Business innovation | Opinion

Can the new Accountability Framework deliver business value?

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Has the missing piece been found?

A new guidance and verification initiative, backed by leading NGOs, aims to fill the implementation gap for corporate pledges

In 2016, deforestation in the Amazon jumped 29%. Accusations that a group of policymakers are using the chaotic fallout of the impeachment of former Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff to reverse long-standing rainforest protection laws highlights the vulnerability of ongoing global sustainability efforts.

Against this backdrop has been the launch of a new initiative designed to help companies actually deliver on their supply chain commitments – and to take advantage of the value that will stem from their implementation – in the agriculture and forestry sectors.

The Accountability Framework is largely for companies that have already engaged with initiatives such as the New York Declaration on Forests (NYDF), the Consumer Goods Forum or the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020.

Powerful protectors

Richard Donovan, VP of forestry at Rainforest Alliance argues that taken as a whole, these commitments can be a powerful means to help conserve forests and other natural ecosystems and to protect the wellbeing of people and communities in commodity-producing regions. “They can be transformative – but only if truly implemented, on the ground, in farms and forests,” Donovan says.

So, the framework has been devised by a coalition of NGOs (including, alongside RA, Greenpeace, World Resources Institute and WWF) which all recognise that the scale and scope of many corporate promises is not yet matched by a set of effective ways to make change happen.

“Quite often there are few commonly accepted systems for monitoring, verifying and reporting on outcomes or progress, with the quality and transparency that will make them credible,” Donovan says. This, of course, makes it difficult to track and incentivise progress, and in the worst cases potentially facilitate greenwashing or inhibit the ability of companies to effectively manage supply chain risks.

Clarity and guidance

Filling this so-called “implementation gap,” the Accountability Framework aims to give companies the clarity they need to achieve their goals by giving practical guidance for doing things such as supply chain mapping, monitoring, verification and reporting. It also provides common definitions of key terms and concepts related to deforestation, restoration and community rights.

Rather than compete with the hundreds of different initiatives that have gone before, those behind the framework are keen that it complements them by creating more coherent links between the many different ways of monitoring progress, particularly at the more granular level of production units, supply chains, companies, and broader policies and pledges, such the NYDF. “This will help to close the ‘accountability loop’ between high-level pledges and conditions on the ground,” Donovan says.

Not another watchdog

There is a risk that companies will see this as just another watch dog – another useful tool but one which further complicates the picture. It’s early days, but Rainforest Alliance, for one, has said it has already had “very positive response” to the framework from those producing, trading and buying commodities with embedded social and environmental risk.

Hopefully the Accountability Framework will become an example of the private sector and the NGO community proactively engaging to work pre-competitively in offering up a tangible way to help make responsible production and sourcing a reality.

After all, clearer and more consistent guidelines that can be built into both operations and general decision making, building genuine value, are always welcome.

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