• The 4C Association – Mainstreaming sustainability in coffee


    Like other major food sectors, the mainstream coffee sector witnesses growing general concern over issues as food safety, import security, producer well being, environmental and climate change related problems and transparency, and how final consumers react to some of these topics. Even though mainstream consumers are not necessarily looking for labeled products, they are increasingly interested in social and environmental conditions generally. These consumers believe and expect that their suppliers are taking care to provide them with "no worry products" that are both safe and of good quality. And, they certainly would not want to hear one day that they have been 'buying' child labour, forced evictions or the application of prohibited chemicals.

    Inspired by these facts and developments as the UN Millennium Goals, the 4C Association emerged as an initiative of important stakeholders across the entire coffee sector in 2003 and was officially established in December 2006. The 4C Association is an inclusive, membership driven organization of coffee farmers, trade & industry and civil society. Members work jointly towards improving economic, social and environmental conditions in the coffee chain through the promotion of more sustainable and transparent practices for all who make a living in the coffee sector.

    The main pillars of the 4C Association are a Code of Conduct, Rules of Participation for trade and industry, Support Services for coffee farmers, a Verification System and the participatory Governance Structure.

    4C consists of three membership chambers: Producers, Trade & Industry and Civil Society.

    Chamber members elect their representatives to the 4C Council, the Association's managing body. The council in its turn appoints a small Executive Board. This democratic arrangement ensures that the Association's decision-making organs are under the control of its members with guaranteed equal representation for all three categories. The Association is funded through membership fees and public contributions, including co-funding from government agencies. Membership fees are weighted according to financial means, thus differentiating significantly between small-scale producers and industry members as coffee traders, roasters, soluble manufacturers or retailers with private label coffee.

    4C's Common Code for the Coffee Community introduces baseline criteria for the sustainable production, processing and trading of green coffee and eliminates unacceptable practices.

    Through its global network, the 4C Association provides support services to coffee farmers including training, access to tools and information. many tools and support services are free of charge for coffee producers as they are funded in large parts from the membership fees from the trade and industry members and complemented by public contributions. 30% of the membership fees of industry and 50 to 70% of those of the intermediary buyers go directly to the 4C Support Services budget. Through the continuous improvement concept of its Code Matrix and the Support Services, 4C helps farmers of all sizes, particularly also smallholders, and their business partners to access a baseline level of economic, environmental and social sustainability.

    Business-to-business - without labeling.

    The 4C Standard is a pure business-to-business concept for the coffee supply chain, offering a sustainability baseline for producers from which they might step up towards more demanding sustainability standards. Conceptualized as a business-to-business standard and not as a consumer label, the 4C Association is of pre-competitive nature and does not provide a label to market 4C Compliant Coffee towards the final consumer on the coffee pack.

    Instead, 4C Industry Members may communicate their commitment and membership using a membership statement on coffee packs. The membership statement does not refer to the quality or quantity of roasted coffee inside but is a means for 4C Industry Members to emphasize their support of the 4C Sustainability Approach. Except on coffee packs, the logo of the 4C Association may be used widely in publications, websites, brochures etc.

    4C Units - The suppliers of 4C Compliant Coffee

    The 4C Association believes that sustainability is not in the hands of coffee farmers alone - all actors along the chain need to join forces to make sustainability happen. Therefore, 4C Verification is performed at the 4C Unit level and a 4C Unit may be established at any stage of the coffee chain, from producer / producers' groups to roaster level. 4C Units have to be located in producing countries. The managing entity of the 4C Unit assumes responsibility and coordinates the implementation of 4C with its individual suppliers. This mechanism actually allows the 4C Association to also address and include the manifold unorganised smallholders who would otherwise not have access to the market for sustainable coffee.
    The suppliers of 4C Compliant coffee

    4C Verification - the backbone of credibility for the 4C system

    In the 4C system, 4C Verification checks compliance against the baseline standard of 4C, consisting of 28 parameters that represent a mix of environmental, social and economic considerations. All defined 10 Unacceptable Practices must be excluded and at least a minimum level of compliance (called 'average yellow') is required within each dimension of sustainability to successfully pass verification. All 4C Verification is conducted by independent third party verification or certification organizations that have successfully participated in 4C Verifier Training and are accredited to ISO/Guide 65.

    4C and other standards - benchmarking benefits the coffee industry

    Being designed as a baseline standard for the mainstream sector, and therefore complementary to more demanding standards, the 4C Association aims at benchmarking with other standards in order to reduce the burden of multiple certification/verification for producers, whilst also directing its support services to those producers that are not certified.

    The first benchmarking was achieved with the Rainforest Alliance in mid-2008. The 4C Code of Conduct being a baseline standard, benchmarking with the Rainforest Alliance's Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) standard is non-reciprocal. This means that holders of the Rainforest Alliance Certificate may apply for a 4C License without additional costs or verification procedures, whereas 4C License holders need to step up to SAN standards in order to become Rainforest Alliance certified. Being 4C Compliant of course makes it easier for such growers to make the move upwards. As a result of the 2008 benchmarking exercise, 4C members holding Rainforest Alliance certification are now being offered an additional marketing window since they can sell any surplus production as 4C Compliant Coffee.

    4C Association at a glance
    - for more information visit www.4c-coffeeassociation.org.

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