FAQs about how to apply the Accountability Framework
FAQ about scope and application of the Accountability Framework
1. Why should companies follow the Accountability Framework?
In response to the need for clear and unified guidance on addressing deforestation, conversion, and human rights violations in agricultural and forestry supply chains, the Framework offers companies a well-defined “roadmap” for how to set goals, take action, and demonstrate progress on these topics. By using this roadmap, companies can help ensure that their commitments, policies, activities, monitoring systems, and reporting and disclosure practices reflect common agreed norms and specifications. This facilitates the achievement of strong environmental, social, and governance (ESG) performance by companies and the recognition of such performance by buyers, financiers/investors, civil society groups, consumers, and other stakeholders. Such recognition confers a range of business advantages, including increased access to markets and finance, reduced risk, and improved image and brand equity.
Use of the Framework to guide supplier engagement and supply chain management also helps strengthen and streamline business-to-business (B2B) transactions around ethical supply chains – for instance, by helping to align market expectations of commodity buyers and standardize B2B monitoring and reporting processes. This standardization fosters greater efficiency and effectiveness, especially in sectors where there are many-to-many relationships between suppliers and buyers.
For more information on the Framework’s application for different types of companies, please visit the pages for producers and processors, traders, retailers and manufacturers, and financial institutions.
2. How can other kinds of organizations use the Framework?
While supply chain companies are central actors in the transition to ethical supply chains, many other stakeholders are essential for enabling, supporting, and incentivizing progress in addressing deforestation, conversion, and human rights violations. See the pages for financial institutions, civil society organizations, governments, and local producers and communities to learn more about how these groups can use the Framework to develop and strengthen public policies for ethical supply chains, establish robust monitoring and accountability systems, support the implementation of ethical supply chains on the ground, achieve responsible lending or investment objectives, strengthen the voice of those affected by commodity production, and other applications.
3. What topics does the Framework address? Why does it not address all dimensions of sustainability?
The Accountability Framework focuses on a set of critical environmental and social topics that are most commonly included in company supply chain commitments and for which clarity on implementation and monitoring is most urgently needed. These topics include the protection of forests and other natural ecosystems, as well as respect for human rights, especially workers’ rights and the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities.
The Accountability Framework initiative (AFi) recognizes that there are many other important sustainability issues related to agriculture and forestry, such as increasing production efficiency, reducing the risks and impacts of pesticide use, and protecting water resources. In the future – depending on demand and stakeholder feedback – the Framework may be expanded to address additional topics such as these. For now, however, companies are strongly encouraged to address these other important issues by applying or participating in other standards, partnerships, and initiatives focused on these topics.
4. Which stages of commodity supply chains does the Framework address?
The Framework addresses the role of all companies and other producers that are associated with the production or trade of agricultural or forestry commodities – whether through their own operations, sourcing of materials, or financing. This includes raw material producers and primary processors, traders, manufacturers, retailers, and financial institutions.
The Framework focuses on social and environmental impacts associated with the supply-base level, i.e., agriculture and forestry production units, primary processing facilities, and the landscapes and communities in which they are situated. Environmental and social issues associated with operations at supply chain stages beyond production and primary processing, such as shipping or manufacturing, are not included within the scope of the Framework.
5. Can a company commit to or apply parts of the Framework without using all of it?
The AFi coalition advocates for the adoption of all elements of the Framework that are applicable to a given company or organization. However, it is also recognized that some companies may choose to make progress in a stepwise manner, working toward best practices over a period of time. For companies that are still working toward responsible supply chains, the Framework offers a structured approach to pursue progressive improvement in their policies, systems, practices, and performance, and to demonstrate progress along the way.
6. Can a company be certified or verified against the Accountability Framework?
The Accountability Framework is not a compliance standard or certification system, so it is not possible to be certified or verified against it. Companies that wish to demonstrate their use of and alignment with the Framework are encouraged to do so by:
- Using the self-assessment tool to assess their supply chain commitments, policies, and implementation systems against applicable elements of the Framework
- Reporting progress in accordance with the Operational Guidance on Reporting, Disclosure, and Claims, including through the use of existing reporting standards and platforms that are aligned with the Framework.
- Submitting a summary of their experience applying the Framework to improve responsible business practices to be featured on the AFi website; see this page for more information.
7. Can a company make claims related to its use of or alignment with the Accountability Framework?
Companies are encouraged to publicly communicate their support for the AFi and their use of the Accountability Framework in guiding how they set, implement, and monitor their supply chain commitments. Doing so can help the company demonstrate to stakeholders that its policies and practices are aligned with the Framework’s consensus-based expectations for responsible business. It can also help accelerate broader adoption of the Framework and demonstrate its value to all parties that are working to mainstream ethical supply chains.
Companies interested in communicating about their use of the Framework are invited to submit a summary of their experience to be featured on the AFi’s website; see this page for more information. Companies may also communicate their use of the Framework in other ways, provided that such communication adheres to the AFi’s policy on communications and claims to ensure that it is clear and truthful.
Separate from or in addition to communications about their alignment with the Accountability Framework, many companies wish to make statements or claims about progress toward their supply chain commitments. Companies are encouraged to follow the Framework’s Operational Guidance on Reporting, Disclosure, and Claims to help formulate claims that are clear, credible, and supported by appropriate publicly reported information.
8. How does the Accountability Framework address the differing roles and responsibilities of different supply chain actors (e.g., producers, traders, and downstream companies) with respect to ethical supply chain commitments?
The principles of the Accountability Framework are relevant to all companies that produce or source agricultural or forestry commodities. Details within these principles and their corresponding guidance help users determine how each element pertains to their specific supply chain roles.
Generally, upstream supply chain actors (e.g., producers, primary processors, and some traders) hold primary responsibility for executing “on the ground” functions, such as land use planning and management, management of labor practices, and ensuring respect for the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities. Downstream companies should work with their suppliers (e.g., via supplier codes, incentives, support, and monitoring) to ensure that these functions are carried out in accordance with the company’s supply chain goals.
Downstream companies that purchase commodities generally hold primary responsibility for supply chain management functions, such as traceability and risk assessment, but may require cooperation from their suppliers to fulfill these functions – for instance, by furnishing information on the environmental and social performance of purchased materials.
Ultimately, each company is responsible for determining the actions it must take to achieve and demonstrate progress or compliance related to its supply chain commitments and other obligations. Each section of the Framework provides further information to help make these determinations based on a company’s supply chain roles, business scope, and context.
FAQ about the relationship between the Accountability Framework and other initiatives
9. How does the Accountability Framework relate to key global pledges, targets, tools, and other initiatives on ethical or deforestation-free supply chains?
The Accountability Framework is a global reference for setting, implementing, monitoring, and reporting on ethical supply chain commitments. It serves to complement and increase the level of alignment and compatibility among existing recognized tools, standards, initiatives, and frameworks. Among these are:
- Goals, targets, definitions, and cutoff dates of the New York Declaration on Forests (NYDF) and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
- Commitments put forward or supported by industry associations, such as the Consumer Goods Forum, and multi-stakeholder initiatives, such as the Tropical Forest Alliance
- Key reporting standards and platforms, such as CDP Forests, the Global Reporting Initiative, the Implementation Reporting Framework, and the UN Guiding Principles Reporting Framework
- Assessment initiatives such as Forest 500, Supply Change, ZSL SPOTT, and others
- Monitoring tools such as Global Forest Watch and Trase
- Other implementation guidelines, such as the High Carbon Stock Approach and the Collaboration on Forests and Agriculture
- Governmental and multi-stakeholder initiatives focused on sustainable commodity sectors, such as the Africa Palm Oil Initiative and the Cocoa and Forests Initiative
- The certification community, including the ISEAL Alliance and its members
See Related Initiatives page for more detail.
10. What is the relationship between the Accountability Framework and certification programs?
The Accountability Framework and certification provide aligned and complementary means to help companies fulfill their supply chain commitments. Companies can use these tools synergistically to address supply chain impacts and goals related to deforestation, conversion, and human rights. More specifically:
- Alignment: Many major certification programs are well-aligned with the Accountability Framework. This means that companies can use certification to fulfill (and demonstrate fulfillment of) most or all of the expectations for ethical supply chains detailed in the Framework. To be fully aligned with the Framework, certification programs must include the same normative requirements on no-deforestation, no-conversion, and respect for human rights as those found in the Framework’s Core Principles 1-3. Programs must also provide chain-of-custody models that adequately trace and control products and their compliance (e.g., segregated or identity preserved). Otherwise, companies must conduct additional due diligence to assess and manage compliance of the non-certified product component (e.g., in mass balance or book-and-claim models).
- Complementarity: Companies can use the Accountability Framework to help manage non-certified materials in their supply chains to ensure that issues of deforestation, conversion, and human rights are properly addressed across their entire business. This may be especially important when the company sources commodities or purchases from regions for which certification is not available or not widely used. It is also important for companies whose existing supply base includes a significant amount of non-certified suppliers who may need clear guidelines, support and/or improvement steps to address basic compliance on no-deforestation, no-conversion, and respect for human rights before pursuing full certification.
- Full-company scope: The Accountability Framework provides a company-wide approach to establishing policies, systems, and practices for ethical supply chains. This complements the product- and production unit-focus of many certification programs by elaborating additional elements of responsible business related to company systems, reporting practices, management of non-compliant suppliers, and other matters.
11. What is the relationship between the Accountability Framework and jurisdictional approaches?
The Accountability Framework focuses on addressing environmental and human rights issues through the lens of companies and their supply chains, which may involve several commodities and implicate production and sourcing across multiple geographies. On the other hand, jurisdictional approaches focus on a specific geographic area (the jurisdiction) but draw in numerous actors and economic sectors that are germane to that place.
While jurisdictional approaches follow a different strategy, they often have goals that are similar to those of ethical supply chain initiatives. For this reason, the AFi has worked to clarify the complementarity between supply chain and jurisdictional approaches so that these two sets of initiatives can be designed and implemented to be as synergistic as possible. The Framework provides companies with guidance on engaging in landscape and jurisdictional approaches to help meet their ethical supply chain goals while driving tangible improvements in key production and sourcing areas. In particular, the Framework:
- Indicates when and how companies may use jurisdictional initiatives to monitor, control, or demonstrate compliance of raw materials based on their jurisdictional origin
- Encourages companies to participate in jurisdictional initiatives and suggests when and how to do so
- Explains how companies may report on contributions to addressing deforestation, conversion, and human rights abuses beyond their direct production or procurement footprint
See the topic page on jurisdictional approaches for more detail.
FAQ about the contents of the Accountability Framework
12. Why does Core Principle 1 differentiate between commitments to no-deforestation and commitments to no-conversion of other natural ecosystems?
Many companies have adopted no-deforestation commitments but do not have commitments on no-conversion of other natural ecosystems. Other companies, including those sourcing from regions where the native ecosystem is not closed-canopy forest (e.g., the Cerrado in Brazil), find no-conversion commitments or “deforestation- and conversion-free” (DCF) commitments more applicable to their contexts. The Accountability Framework therefore recognizes and references both types of commitments in Core Principle 1, with the aim of providing clear guidance on the implementation of existing commitments while advocating that companies adopt commitments that are protective of all natural ecosystems in the places they operate (i.e., no-conversion).
The Accountability Framework defines deforestation (i.e., loss of natural forests) to be a form of conversion (i.e., loss of any natural ecosystem). Therefore, companies that have a no-conversion commitment that adheres to the definitions and specifications of the Accountability Framework should, by definition, also meet the Framework’s expectations related to no-deforestation commitments.
13. Why does the Accountability Framework initiative advocate for public disclosure of information about company operations, suppliers, and supply chains (Core Principle 12 and associated Operational Guidance)?
Information disclosure – also referred to as “transparency” – is an important element for improving company accountability and supply chain management systems. Such transparency can help companies at multiple stages of the value chain to better understand and manage risk and non-compliance in their supply chains. It can also help foster greater trust and collaboration among companies, civil society, and other stakeholders. The AFi’s call for transparency regarding traceability, location of sourcing areas, and supplier compliance is congruent with similar trends taking place within other supply chain initiatives, certification standards, and reporting platforms.
14. Do the Accountability Framework guidelines on environmental restoration and compensation imply that a company may deforest or convert an area and compensate for it through restoration activities?
No. As specified in Core Principle 1, commodity production, sourcing, and financing must not cause or contribute to new deforestation or conversion. Accordingly, restoration or compensation (or plans or commitments to restore or compensate) may not be used to justify or offset new deforestation or conversion.
Core Principle 9 and the associated Operational Guidance on Environmental Restoration and Compensation specifically concentrate on scenarios where environmental restoration or compensation are required to remedy past deforestation or conversion.
15. Does the Accountability Framework support smallholder inclusion or provide specialized guidance related to smallholders?
Yes. Smallholders play a critical role in most agricultural and forestry commodity sectors, especially in the tropics. Inclusion of these producers in ethical supply chains is essential to help support producer livelihoods, increase productivity, avoid displacement of social and environmental impacts, and ensure stable commodity supplies. The AFi aims to facilitate smallholder inclusion in ethical supply chains by clarifying how different aspects of implementation and monitoring of supply chain commitments can be adapted to smallholder contexts. This includes smallholder-appropriate guidelines for traceability, supplier engagement and support, and assessment and retention of non-compliant suppliers, which are included in the Operational Guidance on Smallholder Inclusion in Ethical Supply Chains.