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Certification Complaints, Appeals and Dispute Resolution Policy
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Complaints from stakeholders (e.g., community residents, adjoining landowners, consulting foresters, government officials, or environmental organizations) may arise about or in relation to a Rainforest Alliance certified operation or applicant for certification, validation, or verification before, during or after the initial assessment process. During or before the assessment, such perspectives will be considered during the evaluation process. This policy is provided specifically for challenges relating to Rainforest Alliance-certified operations, whether in the form of complaints, appeals or other disputes, lodged after the final decision-making stage of the evaluation process. In order to be fair to the certified operation, and at the same time give due process and attention to any observation, complaint or other challenge, Rainforest Alliance must have clear policies and protocols regarding the handling of complaints, appeals and disputes and the role of programmed or random audits or inspections of certified operations. This document provides these policies and protocols.
Note: For the processes outlined in this document, the terms "Rainforest Alliance-certified organization" and "certified operation" apply to all organizations evaluated by the Rainforest Alliance's RA-Cert Division (hereafter referred to as Rainforest Alliance) against requirements for the applicable Rainforest Alliance auditing service. The following policies provide important background on Rainforest Alliance auditing procedures and may relate to any challenges relating to Rainforest Alliance-certified operations, whether in the form of complaints, appeals or other disputes:
- Rainforest Alliance reserves the right to conduct random on-site audits (as stipulated in all Rainforest Alliance Certification/Verification Agreements).
- During a formal, random or planned audit, an auditor coordinates visits with the designated contact person at the certified operation, potentially with as little as 24 hours notice, but generally more.
- The designated contact person at the certified operation must be notified of unannounced random site visits prior to actual field inspection of a field operation.
- All discussions about perceived problems encountered during on-site audits will be directed to the designated contact person at the certified operation.
Policies and Procedures
All appeals, complaints and disputes brought before Rainforest Alliance by stakeholders shall be subject to the following procedures. Rainforest Alliance shall keep a record of all appeals, complaints and disputes and remedial actions related to certification; take appropriate subsequent action; and document the action taken and its effectiveness, in each case pursuant to the procedures outlined below. In the event that internal nonconformances related to Rainforest Alliance policies or procedures are identified during the review process, corrective action shall be implemented to address the nonconformance. Nonconformity Reports (NCRs) shall be issued by Quality Personnel, and reviewed during regular annual quality audits or as appropriate.
Note: Following the receipt of a complaint of appeal, Rainforest Alliance shall in no way implement discriminatory action against the appellant.
Lodging of Complaints, Appeals and Disputes: Rainforest Alliance may receive either written or verbal complaints, appeals or disputes. If not lodged in writing, the person contacted at Rainforest Alliance will put the challenge in writing and distribute to the following:
- the RA-Cert Director or, in his/her absence, the RA-Cert Quality Assurance Manager or, in his/her absence, the RA-Cert headquarters (HQ) staff person with responsibility for the region from which the dispute originates;
- the designated task manager for that assessment;
- the designated contact person at the certified operation; and
- the Complaints, Appeals and Disputes file at HQ.
- Written Response: Rainforest Alliance staff or designate will document and respond in writing to all written challenges within 14 days. A formal Complaints Log is saved on the designated drive at HQ by designated staff overseeing the applicable auditing service. Included on the log: date the written complaint is received, certificate/verification registration code (if not certified, status is noted, e.g., "pending"), contact person and organization the complaint is received from, RA staff person or designate responsible for follow-up and date reply to complainant is sent. HQ staff will review verbal challenges. In most cases, if a challenge is not lodged in writing, Rainforest Alliance will not respond.
- Notification of Rainforest Alliance Certified Operation: As per the above, upon receiving and/or documenting a challenge, the designated task manager will send documentation of the challenge to the contact person at the certified operation. This must take place within seven (7) days of receipt of the challenge. If HQ receives the challenge in writing, a copy will be forwarded immediately to the certified company with a copy of these policies and procedures and a cover memo describing actions that will be taken by HQ. Rainforest Alliance will honor the confidentiality of the aggrieved party if requested or, in the judgment of Rainforest Alliance, in cases where divulging his/her name may be politically or personally dangerous. It is important to stress that even if a challenge is not lodged in writing, Rainforest Alliance may contact the certified operation and let them know what has been heard and communicate about the response process. Rainforest Alliance will err on the side of responsiveness. HQ staff will formally keep track of responses to challenges, in writing and in the appropriate HQ file for the certified operation.
- Opportunity for Certified Operation Response: Rainforest Alliance will give the certified operation an initial opportunity to provide its perspective on the issue, e.g., through the operation's own version of the incident, historical background, etc. This may be done in either verbal or written fashion, preferably in writing.
- Initial Rainforest Alliance Response: Rainforest Alliance will provide a written response to the aggrieved party within 14 days from the time that Rainforest Alliance receives a written challenge (with copies to all of the entities listed under paragraph A above). Rainforest Alliance may ask the certified operation to assist in providing such written response. It is a Rainforest Alliance decision whether to seek comment from the certified operation on the draft response or not. Rainforest Alliance may choose to do either. Rainforest Alliance may also choose to contact relevant third parties to clarify the situation. Rainforest Alliance may also need assistance in this regard from the certified operation. Rainforest Alliance will deal with such situations expeditiously and professionally with a priority on fairness to the certified operation and the aggrieved party and protecting the credibility of Rainforest Alliance. Rainforest Alliance believes such accountability is expected in all evaluation services and will respond in a consistent fashion in all situations.
- Follow up Actions: Rainforest Alliance shall keep the aggrieved party, at their request, informed of progress in evaluating the complaint or appeal. Rainforest Alliance shall investigate the allegations of nonconformance and specify any proposed actions in response to the complaint or appeal within three (3) months of the date the complaint or appeal was formally lodged with Rainforest Alliance.
- Independent Dispute Resolution: If the aggrieved party is not satisfied with the Rainforest Alliance response, it may request in writing the opportunity to present its case to an entity that has the duty of seeking the timely resolution of disputes, grievances, complaints or appeals made against Rainforest Alliance, Inc. and is independent of (1) the relevant assessment; (2) the relevant assessment decision; and (3) the day-to-day implementation of the polices of Rainforest Alliance, Inc. An example of such an entity is the Rainforest Alliance Chief of Agriculture. If, after input and actions by such independent entity, there is no resolution, Rainforest Alliance will either ask the aggrieved party to put its continued concerns in writing to the Director of RA-Cert or to the Director of the relevant standard setting body (e.g. Forest Stewardship Council), or HQ may forward all related correspondence to the relevant standard setting body to commence, if appropriate under the program guidelines and procedures, a formal complaint or appeal process.
- Resolution: If resolution is reached during any of the steps outlined above, a memorandum for the record shall be distributed to the contact points listed in paragraph A above, providing final documentation and/or closure.
- Public Certification Summary: Depending on the severity of a complaint, appeal or other dispute, the public summary for a Rainforest Alliance evaluation may include a summary of such challenge and Rainforest Alliance's response.
Note: For the purpose of this policy and associated procedures "Rainforest Alliance and/or RA-Cert" is inclusive of our global partners, NEPCon and IMAFLORA who perform auditing services on behalf of the Rainforest Alliance RA-Cert Division in designated regions.
Rainforest Alliance auditing and certification services are managed and implemented within the RA-Cert Division. All related personnel responsible for audit design, evaluation, and certification/verification/validation decisions are under the purview of the RA-Cert Division, herein referred to as Rainforest Alliance or RA.