Standards in the coffee sector

Certified coffees are commonly defined as those that include the three pillars of sustainability. The concept of sustainability in this realm includes such aspects as ‘economic viability for farmers’, ‘environmental conservation’ and ‘social responsibility’. Certification is the procedure by which an independent third party certification body gives written assurance that the quality of the coffee and the production process has been assessed and conforms to specified requirements.


Independent monitoring and certification are central to the four major coffee production standards: Fairtrade, Organic, Rainforest Alliance and UTZ Certified. Other coffees are sold under sustainability initiatives that are designed by private companies, with or without third-party monitoring and verification. Leading company programmes are the Starbucks' C.A.F.E. Practices and the Nespresso AAA guidelines of Nestlé.


Coffee producers, trade and industry, trade unions and NGOs participated in the development of the 4C Association, formerly known as the Common Code for the Coffee Community Association. The 4C Association distinguishes itself from certified coffee standards through its moderate entry level. It requires producers to exclude ten unacceptable practices and gradually improve their sustainability practices over time. To monitor improvement, the 4C Association relies on a “verification” process. The 4C Verification starts with a self-assessment by farmers. The 4C Association then commissions an independent third party verifier to go to the site and verify the self-assessment. If the verification is positive, producer groups (so called 4C Units) receive a license to sell 4C Compliant Coffee.


Production standards



Rainforest Alliance

UTZ Certified

4C Association


Company standards


Nespresso AAA