4C’s Statement on Public Eye’s Report “Instant Sustainability”

June 21, 2024

At 4C, we value constructive criticism as it helps us to continuously improve our systems and practices. A recent report by Public Eye raised concerns about our certification standards and their enforcement. We appreciate the opportunity to address these points and provide clarity on our certification system and our ongoing efforts to enhance sustainability in the coffee industry.

Outdated and Incorrect Information in the Report:

Study Data:

  • The report references a study based on data collected between 2008 and 2015. This data is outdated and does not reflect the current state of the 4C certification system.
  • Since the discontinuation of the 4C Association in 2016, 4C Services has made significant revisions, including a new Code of Conduct in 2020 and several system updates, to strengthen our certification requirements and processes.

Audit Processes and Transparency:

  • 4C works on continuously improving auditing quality and processes as well as transparency. While the report claims that audits are “relaxed”, 4C audits are thorough and transparent with strict guidelines and procedures to ensure impartiality.
  • 4C differentiates between regular audits and integrity audits, with clear and transparent procedures in place to ensure impartiality and prevent fraudulent practices. Unannounced audits, known as unscheduled or ad hoc audits (ISO 19011), are conducted in exceptional cases to maintain integrity.
  • While we do not publicly disclose individual farms due to data protection agreements, our Managing Entities, who hold the certificates, are listed on our website.
  • Traceability and physical segregation of 4C certified coffee is a crucial requirement at every stage of the coffee supply chain, from the farm to the roaster.
  • Managing Entities must establish and maintain a robust and comprehensive internal management system. This system is thoroughly inspected during audits to ensure compliance.
  • Internal processes and bookkeeping are audited to verify the traceability of coffee flow within the 4C Unit. All records must be detailed and plausible. The structure of the 4C Unit and details about the farmers must be shared with 4C and auditors. Any changes in the composition of the unit must be promptly updated and communicated.

Strength of the 4C Standard:

  • Contrary to the report’s assertions, the 4C standard is not a low-level standard. Our certification requirements are stringent and have become more comprehensive in recent years.
  • Since 2020, 4C has implemented a new Code of Conduct and several system updates, making our standards stricter.
  • 4C is a robust standard that follows international conventions on human rights and workers’ rights (ILO) and environmental protection.
  • While compliance with local laws and regulations is a precondition, the 4C certification goes beyond statutory requirements.
  • As the International Trade Centre Standards Map shows, 4C’s requirements are as or even more stringent than other third-party certifications operating within coffee.

Development of 4C and Multistakeholder Approach

  • The Common Code for the Coffee Community (4C) was created through a participatory, extensive, transparent and balanced consultation with coffee stakeholders worldwide, and was first owned and operationalized by the former 4C Association. The first initiative was led by the German Coffee Association (DKV) and German International Development Agency (GIZ) (GTZ in 2004) on behalf of the German Ministry for Economic Co-operation and Development. Representatives of producing countries, trade and industry as well as civil society were involved in the formulation of this Code.
  • The Global Coffee Platform (GCP) Coffee Sustainability Reference Code was initially developed based on the 4C code. However, both standards have evolved independently since 2016. The Equivalence Mechanism, Coffee SR Code, and GCP Collective Reporting on Sustainable Coffee Purchases were created by GCP to establish a sector-wide understanding of the foundations for coffee sustainability.
  • These initiatives aim to provide a baseline for sustainability practices in the coffee industry. However, it is important to note that the current 4C standard significantly exceeds these baseline requirements.
  • It is important to note that 4C is recognized in the category of third-party assurance under the Equivalence Mechanism 2.0. Only third-party certifications are recognized under this code. It is important to differentiate this from second-party schemes mentioned in the report, which are recognized in a separate category by GCP.

Farmer and Worker Benefits:

  • Regarding the report’s claims about the benefits to farmers and workers, 4C provides comprehensive sustainability requirements covering economic, social, and environmental dimensions. Creating a positive impact for coffee farmers is at the forefront of 4C’s mission. Our continuous development efforts aim to provide both short- and long-term benefits.
  • 4C certification provides farmers and workers with awareness-raising, capacity building and technical assistance, aimed at improving working conditions and sustainability practices on farms.
  • Adhering to 4C requirements helps farmers and their communities reduce pesticide use and correctly manage wastewater, leading to significant health benefits.
  • Implementing 4C standards enhances resilience to climate change, ensuring that farming practices are sustainable and adaptable to changing environmental conditions.
  • By adopting good agricultural practices promoted by 4C, farmers can achieve higher yields, improving their economic stability and productivity.
  • 4C certification enhances market access for farmers, particularly considering increasingly stringent due diligence regulations such as the European Union Regulation on Deforestation-Free Products (EUDR). 4C appreciates these due diligence regulations and supports their implementation.
  • 4C applies a continuous improvement model for minor non-compliances, allowing farmers to enhance their practices. Managing Entities support the compliance, reducing the burden on individual farmers.

In summary, contrary to the statements from the report, 4C is not an entry level standard. Our certification requirements are stringent and have become more comprehensive in recent years. As an ISEAL Community Member, 4C ensures that our practices are aligned with global benchmarks for sustainability. We remain committed to ensuring that our certification is robust and accessible, with requirements that benefit farmers and promote sustainable practices.

4C is dedicated to continuous improvement and upholding the highest standards of sustainability in the coffee industry. We welcome ongoing dialogue and collaboration with all stakeholders to further enhance the effectiveness of our certification system.

For more information on our standards and practices, please contact us directly.