August 31, 2008


Good Inside

Keywords: Newsletter 

JFS Newsletter No.72 (August 2008)
"Unique NGOs in Japan" Article Series No.11

Creating a Sustainable Coffee Industry through a Certification Program Supported by a Strict Code of Conduct and a Traceability System

Among the world's primary products, coffee beans are the second most traded item after oil in terms of volume. As well as other primary products, coffee prices can be greatly affected by market trends. Most coffee beans are produced in developing countries, where working conditions are often poor. In addition, the distribution chain of coffee beans is not transparent in many aspects.

Taking these situations seriously, in 1997, a coffee roasting company in the Netherlands and coffee producers in Guatemala founded an organization independent from the coffee industry. Since then, "Utz Kapeh," which means "good coffee" in the Mayan language had spent five years developing its Code of Conduct and the traceability system for responsible production and sourcing, with the cooperation of agronomists and people in the industry.

In this way, the first step of the organization's journey was taken to lead the whole coffee industry towards sustainability. In 2002, the organization opened its head office in the Netherlands and entered the coffee market with products from their first certified coffee farm.

In March 2007, Utz Kapeh, which had expanded its coffee certification program globally, changed its name to Good Inside and redesigned its logo. Currently, the organization is rolling out its certification program not only for coffee but also for tea, cacao beans and the traceability system for palm oil, and many other agriculture products.

Five-year-old Good Inside presently has offices in eight coffee-producing countries, including Brazil and Colombia, covering 312 certificate holders. It also has service offices in Japan, Switzerland, and the United States, and operates in 26 consuming countries in partnership with more than 400 buyers. Today, it boasts a globally trusted coffee certification program. We interviewed Miyuki Ortiz Rivera, general manager of Good Inside Japan, about the organization's efforts.

The Three Keywords Guiding Good Inside

Recently in Japan, a series of food company scandals such as product-labeling fraud has shaken people's confidence in food and prompted the public to develop a keen interest in food safety. In this situation, food certification programs provide a certain level of assurance to consumers as to which food products are produced responsibly. At the same time, in order to supply products that meet consumer needs in this way, more food companies and industries are actively starting to participate in certification programs, and producers who join such programs are focusing on responsible production.

Good Inside operates with a motto of three keywords that start with "P": People, Planet, and Profit. "People" stands for the organization's aim to improve the livelihood of the people involved in the coffee distribution chain, from coffee farmers and distributors to consumers. Good Inside's commitment to minimize environmental destruction and to be in harmony with nature is expressed in the second keyword, "Planet," as farming cannot help but involve a certain level of environmental destruction.

The last keyword, "Profit," represents profits for producers and buyers. Producers can sell their products at higher prices. They can also reduce unnecessary costs and labor by participating in the Good Inside certification program, since it provides useful information and trains them to become professional producers. At the same time, buyers, mostly trading companies that stand between producers and consumers, benefit from the program, as they can meet the heightened market needs for responsibly produced foodstuffs distributed through a transparent supply chain. They can also capitalize on the publicity effect, since they will be considered as socially responsible companies by participating in the program.

"In this age when food safety is in ever-higher demand, Good Inside always aims for profit that can be achieved by clearly presenting the process of how products are produced, distributed, and delivered to customers," said Ortiz Rivera.

Traceability -- A Pillar of the Certification Program

Good Inside is not alone in operating a coffee certification program. Fairtrade Labeling Organizations International and the Rainforest Alliance, for example, have their own certification programs for coffee products. What makes Good Inside stand out in the crowd is that it aims at raising the level of the entire coffee industry and that its certification program covers all kinds and grades of coffee beans.

Good Inside deals with a wide range of coffee grades and producing countries; it will certify coffee ranging from premium grade to lower-priced grades, as long as the coffee meets the Good Inside Code of Conduct. Thus, roasters, large and not-so-large, can produce various products using certified coffee beans. "Coffee is an article of taste. Some people like Jamaican coffee, but others do not. I believe that availability of a wider range of origins and grades is a key to further promote and develop our certification program," said Ortiz Rivera.

The main strength of the Good Inside certification program is its unique traceability system. "To secure our certification program, it is essential to make producers understand traceability. To this end, we ask producers to join our training program first, and produce coffee based on our code of conduct by keeping farm records. We audit producers through third-party organizations at least once a year, and without giving advance notice when needed," said Ortiz Rivera.

Producers have to thoroughly manage pesticide use to ensure that coffee contains no residual chemicals, which has been a major concern in Japan. Producers keep chemical-use records that include information like "when, for what purpose, what pesticides are used" and "who is responsible for using the pesticide and how left-over pesticides are stored." These records are disclosed at the request of coffee bean buyers. Since pesticides can harm not only the health of consumers but also the workers who actually handle the pesticides, workers have to wear protective clothing. Producers record whether workers wear protective clothing while using pesticides in the fields, and how many days they did not enter the fields after using pesticides.

"Such record-keeping enables us to issue reliable annual reports with numbers and demand/supply reports for the distribution industry usually twice a year," said Ortiz Rivera.
Annual Reports:
Supply and Demand Update:

New Society, New Relationships Arising from the Certification Program

The code of conduct for farmers is reviewed every two to four years, in order to respond to changing needs and conditions of the world. In 2008 the UTZ Code of Conduct for Coffee version 2006 has been reviewed; all the three pillars, economic, social and environmental points have been under review. As for the environmental criteria they have been reassessed and redefined together with several stakeholders.

Some producers at first feel that it's bothersome to check and record farming procedures in detail to comply with the code of conduct. Good Inside field representatives first hold meetings with the coffee producers to introduce the certification program. The field representatives explain the merits of the program, in order to strike a chord with producers and gain their full support, rather than to force producers to join the program.

"What changes by promoting farming according to the code of conduct? It is the relationship between employers and employees of coffee plantations. No matter how much coffee farmers produced and how much they worked, they could not make a decent living, and thus, hesitated to hand down the job to their children. Such a situation led to deterioration in product quality and proper farm management, which created a vicious cycle. Meanwhile, the founders of this certification program regard people as their most important assets; the founders include in the certification criteria not only a proper work environment but also access to education for the children. Good Inside respects each country's coffee culture; it respects all people and cultures. Such an attitude lets coffee growers know that they are valued, and it gives them motivation, which is then reflected in coffee production and creates a virtuous cycle," said Ortiz Rivera.

Good Inside is currently focusing on attracting consumer interest in the certified coffee while also supporting coffee buyers, in order to promote the marketing of coffee products with the Good Inside logo. For example, Good Inside has provided a lecture on sustainability at universities to introduce its certification program, and plans to hold a symposium for consumers by this year-end.

"The best thing would be a world with no need for a food certification program. But in the case of coffee, such a program was created out of the need, because the lives of most coffee producers were miserable, the distribution system was often complicated and vague, and consumer expectations for coffee quality and safety were not transmitted to producers. I believe it is our mission to promote the certification program to those in the coffee industry, including producers, so that what we are promoting becomes a common practice in our society," said Ortiz Rivera.

(Written by Reiko Aomame)