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FAQ about scope and application of the Accountability Framework

Why should companies follow the Accountability Framework?

The Accountability Framework responds 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 helps companies to achieve strong environmental, social, and governance (ESG) performance, and to be recognised for this performance by buyers, financiers/investors, civil society, 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, the Framework helps to align market expectations of commodity buyers and standardise B2B monitoring and reporting processes. This standardisation fosters greater efficiency and effectiveness, especially where there are many relationships between suppliers and buyers.

For more information, please visit the pages on how companies and financial institutions can apply the Framework.

What is the value of the Accountability Framework to producers, processors, and other upstream companies? How can they apply it?

The Framework helps producers and upstream companies to understand and fulfil expectations for ethical supply chains by providing clear and specific guidelines regarding site development, farm and plantation management, raw material sourcing, monitoring, and reporting. Following these guidelines helps upstream actors to meet requirements and differentiate themselves as responsible suppliers to product buyers, investors, and local and international regulations. 

For upstream companies that use certification as part of their approach to responsible supply chains, the Accountability Framework is a complementary resource that: 1) provides a structured approach to managing non-certified product volumes and suppliers (including those on the path to certification); and 2) addresses elements of responsible business that are outside the scope of many certification programmes, such as company-wide policies, management systems, reporting practices, and management of non-compliant suppliers.

For more information on how producers and upstream companies can apply the Framework, see this page on companies actions to manage production. For examples of how upstream companies have benefitted from using the Framework, see our case studies and profiles of Framework users.

How can other kinds of organisations use the Accountability Framework?

Organisations other than companies can use the Accountability Framework for a range of applications, including to help develop and strengthen sound public policies, develop industry sustainability guidelines and initiatives, establish robust monitoring and accountability systems, support the implementation of ethical supply chains on the ground, and achieve responsible lending or investment objectives. See the pages for financial institutions, industry and multi-stakeholder initiatives, and reporting initiatives to learn more about how these groups can use the Framework. See the pages on the AFi’s impacts to learn how use of the Framework by groups such as these has helped accelerate progress toward ethical supply chains at a broad scale. 

What topics does the Accountability Framework address, and why does it have this focus?

The Accountability Framework focuses on deforestation, conversion of other natural ecosystems, and the human rights of Indigenous Peoples, local communities, and workers. It also addresses a range of operational topics, such as traceability, due diligence, supplier management, monitoring, and reporting.

There are two reasons for the Framework’s focus. First, the focal topics are fundamental elements of responsible business conduct and are the subject of numerous company commitments, regulations, market expectations, and global goals and targets. The Framework provides essential clarity on how to implement and monitor these many goals and policies. 

Second, effective action on the focal topics is among the best ways for companies to make progress and meet obligations around other critical sustainability issues, such as climate, nature, and poverty alleviation. For instance, deforestation and conversion are responsible for a major share of greenhouse gas emissions for most companies operating in the agriculture sector. By following the Framework, companies can reduce their supply chain emissions and demonstrate progress in line with the leading frameworks for corporate climate action.

Which stages of commodity supply chains does the Accountability Framework address?

The Framework focuses on social and environmental impacts at the supply-base level, which includes agriculture and forestry production units, primary processing facilities, and the landscapes and communities in which they are situated. Since these impacts are linked to the entire supply chain, to effectively manage them the Framework addresses the role of all actors involved in the production, processing, sourcing, or financing of agricultural or forestry commodities. This includes raw material producers and primary processors, traders, manufacturers, retailers, and financial institutions.

While the Framework does not focus on environmental and social issues associated with operations downstream of the supply-base level (such as shipping or manufacturing), it does address the role of downstream actors in managing their supply chains to eliminate deforestation, conversion, and human rights abuses at the supply-base level.

How does the Accountability Framework address the differing roles and responsibilities of different supply chain actors – such as producers, traders, and downstream companies – with respect to ethical supply chains?

The Accountability Framework’s Core Principles are relevant to all companies involved in production, sourcing, or financing of agricultural or forestry commodities. These principles and their corresponding guidance provide detail on how each element applies to companies based on their roles in the supply chain.

Generally, upstream supply chain actors, such as producers, primary processors, and some traders, hold primary responsibility for implementing ‘on the ground’ functions. These functions include land acquisition; land management; ensuring respect for the rights of Indigenous Peoples, local communities, and workers; taking action to remedy environmental and human rights harms; and monitoring compliance and performance of production and primary processing operations. Upstream actors are also responsible for furnishing information to buyers regarding these functions and regarding the compliance status of operations and product volumes. 

Downstream companies generally hold primary responsibility for supply chain management functions, including supply chain mapping and traceability; responsible procurement policies and practices; supply chain monitoring; and providing support and incentives to drive improvement across their supply base and sourcing areas. Downstream companies should work with their suppliers to ensure that upstream actors carry out the functions listed above to protect forests, natural ecosystems, and human rights at the supply-base level. Downstream companies should also request and verify information from their suppliers about the environmental and social performance of purchased materials and about each supplier’s policies and practices for responsible supply chains.

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.

Can a company commit to or apply parts of the Accountability 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. Doing so positions companies to fulfil market and stakeholder expectations while being able to achieve and demonstrate ethical supply chains across their entire business. For companies that are still working towards ethical 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.

With regards to application, the Framework is structured in a modular way. This enables companies to use it in a flexible way to support action and progress across many different company functions, contexts, and action areas.

Can a company be certified or verified against the Accountability Framework?

No. The Accountability Framework is not a compliance standard or certification system, so it is not possible to be certified or verified against it.

Can a company communicate or make claims related to its use of or alignment with the Accountability Framework?

Yes. 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 goals. Doing so can help companies demonstrate to stakeholders that their policies and practices align with the Framework’s consensus-based expectations. 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 that wish to communicate about their use of or alignment with the Framework may do so in the following ways.

Use of the Framework: 

  • The AFi is pleased to feature examples of how companies have used the Framework to improve their supply chain policies, practices, and performance. These examples can be found on the Impacts for companies webpage and through media such as webinars and podcasts. If your company has applied the Framework, please contact us for more information about sharing your work.
  • Companies may also communicate about their use of the Framework through their own websites, reports, or other channels, provided that such communication is clear, truthful, and adheres to the AFi’s policy on communications and claims.

Alignment with the Framework: 

  • The AFi provides a self-assessment tool for companies to benchmark their policies and practices against the Framework. Companies that wish to communicate their degree of alignment with the Framework may make the results of their assessment available to stakeholders in any manner that they choose.
  • Several major reporting standards and platforms enable companies to report against elements of the Accountability Framework. Companies are encouraged to use these systems to disclose the extent to which their policies, practices, and systems align with these elements of the Framework. 
  • Since the Accountability Framework is not a compliance standard against which companies can be verified or certified, companies should not claim that they are verified against, certificated against, or comply with the Accountability Framework.

FAQ about the relationship between the Accountability Framework and other initiatives

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 goals, taking action, and monitoring and reporting progress for ethical supply chains. It serves to complement, support the implementation of, and increase the level of alignment among other tools, policies, standards, initiatives, and frameworks. Among these are:

  • Global goals and frameworks such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use
  • Goal-setting and reporting frameworks for climate and nature, including the Science-Based Targets initiative, Science Based Targets Network, and Greenhouse Gas Protocol; for more information, see this page
  • Supply chain due diligence approaches such as those specified in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the OECD’s guidelines for responsible business conduct
  • Regulations in the European Union and other jurisdictions pertaining to the import or use of forest-risk commodities; see Section 3 of the Operational Guidance on Applying the Definitions Related to Deforestation and Conversion for more information
  • Sustainability initiatives of industry associations, such as the Consumer Goods Forum, and multi-stakeholder consortia, 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; for more information, see this page
  • Initiatives to assess corporate performance, such as Forest 500, Supply Change, ZSL SPOTT, and NGO scorecards
  • Monitoring tools such as Global Forest Watch and Trase; see here for more information
  • Tools and guidelines for land use planning and management; see this page for more information
  • Governmental and multi-stakeholder initiatives focused on sustainable commodities and jurisdictions, such as the Africa Sustainable Commodity Initiative and Indonesia’s Sustainable Districts Platform (Lingkar Temu Kabupaten Lestari – LTKL)
  • Certification systems; see the following FAQ for more information
What is the relationship between the Accountability Framework and certification systems?

The Accountability Framework and certification provide aligned and complementary means to help companies achieve responsible supply chains. Companies can use these tools in synergy to address supply chain impacts and goals related to deforestation, conversion, and human rights. More specifically:

  • Using certification to support sustainability in line with the Accountability Framework: Many certification systems are well-aligned with the Accountability Framework. To fully align, systems 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 and 2. They must also include robust assurance and chain-of-custody models that enable physically traceable certified volumes, for example segregated or identity preserved. Where a certification system fully aligns with the Accountability Framework, companies can use it to fulfil the Framework for physically certified product volumes. Systems that do not fully align can still help companies meet their sustainability goals, but additional measures must be taken to address Framework elements not fully covered within the certification system. 
  • Using the Accountability Framework to complement certification: The Accountability Framework provides a comprehensive and company-wide approach to ethical supply chains. This complements the product- and production unit-focus of many certification systems. Companies can use the Accountability Framework to help manage non-certified materials in their supply chains to ensure they properly address deforestation, conversion, and human rights across their entire businesses. This may be especially important when companies source commodities or purchase from regions where certification is not available or not widely used. Companies can also use the Framework to address elements of responsible business related to company systems, reporting practices, management of non-compliant suppliers, and other matters that are outside the scope of many certification programmes. 
What is the relationship between the Accountability Framework and jurisdictional approaches?

The Accountability Framework addresses environmental and human rights issues through the lens of companies and their supply chains. Landscape and jurisdictional approaches pursue similar aims but through the lens of specific geographic areas and the actors involved in those places. These approaches overlap since companies are important actors in the jurisdictions where they produce and source commodities. Companies are expected to engage at the landscape or jurisdictional level to the extent necessary to address environmental and social risk associated with their supply chains.

The Framework provides companies with specific guidance on engaging in landscape and jurisdictional approaches to achieve ethical supply chains while driving meaningful improvements in key landscapes. This includes information on: 

  • when and how companies may use landscape or jurisdictional initiatives to monitor, control, or demonstrate compliance of raw materials based on their area of origin
  • when and how companies should participate in landscape or jurisdictional initiatives to address environmental and human rights issues that are not fully within the company’s control
  • how companies may report on contributions to addressing deforestation, conversion, and human rights abuses beyond their direct production or procurement footprint

See the page on collaboration to achieve ethical supply chains for more detail. 

FAQ about the contents of the Accountability Framework

Why does Core Principle 1 differentiate between commitments to no-deforestation and commitments to no-conversion of other natural ecosystems?

Core Principle 1 differentiates between no-deforestation and no-conversion because these concepts are both used by companies, NGOs, and various sustainability policies, goals, pledges, and initiatives. The Framework therefore defines both terms to assist stakeholders in understanding and addressing these concepts in clear and consistent ways.

The Accountability Framework defines deforestation as the loss of natural forests and conversion as the loss of any natural ecosystem. As such, deforestation is a form of conversion. A company that has a no-conversion commitment in line with the Accountability Framework would, by definition, also meet the Framework’s expectations related to no-deforestation commitments.

Companies may therefore align with the Framework’s Core Principle 1 by either: i) specifying a commitment to no-deforestation (Core Principle 1.1) along with a commitment to protect other natural ecosystems; or ii) adopting a comprehensive commitment to no-conversion of all natural ecosystems (Core Principle 1.2). Companies that wish to highlight their commitment to no-deforestation to their stakeholders or business partners might prefer the former option. Those that source from regions where the native ecosystems are not closed-canopy forest, such as the Cerrado in Brazil, might prefer the latter option. 

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, 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 associated Operational Guidance address scenarios where companies have existing non-compliances in their operations or supply chains. Specifically, these sections of the Framework call on companies to conduct or support remedy for any human rights violations and restoration or compensation for any non-compliant deforestation or conversion in their operations or supply chains.

How does the Accountability Framework address smallholder inclusion in ethical supply chains?

Smallholders play a critical role in most agricultural and forestry commodity sectors, especially in tropical regions. 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 Accountability Framework facilitates smallholder inclusion in ethical supply chains by clarifying how to adapt different aspects of implementation and monitoring to smallholder contexts. This includes smallholder-appropriate guidelines for traceability, supplier engagement and support, and assessment and retention of non-compliant suppliers. The Operational Guidance on Smallholder Inclusion in Ethical Supply Chains addresses these topics in detail.

How often is the Accountability Framework updated?

The Framework’s Core Principles provide companies with a durable guide to achieving ethical supply chains and fulfilling market and stakeholder expectations. As such, these principles are updated infrequently and sparingly. Since their initial publication in June 2019, the Core Principles have been updated once (in April 2023).

The Operational Guidance is intended to reflect current best practices, which continue to evolve based on new policy and market drivers, technology, innovations, and other developments. Operational Guidance documents are regularly reviewed and may be updated or augmented periodically as warranted by these evolving dynamics and by user feedback.

Still have questions?

If you have specific questions about how the Framework can be applied in your context, or if you would like to speak to a member of the AFi team, please contact us.

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