About · Our Impact

Impact and Continuous Improvement

4C in numbers

As of 31 December 2020, 194 producing groups were 4C certified encompassing more than 300,000 coffee producers in 20 countries around the world.

Over 90% of 4C coffee producers are smallholders, meaning producers whose workforce consists primarily of family and whose coffee farm is normally not larger than 5 ha (see 4C Glossary for the full definition). Total green coffee production amounted to 26,7 million bags (60 kg) on nearly 850 thousand ha of the farm area. In 2020, reported purchases of 4C certified coffee reached their historical height. We are very pleased to see the growth in demand for sustainable coffee, as well as the trust in the credibility and reliability of the 4C standard, and anticipate this trend to continue in 2021.

Map of 4C certified producer groups

Production of 4C certified coffee – Top 7 countries

4C certified production of Arabica and Robusta

Purchases of 4C certified coffee over time

Smallholders in the 4C certification

Countries with the largest number of 4C certified producers per continent

Africa and Latin America

Asia and Oceania

Female/male producer proportion in top countries with the largest number of 4C certified producers

Trainings and events

With the purpose of capacity building of 4C System users and informing them about any changes to the 4C System, 4C regularly offers 4C trainings.

In 2020, 4C offered several introductory seminars, reflecting the main changes in the 4C System, in particular connected to the revision of the critical system documents in July 2020. 4C further developed and conducted online modular three-day trainings, available in English, Spanish, Portuguese and Vietnamese languages. In total, 123 participants joined these trainings which entailed a crucial update on the latest revision of the 4C Code of Conduct and guided the participants through the certification process, ensuring better understanding and implementation of the new audit requirements and procedures. The trainings also covered an increasingly important chain of custody certification. 4C trainings are an important prerequisite for auditors before they may conduct a 4C audit.

In addition to the technical trainings, we also organized a series of bi-weekly virtual seminars to support the dialogue and bring together the coffee and sustainability communities, despite the difficult situation, caused by the COVID 19 outbreak. Nearly 400 people participated and provided their positive feedback, looking forward to the continuation of the series in 2021. To download the materials from the previous events and register for the upcoming sessions, please click here.

4C audits

During 2020, Certification Bodies cooperating with 4C conducted 110 audits for 4C Units to certify compliance with the 4C Code of Conduct, whereas the remaining 4C Units have been evaluated based on their Annual Updates.

57 individual auditors were involved in the team of auditors checking and recording the compliance of coffee producers and service providers or evaluating reports fulfilling the four-eyes-principle of certification. Around two-thirds of the audits were initial (29) or recertifications (36), meaning the complete audit checklist is applied and a new 4C certificate is issued as a result. The remaining 45 audits had a limited scope and confirmed the validity of a previously issued certificate.

Breaking down the total amount of audits by country, including follow-up audits and addendum audits, the vast majority was conducted in Vietnam (53), followed by Indonesia (16), Brazil (8),  Mexico (7) and Ivory Coast (5).

Types of certification under 4C

Certification audit

  • Certification audits are the basis to issue a 4C certificate. Certification audits must be conducted during harvest season and need to take place on-site at least every three years.
  • The first audit of a coffee producer group entering the 4C System is called the “initial” audit. A positive decision results in a 4C certificate with a validity of three years and includes the requirement of two annual updates in form of a desk-audit.
  • Subsequent audits with increased requirements are called “recertification” audits. Again, a positive decision results in a 4C certificate with a validity of three more years and includes the requirement of two annual updates in form of a desk-audit.


  • Surveillance audits can be required by the CB or 4C to verify compliance with the 4C requirements during the validity period of a certificate issued by the respective CB. Surveillance audits may focus only on the implementation of specific aspects of 4C requirements and can be either on-site or desk-audit, depending on the means required to fully check compliance with the relevant 4C requirements.


  • In case the management of a producer group wants to include more producers or processors in a 4C Unit, an addendum audit can be conducted which has a limited scope in terms of sampling only the newly included business partners of a 4C Unit. The original validity period of the respective certificate remains the same.


  • 4C may initiate additional audits planned randomly or on a risk basis after risk evaluations to fulfilling its oversight role and maintain the integrity of the 4C System. These audits are conducted by 4C auditors and are used to verify compliance of the 4C System users with the 4C Code of Conduct and/or confirm correct auditing practices by certification bodies and auditors.

Continuous Improvement

Under continuous improvement, 4C understands increasing the implementation of sustainable agricultural and social practices over time. This is one of the main pillars of the 4C certification system.

In order to allow for a continuous improvement among the 4C Unit’s coffee producers and service providers, Improvement Plans need to be set up by the Managing Entity. The Improvement Plans address areas for improvement which have been identified during internal self-assessments and the certification audit and which need to be worked on within the three-year validity period of a 4C certificate. The progress of the improvements made is monitored by 4C on an annual basis via the Annual Updates and may be subject to a surveillance audit.

Below is a summary of the areas for improvement identified most frequently for the Asian and Latin American regions in 2020. A relatively small number of 4C audits conducted in the African region during 2020 does not allow for a representative summary.

Important: Improvement areas and actions are identified with the goal of achieving impact through improved agricultural practices over time – in all three dimensions and the Internal Management System. 4C certified coffee is considered sustainable from the moment of certificate issuance and is based on compliance with the 4C Code of Conduct. The implementation of these improvements is meant to further advance sustainable agricultural practices, is monitored annually and is required for recertification.


For the total of 45 initial and recertification audits in Asia, identified areas for improvements have been recorded in the economic dimension mainly for principles 1.1 (Business Management)  and 1.4 (Traceability) in 16% and 20% of the concluded audits respectively. 13% of audited Units need to implement actions regarding principle 2.2 of the social dimension, which covers the issues of working conditions: labor contracts, working hours and occupational health and safety measurements. Considering the environmental dimension, improvements with regard to principles 3.2 and 3.3 are recorded most frequently (13%).

The majority of Asian 4C Units being certified are already on a very positive trajectory to potential recertification at the end of their current certificate validity period.

Latin America

Summarizing the audits in Latin America, a different situation than in Asia can be observed. Overall a much higher amount of actions for improvements is recorded. For 41% of the conducted audits, actions related to principles 1.1 (Business Management) and 1.4 (Traceability) are defined. As for the social dimension, for 5 and 6 out of the 17 audited 4C Units, improvements have to be implemented regarding principles 2.1 and 2.2 before the next compliance level can be reached and recertified at the end of the current certificate validity period. Nearly half (47%) of the Units have actions defined concerning principle 3.1 (protection of biodiversity and high carbon stock areas).

4C continues to be a robust certification system, proven by the increasing interest of roasters to source sustainable coffee and choosing 4C. With 4C certified producer groups they can count on reliable partners to achieve their goals. A vital part of the system is the inclusive approach, which enables coffee producers to enter certification while actively encouraging the implementation of better and more sustainable agricultural practices. This ensures the long-term viability of growing coffee.

We always pursue to further strengthen the credibility of the 4C System by listening to feedback by system users and stakeholders. If you would like to leave your feedback or report a violation of the 4C System, please use our stakeholder feedback form.

Further Information – Downloads and Links: