Every day, we’re bombarded with new numbers that claim to measure the country’s economic health and financial stability. While this data is useful, no single figure tells the full story. Similarly, the Rainforest Alliance understands that when we assess a farm’s social, environmental and economic performance, we must look beyond the numbers and delve into many different facets of how a business is managed.
Take the prices of products, for example. The certification standard established by the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) — a coalition of nonprofit organizations coordinated by the Rainforest Alliance — has never set minimum prices for bananas, coffee beans or other products cultivated on certified farms.
Prices are certainly important — in fact, Rainforest Alliance Certified™ farms often generate significantly higher prices for their crops. But a system that focuses primarily on pricing misses out on a number of other critical elements that influence whether or not a farmer can lift himself out of poverty. For example, price-based systems depend on the willingness of customers to pay premiums for certified products. But this approach is of little use to farmers who are not lucky enough to have such customers.
Rather than emphasizing price, Rainforest Alliance certification works to improve the entire spectrum of farming practices. A farmer’s success depends on crop quality, productivity and efficiency as well as sales price, which is why we address all four areas. We teach farmers to grow smart, increase their bottom line and conserve their soils and natural resources, all of which empowers them to become better business people and gives them more control over their futures.
A “living wage” is another figure that can be difficult to pin down, as it depends on average regional wages, working conditions and other variables — nonetheless, it’s often used as a means of assessing worker well-being. The SAN standard requires that workers be paid at least the legal minimum wage and receive full rights and benefits. As part of the Rainforest Alliance certification process, SAN auditors collect information about salaries (including non-monetary benefits such as housing and medical care) and ensure that work hours are regulated, overtime is voluntary and compensated, and workers receive health and safety training, among other criteria. The SAN also collaborates with unions and other associations to ensure that workers have a voice in determining their salaries through a fair negotiation process.
Wage figures and prices can help measure progress, but they’re only part of the equation — that’s why Rainforest Alliance certification seeks to address the full spectrum of social, environmental and economic issues tied to poverty.