The 4C Association: Promoter of a Fair Coffee Trade

The 4C Association: Promoter of a Fair Coffee Trade

The 4C Association unites over ten percent of the world’s coffee producers. The establishment and the related publication of a code of conduct was supported by prominent bodies such as the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. The main objective of the initiative is to promote organic farming and create fair trade.

The 4C Association

The organization was founded in 2006 and is based in Geneva . The 4C Association is a non-profit organization that focuses on the coffee market. The declared aim of the association is the improvement of working conditions and environmental standards for the coffee mass market, written down in the “Common Code for the Coffee Community Code of Conduct”, which is bindingly recognized by all members.

The association originally emerged from the “Common Code for the Coffee Community” initiative, which was founded in 2002. The members come from a wide variety of industries – including coffee producers and representatives from the coffee trade and the coffee industry. Members of the 4C Association now supply over ten percent of the world’s coffee. In contrast to other initiatives, the organization does not award any seals of approval, but tries to create basic standards that promote fair trade and ecological development.

The 4C Association and the drafting of the Code were supported by three prominent bodies:

  • the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development
  • the German Coffee Association
  • the German Society for Technical Cooperation

NGOs such as Oxfam and VENRO as well as various trade unions are also involved.

Prominent members

The 4C Association has prominent members: among them are the “Pesticide Action Network”, the “Christian Initiative Romero” and other actors from civil society. The coffee farmers have mainly joined in the form of producer organizations – especially in the states of Guatemala , Kenya , Zambia, El SalvadorBrazil, Vietnam and Colombia and Uganda. Members benefit from various advantages such as verification, support projects for the affiliated farmers and increased transparency in the production chain. You are also authorized to publish the transparent manufacturing process for marketing purposes. Consumers also benefit from higher standards, which are communicated to the outside world by a label on the packaging. To date, the 4C Association has had over 230 members, with a total of 148 members licensed in 19 states. The headquarters of the association is in Bonn – there are branches in Asia, Brazil, Vietnam, Uganda and Africa.

How are the standards guaranteed?

The 4C Association has a traffic light system that is designed to ensure compliance with the standards it has set itself. The three different colors indicate the extent to which the individual members comply with the requirements of the code of conduct. Red expresses that the current practice must be stopped. Yellow indicates that an action needs to be improved within a certain period of time. And the color green indicates that the handling complies with the guidelines. As soon as it becomes apparent that a member does not comply with the requirements, various mechanisms come into force. The 4C Association has developed an action plan that will be implemented in such a situation.

Furthermore, the organization also meets its requirements in a supraregional way. The initiative cooperates with the Rainforest Alliance and various other organizations.

For membership, the average costs are around 2,700 euros per year. This fee is tied to the turnover of the respective member – whoever earns more has to pay more. The system is designed in such a way that coffee farmers pay lower and coffee buyers higher contributions.

Criticism of the 4C Association

The 4C Association is criticized by various environmental and fair trade organizations. The organization FIAN resigned because it claimed that the 4C Association had not positioned itself clearly enough with regard to human rights. Furthermore, control options by civil societies and producers are insufficient. The criticism was countered by obliging trade and industry to buy larger quantities of coffee with 4C certification. In response, the organization supports its coffee farmers with further training courses, which serve to improve cultivation practices and management methods.

Various organizations also criticized the lack of a price guarantee for coffee farmers. Such is the case with other organizations such as the one that publishes the Fair Trade seal. Furthermore, the code of conduct is designed on a voluntary basis, which is viewed critically. The waiver of the use of prohibited pesticides contained therein would not guarantee sustainable coffee production for a long time.

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  • The 4C Association has over 230 members and is active in 19 states.
  • Compliance with the code of conduct is strictly monitored and continuously regulated by a traffic light system.