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Rainforest Alliance deals are worth watching

As anyone following sustainable business, even in passing, knows, ethical certification of increasingly well known commodities by credible outside groups is on the rise.

The most familiar of these are probably cocoa and coffee, with palm oil, soy and perhaps cotton also in the news in recent times.

But many of us also know how controversial the sourcing of some of these commodities is.

For example, much soy comes from Brazil, where farmers have been accused of fostering Amazon deforestation to grow more of it.

Accusations have been levelled at palm oil companies for the same reason, largely in Indonesia. We reported on this last year in Ethical Corporation’s print edition.

And we all know about the rise of Fairtrade coffee around the world. Some large companies, such as Starbucks and Cadbury, are increasingly keen on it. Starbucks have said that all the espresso-based coffee sold in its outlets in the UK and Ireland will be Fairtrade certified by the end of the year.

So certification and the marketing of it is growing. For example,sales of Rainforest Alliance Certified cocoa reached an estimated $4.5 million in 2007 and jumped to an estimated $16.75 million in 2008.

In the recession, though, there is a growing debate about whether ethical products are suffering or not.

This makes the recent move by Mars into Rainforest Alliance certification all the more laudable.

The company says products will not cost more for consumers, despite the added costs of certifying cocoa to RA standards.

This is a brave move for which the company, long known to be secretive and less PR focused than many a multi-national company, deserves congratulation.

It comes not long after another major step forward for the Rainforest Alliance, which has also signed up Unilever for a major deal on tea and McDonald’s on coffee.

RA is increasingly popular with large corporates these days, as the news shows us.

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