All in for auditing harmony

Posted On 28 Jan 2007
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Juan Carlos Isaza, Florverde: “All organizations involved in developing a code of practice have the final goal to address consumer and citizen matters of concern and promote sustainable and fair practice in all social and environmental aspects. As FCI's article highlighted, the existence of various certification schemes or codes of practice has historical reasons. This being said, the increase in the number of codes of practice has increased the pressure on the growers and created confusion among the traders and consumers. A handful of flower farms, worldwide, now have five accreditations or more: their national label, MPS (which stands for Milieu Programma Sierteelt), Flower Label Program (FLP) for Germany, Max Havelaar-Fairtrade Labeling Organization (FLO), Ethical Trade Initiative (ETI) and EUREPGAP for the British market. Because each scheme has its own auditing procedures and documentation requirements, this represents a high investment in time, paper work and auditing costs. Regrouping different initiatives under a single consumer label like Fair Flowers Fair Plants (FFP) is a good step forward. Under this common umbrella, the specificities of each existing scheme should be recognized, provided they meet the minimum standards defined by FFP. I am especially referring to national codes of practice, whose goals and achievements go far beyond a country promotion campaign.

“For a trade association like Asocoflores, the Florverde program is, above all, a development tool, strongly contributing to the structuring of the industry. Thanks to this scheme, the Colombian industry as a whole has been carried along by a vision to improve both practice and performance. Our requirements go much beyond most existing schemes. The benchmarking of practice, implemented by Florverde through comparison and advisory services, has been a strong factor in the improvements. By collating data on our members, we are now in a position to demonstrate the economic weight of our industry in terms of employment, welfare, health and recreational achievements etc.. This definitely makes our industry stronger, both internally and on international markets. These efforts and benefits justify the legitimacy of national schemes, like Florverde, as development tools and should be recognized and supported as such.”


Similar view, emphasis economics
Roberto Nevado, FlorEcuador: “We are all very happy with the improvements achieved thanks to codes of practice and the fact that now we can demonstrate sustainable ways of producing flowers. But, all these efforts require time and money. The main threat, I see, is that there is so far no market recognition for these efforts. The market requests them, but do not pay for the efforts made by the farms. A fair production should receive a fair price.

“Another form of return for the farms could also be the added-value, which can be introduced through the certification scheme. Here, promotion to the market can be considered, as well as easy implementation, advice to the farms and an acceptable cost. Only the fair trade codes of practice incorporate in their price a premium that goes back to the workers and the farms. I see the high costs of certification as a major threat in an increasingly competitive market. Every new 'added-value' should be rewarded. The problem is that ethical improvements are not considered as visible, added-value to the product, with no subsequent return in price. FFP is a good initiative from Union Fleurs and is the right place to discuss these concerns and challenges.

“FlorEcuador has already applied for benchmarking under FFP and I am confident that the benchmarking procedures will soon be in operation to allow FFP to reach its goal to federate all good schemes, which are up to the standards. A good label should promote professional farms and cover all items and not only ethics and environment. What makes our companies good suppliers on the market is not only our sustainable way of production, but also our quality, consistency of supply and reliability. To this end, why not incorporate issues like quality management or GAP, already requested by most European retailers in our consumer label? Talking about ethical trade, FFP should also cover compliance with breeder's rights, which is part of fair business. Then we will be able to promote top class suppliers, in a position to demonstrate sustainable practice, good quality products, compliance to rules and reliability. This progress would reward the efforts of good professionals, who work hard doing a good job, while taking care of their workers and the environment. Furthermore, this would avoid some eco-qualified, unreliable farms to discredit fair certifications by lack of quality and consistency. Some schemes, like Max Havelaar or Veriflora in the US, consider professionalism as one of their criteria.

“Finally, in addition to defining common basic criteria, benchmarking would also allow identification and incorporation of the best components of each accredited scheme, which would thus 'feed' and constantly improve the FFP requirements. Via this platform, opinion leaders in the industry would find it much easier to multiply up the number of flower farms taking good care of our people and our environment. The consumer is aware of higher costs incurred by sustainable production. If we look at the development of organic production, they are ready to pay a higher price for organically grown vegetables; why not a rose grown in a sustainable manner?"


Driving the point home
Rod Evans, Kenya Flower Council: “We in the southern hemisphere are  becoming submerged in audits many of which are duplications. It is our considered opinion that many of the audit bodies are self perpetuating and fail to add value. Our concern is that they simply provide employment and finance to their commercial enterprises based in the northern hemisphere.

“The Kenya Flower Council  developed a code of practice in 1996 and has currently launched its seventh edition. The audits are carried out by  professionally qualified indigenous auditors (including participatory social audits). The code embraces not only chemical usage but  includes social and an environmental chapters. The Kenya Flower Council CoP has been benchmarked against EUREPGAP, providing international recognition for the standards achieved. Added to which the council is in dialogue with the FLP with a view to a cooperation agreement between the two bodies culminating in joint audits. Currently, all the members of FLP in Kenya are also members of the Kenya Flower Council.

“These national codes not only embrace the international concerns but more importantly addresses the national legislation, which many of the international CoP’s fail to take into consideration. National Codes of Practice like the Kenya Flower Council are not looking to become international accreditation bodies with a world wide agenda. They  are simply  looking for  equivalence and mutual recognition of the separate codes. In this way the southern hemisphere flower farmers would only have to undergo an audit once every six months in order to ensure compliance. This single audit would embrace all the requirements of both  local legislation and the international bodies.

“As already mentioned, the Kenya Flower Council code has been benchmarked against EUREPGAP and has also been recognized by Blue Chip British Supermarkets. We therefore ask the question, ‘Why no recognition from the northern hemisphere certification bodies?’ For the southern hemisphere producers, harmonization is essential as it would not only  maintain international standards but, it would also ensure that growers in the sovereign states where the products are grown comply with local legislation. This in turn would reduce costs and eliminate the  duplication.

“As it stands  today some farms have over twelve external audits a year; add to this the internal, customer and government audits and it is becoming a serious financial and physical burden. This sector of agriculture is possibly the most regulated industry in the world. Some sanity needs to prevail in the very near future, otherwise companies and jobs may be at risk as the costs incurred are becoming inhibitive.”     


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