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How to Bake an Ethical Cookie

Many of us love chocolate chip cookies… even despite the guilt from those extra calories. Not to dissuade you from enjoying those treats, but there may be another kind of guilt hidden under the crispy and delicious surface of that store-bought cookie – consequences that are baked in with the ingredients. 

This cookie may contain palm oil from Indonesia, soy from Brazil, cocoa from Côte d’Ivoire, or milk from Colombian cattle. Even the paper in the packaging could have been sourced from any of these regions. Like many other consumer products, cookies arrive at store shelves through an intricate global web of commodity supply chains, each of which has potential links to deforestation, other forms of environmental degradation, and human rights abuses. 

The complexity of these supply chains both hides these issues and hinders efforts to stop them. 

Rather than ask billions of people worldwide to stop eating cookies, the more practical solution rests with those who trade and process the ingredients in those cookies. This must happen through the collaborative efforts of producers, companies, civil society, and government.

The Gap Between Commitment and Action

As a major leap forward, companies worldwide have made public commitments to transform their supply chains to eliminate deforestation, conversion of ecosystems, and human rights violations. 

But despite these commitments on paper, real progress on the ground remains limited. Very few of the targets that companies set for 2020 will be achieved. Furthermore, companies who are making progress often have difficulties in demonstrating this progress in ways that are credible to an increasingly skeptical public.

Part of the problem lies in the complexity of these global supply chains. The challenges are many: difficulties in visibility up the supply chain, of managing non-compliant suppliers, or traceability with thousands of smallholder farmers. And for products linked to multiple value chains across varied commodities and regions, the challenges are even greater.

A further complication arises when trying to measure progress against supply chain commitments. With multiple standards, systems, tools, and metrics to consider for a given commodity or region, it’s difficult to assess whether a company has fulfilled its commitment to responsible sourcing.

Closing the critical “implementation gap” between commitments and credible results calls for a new path forward.

Accelerating Progress and Improving Accountability

The Accountability Framework initiative, or AFi, emerged in 2017 as a response to this challenge. The AFi seeks to clarify “what good looks like” for companies in setting, implementing, and demonstrating progress on ethical supply chain commitments in agriculture and forestry. 

The AFi has developed and published in June 2019 the Accountability Framework: a set of common principles, definitions, and guidance based on a working consensus of leading environmental and social organizations. Developed through an open consultation process with stakeholders around the world over the past two years, the Framework builds on existing efforts and reflects the collective experience of companies, NGOs, and governments about what good looks like for ethical supply chains. 

The Framework aims to be an essential guide for companies and others committed to eliminating deforestation, human rights violations, and other adverse impacts of commodity production.

So how will the Framework help?

Recipes don't typically mix different measurement systems – for instance, using the metric system for some ingredients and the imperial system for others. This is simply not an efficient way to cook. Likewise, it’s difficult to ensure supplies of ethically produced products without a consistent system for everyone involved in producing, trading, and selling forest-risk commodities. 

The Framework provides consistent measures of progress across commodities, regions, and supply chain positions. In this way, soy producers in South America, cocoa growers in West Africa, and multinational retailers can use the same terms, norms, and metrics to define, implement, and monitor their policies and commitments. This increased standardization also facilitates better alignment and collaboration between the private sector, government, and other actors. In this way it becomes easier to promote good practices – and to hold accountable those whose actions fall short of their pledges.Knowing that these complex global supply chains cannot be transformed overnight, the Framework presents a path for companies to credibly demonstrate continuous improvement and fulfillment of their commitments across their value chains. Companies can report progress for commodities at different stages on the path to fulfilling commitments. The use of common metrics enables companies to track improvement processes over time and share data across their supply chain networks, and in turn demonstrate their progress in a credible way to their customers, investors, and other stakeholders.

Figure: The Accountability Framework guides companies in assessing and reporting progress for commodities they purchase that are at different stages on the path to fulfilling commitments. Simple metrics such as the status of purchased volumes (shown in the example above) are made rigorous by their link to specific principles and practices outlined in the Framework. They enable companies to track improvement processes over time and share comparable data across complex supply chain networks.

How can the Framework be applied?

What is in the Framework? And how can companies and others apply it to more effectively fulfill their supply chain commitments?

The Framework is a guidebook to ethical supply chains with three main parts: Core Principles, Operational Guidance, and Definitions. 

The Core Principles help to “set up the kitchen,” so to speak. Many cookbooks begin with some details on fundamental techniques, ingredients, equipment, and so forth. The mise en place, as a chef might say – putting everything in its right place before you start to cook. This helps to ensure that different cooks who set out to make the same recipe are likely to end up with similar results. If you set out to make a cookie, make sure you don’t end up with a pancake. 

Likewise, companies or others can use the Core Principles as their mise en place to set their commitments, knowing they have the right set of ingredients and resources they need for the job. In this way, they can feel confident that their efforts are likely to lead to desired results. 

The Operational Guidance provides additional detail – a set of recipes – for addressing specific challenges and situations common to supply chains, regardless of commodity or region. Whether the goal is to produce ethically-sourced cookies or hamburgers, shampoo or shoe boxes; or whether the challenges are to address traceability issues, manage non-compliant suppliers, or establish new development with minimal impact on people and nature, the Operational Guidance provides the detail to implement commitments in a way that leads to credible results. 

Finally, the Definitions ensure that we’re all talking about the same thing when we start cooking. Try telling someone from the United Kingdom that you’re putting gravy on your biscuits – they would likely be horrified! This is perfectly normal in the southern United States; what Americans call a cookie, is a biscuit to the British. 

In the same light, how we define what a forest is, or what “no-deforestation” means, can make all the difference in how the implementation of a commitment is measured – and whether we get the results we set out to achieve. 

Conclusion

We know that the milestones that we hoped to achieve by 2020 will not be met. But while time is limited, we can now see a path forward. To achieve the progress we all hope to make in protecting nature and people, we need harmonized approaches that all supply chain actors can refer to and apply. We need increased standardization guided by common principles and practices. 

Collaborative efforts such as the Accountability Framework will serve as a vital tool in this mission. 

Companies and other supply chain actors can move from commitments... to action…. to results. Forests can be conserved and human rights can be respected. 2020 is a signpost on the journey toward making these kinds of ethical practices the new business-as-usual.

We have the recipe for an ethical cookie. It’s time to start baking. And then as we achieve this, we can eat our cookies without worrying about anything but those extra calories. 

Watch a video of the full speech

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