Supporting multi-stakeholder ethical supply chain efforts in Colombia

The Accountability Framework provides companies with clear guidance to address deforestation, conversion, and human exploitation in their supply chains, but the work of actually applying this guidance takes place in a wide variety of contexts. When it comes to putting the Framework into practice, one strategy does not fit all. That’s why the Accountability Framework initiative (AFi) collaborates with partners in crucial production landscapes to identify and pursue the implementation paths that make the most sense in each context.

The AFi works with key partners in Colombia, where a powerful multi-stakeholder initiative on deforestation-free supply chains was already in place when the Framework was launched in 2019. Two years earlier, the national government had signed on to efforts led by Tropical Forest Alliance (TFA), bringing together buyers, producers, donors, NGOs, and others to protect the Amazon rainforest and other ecosystems, such as the Páramo (alpine tundras found predominantly in Colombia that are evolutionary hot spots and also serve as valuable water sources). TFA Colombia convened representatives from more than 150 companies in the agricultural, livestock, and financial sectors to eliminate deforestation and conversion—an effort that culminated in the signing of four voluntary national zero-deforestation agreements, covering the beef, dairy, palm oil, and cocoa sectors. 

Initially, the AFi focused on sharing the Framework as a practical tool for supporting the TFA’s work, together with local implementing partners WWF Colombia and ONF Andina. The two AFi partners started by holding introductory workshops for companies, civil society organizations, and others, to demonstrate how the Framework could support implementation of Colombia’s zero-deforestation agreements. Next, they hosted sessions that focused on how the Framework could help users address key topics such as traceability, monitoring, and verification. “The supply chain is where sustainability becomes tangible,” says Camila Cammaert, WWF Colombia’s sustainable food systems coordinator. “The AFi provides the roadmap for those who want to move from theory to practice and take strong steps toward achieving their objectives, by following the Framework’s principles regarding management systems, self-assessment, and continual improvement processes.”

The AFi helped to fill gaps in the agreements as well. With the exception of the cocoa accord, the national zero-deforestation agreements only mentioned human rights in a tangential way, leading the AFi partners, with support from coalition member Forest Peoples Programme, to conduct an analysis of how the Framework might help companies incorporate social issues into their commitments. In particular, the analysis recommended that companies working in Colombia apply Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC), strengthen their efforts to protect environmental and human rights defenders, address human rights expectations (and consequences for non-compliance) in their supplier contracts, and provide for remediation where they have caused or contributed to social harms. The findings, which were presented widely to key stakeholders, were well received and are being turned into a guidance document to support these companies in their implementation of FPIC.

Alquería dairy pilot project 

A natural extension of the AFi’s support for Colombia’s zero-deforestation agreements centered on collaborating with a pilot company to demonstrate how the Framework’s guidance might help with implementation of the agreement in the real world, supporting that specific company’s ethical supply journey and helping it to serve as a model for others. WWF Colombia and ONF Andina determined that the cattle industry (meat and milk production) posed great risk of deforestation and conversion in the country and stood to benefit from the Framework’s application. Ultimately, the AFi partners selected dairy company Alquería, which agreed to become the pilot company. 

Established in 1959, Alquería is a leader in Colombia’s dairy sector, selling milk, yogurt, and other products on the domestic market. Based in Bogotá, the company sources milk from producers all over the country. Through its sustainability programme, “Planeta Larga Vida” (Planet Long Life), Alquería was already reducing its use of water and packaging materials, and had committed to the goal of carbon neutrality by 2030. In May 2019, it also became the first Colombian company to sign on to the TFA’s dairy agreement, pledging zero deforestation and zero conversion of Páramos. 

The AFi partners oriented the Alquería team to the Accountability Framework, conducted a benchmark analysis of the company’s existing policies and practices against the Framework’s Core Principles and Operational Guidance, and made recommendations for closing the gaps that existed, helping the company establish medium- and short-term milestones on the way to achieving its ethical commitments.

Among the opportunities identified: internal staff training on ethical supply chain expectations to increase knowledge of how to work toward achieving these goals; upgrades to internal management systems so that the goals are embedded throughout the company’s various business units; and an assessment to determine what is and isn’t working in the area of supplier management. To support the latter, the AFi partners offered guidance on supply chain mapping and risk assessment, as well as collaborating on the development of supplier questionnaires to handle compliance with Alquería’s policies. 

Ultimately, the process of applying the Framework created a company-wide dialogue that led to improvements in many areas of operations. “The methodology was easy to understand and adapt, and it aligns with what we are trying to do,” says Criss Forero, Alquería’s environmental coordinator.

Scaling up Framework use in Colombia

Looking ahead, the AFi will continue to promote the Accountability Framework as a practical guide to support the TFA Colombia Alliance and the country’s national zero-deforestation working groups. Plans include strengthening the relationship with key community organizations, service providers, and other civil society organizations.

AFi coalition members The Nature Conservancy and Rainforest Alliance have also begun working with Alpina, the country’s largest dairy producer, and (along with other AFi partners) plan to engage additional leading companies to encourage their application of the Framework. “Thanks to its consensus-based principles and adaptability to local contexts, we believe that the Framework can be especially useful in supporting multi-stakeholder initiatives” says Mauricio Galindo, Colombia country director for the Rainforest Alliance and current secretariat for the TFA Colombia Alliance. “It provides companies, the public sector, and other stakeholders with options for how to set and communicate their results as they work toward deforestation-free supply chains.”

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The work of the AFi and its partners in Colombia was kindly supported by the Swiss Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) through a grant to the ISEAL Innovations Fund.

Photo credit: WWF Colombia