Five reasons every company should use the Accountability Framework

Over the past decade, hundreds of companies that produce, trade, and purchase agricultural and forestry commodities have made commitments to ethical supply chains. Yet, for many, the path from commitments to action to results has been a rocky one. To help overcome these challenges, a coalition of NGOs launched the Accountability Framework in June 2019 to help accelerate progress toward supply chains free from deforestation, ecosystem conversion, and human rights abuses. The Framework provides a clear and common roadmap to guide companies in setting commitments, taking action, and demonstrating progress toward their supply chain goals.

The Accountability Framework is made up of twelve Core Principles accompanied by detailed Operational Guidance and foundational Terms and Definitions. Topics range from supply chain mapping and supplier management to monitoring and reporting. Rather than a new set of requirements, the Framework is a freely available resource to support companies working to build ethical and efficient supply chains in the face of myriad complex demands and targets. Why should companies use the Accountability Framework in their supply chain journey? Here are five reasons:

You want global consensus? You got global consensus.

consensus

Many companies working to build ethical supply chains expressed concern about the array of conflicting and misaligned messages, norms, and expectations they were receiving from civil society organizations. This uncertainty, they felt, could lead to paralysis and inaction. 

When these companies asked for some clarity, civil society delivered. Fifteen global organizations—including global and regional conservation leaders and human rights champions—got together and, over the course of two years, hammered out consensus-based norms, definitions, and guidelines for companies. This process was supported by input from private sector, government, and civil society organizations through numerous consultations and conversations to ensure that this product would meet the needs of its users.

Everything in the Accountability Framework, from Definitions to Core Principles to Operational Guidance reflects consensus among these organizations. The Framework represents their concerted effort to speak to companies with one voice.

Think of all the time you’ll save by not having to debate what deforestation means.

Zero-net deforestation. Zero-gross deforestation. Deforestation-free. And what’s a forest, anyway? It’s enough to make anyone’s head spin. Fortunately, the Accountability Framework saves you valuable time and eliminates confusion. 

Zero-gross deforestation is the only appropriate definition for company supply chains. It’s as easy as that. Check out the Framework’s Terms and Definitions for consensus-based guidance on how to define all sorts of other important concepts, from Applicable Law to Verification. If you are looking for more detail, the Framework has further guidance on how you can best apply definitions related to deforestation, conversion, and protection of ecosystems in different contexts.

Traceability: How much is enough? Asked and answered.

traceability

“Do all materials need to be traced to the farm or plantation level?” That’s a question we hear all the time – and we’ve got answers! The expectation laid out in the Framework is that materials are traced to the point at which the company is able to ascertain compliance or determine the nature of non-compliances. That approach is both logically sound and an essential goal for any company that is aiming to fulfill supply chain commitments, without mandating the unnecessary burden of further supply chain mapping when the supply is well controlled.

While tracing to the production unit is one way to get there, the Framework identifies other possibilities as well. For example, certification systems that align with the Framework can help companies achieve sufficient traceability, as can tracing materials to jurisdictions where there is low risk of non-compliance.  

There’s a plan for that.

To implement commitments, you need to have the right plans and systems in place. The Framework lays out what those are and helps you to demonstrate your progress as those plans are designed and implemented. For companies operating on the ground, the Framework identifies the plans required for responsible land acquisition and management. For companies sourcing from suppliers, it identifies the plans that are essential for assessing and managing supplier non-compliance. This brings helpful structure to the complexity of setting up an end-to-end ethical supply chain. 

Don’t sweat the reporting.

To meet multiplying demands for transparency by buyers, investors, and other stakeholders, companies often face heavy reporting burdens. Often, these assessment processes are overlapping, contradictory, or redundant. To lighten this load and simplify the reporting process, the Accountability Framework initiative is working to integrate principles and expectations from the Framework into existing reporting tools and platforms. The Framework’s consensus-based norms around reporting are designed to bring consistency and comparability to assessment of company performance by creating and strengthening links between the Framework and initiatives such as CDP Forests, Forest500, Supply Change, ZSL SPOTT, and the Implementation Reporting Framework. This alignment will provide clarity on how companies will be assessed – and will allow them to be recognized for strong performance when they deliver.