Strengthening sustainability in sugarcane with Bonsucro’s new Production Standard

17th January 2022

Today, Bonsucro has published the revised Production Standard with new requirements to address critical global risks such as greenhouse gas emissions, water, biodiversity, and respect for workers’ rights in the sugarcane sector.

The Bonsucro Production Standard is the most globally recognised framework for sustainable sugarcane production. It is a comprehensive, metric tool that enables farmers and millers to improve and certify their practices as sustainable – and offers buyers assurance when sourcing sugarcane and its derivatives.

Our impact report demonstrates that Bonsucro certified sugarcane producers consistently reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and water use, and create safer working environments both on farms and at mills.

Why did we revise the Standard?

Continuous improvement is core to our strategy and, in line with the ISEAL Codes of Good Practice, we update our Standards every five years. This thorough revision ensures it meets current social and environmental challenges, as well as expected challenges in the future. The new Standard is available today but will come into force from September 2022.

How did we revise the Standard?

The Standard revision process was led by a working group with 20 members with a variety of expertise.

Bonsucro’s Technical Advisory Board laid out a clear scope for the Standard revision which was informed by a pre-consultation survey. Areas included in the scope were:

  • Climate change resilience: water stewardship and zero deforestation
  • Working conditions: forced labour, living conditions, and living wage

In addition, the secretariat asked the Working Group to:

  • Look at the application of the Bonsucro Standard outside of the unit of certification
  • Align as much as possible with the other Bonsucro Standards, introducing a principle on management systems
  • Take into consideration issues logged by the secretariat arising from the implementation of the current standard

During the revision process, we held two successful public consultations on the draft changes so that our membership could have their say.

Changes to the Standard – climate change resilience

Historically, the Production Standard has informed best agricultural practices in sugarcane. Certification data demonstrates that certified mills reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 5.5% after just one year of certification. The new Standard builds on this success and has strengthened its greenhouse gas calculation methodology, which will reveal where emissions are highest and enable producers to take action to reduce them.

The previously required environmental impact management plan has now been split into separate indicators on soil management, water management, agrochemical management, and biodiversity management. Producers can then use the data gathered to shape environmental stewardship plans.

As sugarcane is grown in countries with significantly different climatic environments, producers will now be asked to consider local conditions, such as the level of rainfall, when assessing irrigation productivity. To develop the indicators on water use efficiency, we partnered with leading experts such as the Alliance for Water Stewardship and WWF.

The previous Standard had a zero-deforestation policy for legally protected forests. During the revision, we strengthened our stance on deforestation with a new indicator stating no land included in certification can be converted from a natural ecosystem into farmland – for either sugarcane or other crops.

Changes to the Standard – working conditions

 The Production Standard has always required the lowest paid workers to earn the national minimum wage, and on average, certified farms pay 19% above national minimum. The new Standard goes further – operators now must track existing wages against a bespoke living wage matrix. Gathered data will reveal the gap between actual wages and the living wage.

Workers in sugarcane fields can face harsh climatic conditions which can lead to health problems and even death. To address that risk, the Standard reinforces our work with the Adelante Initiative that focuses on the need for farmers to protect the health of their workers. To manage heat stress, workers must have sufficient rest, shade, safe water, and adequate sanitation in the field.

Within the Production Standard, we operate a no gender discrimination policy. However, sugarcane operations and field work are dominated by men. We are directly addressing the gender imbalance with a new indicator requiring at least 15% of the management and skilled positions to be appointed to women.

We have also strengthened our position on human rights, including living and working conditions, by aligning to the International Labor Organization Conventions. In addition, we are asking operators to consider their workers’ mental health in their health and safety management plans.

 

Danielle Morley, CEO of Bonsucro said, “Our new Production Standard builds on ten years of success and learning. We have adapted it to address some of the most pressing sustainability issues such as deforestation, water use and living wage. I’m proud of the changes we’ve made to the Standard and confident it will drive notable positive impact in sugarcane production.”

 

What next?

The new Production Standard is available today but will only come into force in September 2022. We encourage all members to visit the Production Standard page of our website and download the documents to understand the changes. The documents are available in English, Spanish, and Portuguese. A full and comprehensive training programme will be launched later this year.

We are also running a series of webinars to share more information on the new Production Standard – how it was developed, an overview of the changes, information on the transition period and next steps.

Sign up:

EU and North America (English) –  25 January – 10:00-12:00 EDT

Mexico and Central America (Spanish) – 26 January – 10:00-12:00 Mexico

Africa and Middle East (English) – 27 January – 13:00-15:00 SAST

South America (Spanish) – 27 January – 12:00-14:00 Argentina

Brazil (Portuguese) – 28 January – 12:00-14:00 BRT

Asia Pacific (English) – 31 January – 14:00-16:00 SGT

 

If you have any questions about the new Production Standard, email standards@bonsucro.com