1:50,000 scale minimum) with the location of each farm.
2.1.7 There must be no distinctions, exclusions or preferences of any kind based on race, color, gender,
religion, political opinions, nationality or social origin for selecting and including farms in the
certification. Critical standard.
2.2 Internal inspection system
The internal control system must have an internal inspection system executed by properly trained
auditors, for evaluating the performance of the farms with respect to the Sustainable Agriculture
certification standards as well as for fostering the improvements necessary for improving
compliance with the standards.
2.2.1 The frequency and distribution of the internal inspections of all the farms must ensure that the
farms receive adequate information and feedback for ensuring their compliance with the
sustainable agriculture standards. Corresponding records on the inspections for each farm must be
2.2.2 New operators must be included in the group after an internal inspection only. Critical standard.
2.2.3 Cases of non-compliance detected by the group administrator are handled within the internal
control system and according to a documented system of sanctions.
2.2.4 There must be a separation of responsibilities among the technical personnel such that the
possibility of subjectivity in internal inspections is minimized. The personnel that carry out
internal inspections should not audit their own farms, or those of family members or other people
with whom they have some kind of relationship that could influence their decisions about the
There must be written evidence of training of group administrator personnel as well as the
producers or technical personnel of the farms in the certified group regarding the scope,
requirements, and internal control system procedures and the requirements of the certification
3. CHAIN OF CUSTODY
It is important that Rainforest Alliance is certain that products bearing the RA-certified™ seal
come from certified farms. The group administrator must have a system for keeping products
from certified farms separate from products from non-certified farms. The farms that are part of
the group can only sell certified products through the group administrator.
3.1 CHAIN OF CUSTODY SYSTEM
The group administrator must have a system for avoiding the mixing of certified products with
non-certified products from the farms until they are sold or transferred to third parties.
3.1.1 Products from the farms included in the certification are traded through the group administrator
and not individually. Critical standard.
3.1.2 All the products from farms included in the certification must be properly identified and
accompanied by documentation – invoices, receipts, packing or contents lists, information about
the transport or embarkation – including the farm certification code, a description of the certified
product, product volume and destination or client. Products that are not packed or that cannot be
marked, such as coffee in cherry form, must be accompanied by proper documentation. Critical
3.1.3 The administrator must keep copies of the documentation and a record that summarizes product
transactions for a period of three years. The records must include transaction dates, product
descriptions, volumes and destinations or buyers. Critical standard.
3.1.4 All product processing and/or packing installations on certified farms must comply with the
Chain of Custody standards of Rainforest Alliance. Critical standard.