Methodology to Characterize the Relationship Between the Accountability Framework and Certification Programs/Roundtables

November 2020

Certification programs/roundtables and the Accountability Framework are complementary tools to define and implement ethical supply chains. To clarify this relationship with regard to specific certification programs and roundtables, comparisons were conducted by the Accountability Framework initiative (AFi) team and cross-checked by each respective program.

The purpose of these comparisons is to provide companies and other stakeholders with objective information on how the Framework and certification programs/roundtables can be used in combination to help fulfill sustainability commitments and address environmental and social risk in supply chains. Specifically, the comparisons serve to:

  1. assess the degree of alignment between each specific program and the Accountability Framework; and
  2. identify key areas of complementarity where the Framework can support companies to address environmental and social risks and performance that go beyond the scope of the given program.

Scope and method

The comparisons were based on relevant documents of the Accountability Framework and the certification program or roundtable for the following four components:

  1. Social and environmental requirements of the production unit standard: This component focused on the normative scope of the Accountability Framework, which includes aspects related to no-deforestation, no-conversion, restoration/compensation, and respect for human rights. While many certification programs and roundtables address other aspects of sustainability – such as good agronomy, pesticides, and water – these were not included in the analysis since they are beyond the scope of the Accountability Framework. This part of the analysis consisted of a review of documents including:
    • Accountability Framework: Core Principles 1-3 and 7-9; definitions; and related sections of Operational Guidance (e.g., cutoff dates, grievance mechanisms, restoration).
    • Certification program/roundtable: production unit standard(s) (e.g., principles & criteria) and other relevant normative documents.
  2. Options and requirements for supply chain traceability and control: This component involved reviewing the program’s option(s) for traceability and supply chain control (e.g., identity preserved, segregated, mass balance, and credit systems) in relation to the Accountability Framework’s elements on traceability and control. It consisted of a review of documents including:
    • Accountability Framework: Core Principles 5 and 11; Operational Guidance on Supply Chain Management and on Monitoring & Verification.
    • Certification program/roundtable: standards, requirements, or procedures related to the program’s various supply chain models, including any requirements for risk assessment or due diligence of non-certified volumes.
  3. Assurance requirements: This component focused on the program’s quality assurance requirements, particularly those associated with third-party auditing and auditor accreditation. It consisted of a review of documents including:
    • Accountability Framework: Core Principle 11; Operational Guidance on Monitoring & Verification.
    • Certification program/roundtable: standards and procedures related to third-party auditing and auditor accreditation. Compliance with the ISEAL Assurance Code was also noted.
  4. Additional aspects of ethical supply chains and responsible business practices: This component involved identifying other elements of the certification program or roundtable in relation to the corresponding topics in the Accountability Framework. These include, for instance, standards or procedures for smallholder inclusion and landscape or jurisdictional sustainability, as well as requirements that apply company-wide for companies participating in the certification program or roundtable, such as policies/requirements for association and requirements for company-wide progress reporting. This component included review of documents including:
    • Accountability Framework: Core Principles 4-10 and 12 and associated Operational Guidance.
    • Certification program/roundtable: policy and program documents related to the above-mentioned topics.

The method included only a desktop analysis of relevant program documents plus a validation of draft results with each respective program; it did not include any empirical investigation of how program requirements are implemented or verified in practice. While quality of implementation and auditing is important to understand and should be considered by companies that use certification, it was beyond the scope of these comparisons.

Documentation of results and how to use them

The comparison for each certification program or roundtable is summarized in narrative form on the Related Initiatives page of the AFi website in three sections:

  • Overview: an overview of the program, its main elements, and the commodities and contexts to which it applies.
  • Alignment: a summary of the degree of alignment between the program’s requirements and the Accountability Framework within the social and environmental scope described above.
  • Guidance for companies: a summary of how companies may use the certification program or roundtable guidance to manage their supply chains and business in accordance with the Accountability Framework, as well as key areas where the Framework can complement the certification program/roundtable to support companies in managing for ethical supply chains company-wide.

Companies may use this information to:

  • Determine how certification can best support their efforts to fulfill supply chain commitments
  • Confirm the degree of alignment between specific certification standards and roundtable policy frameworks and the Accountability Framework
  • Decide which supply chain or chain-of-custody model(s) to select for the certification program(s) that the company uses
  • Identify ways in which the Framework can supplement the use of certification to establish a comprehensive company-wide approach to managing for ethical supply chains