Compliance with the criteria of CmiA standards by cotton farmers, cotton companies, and the gins is regularly verified. CmiA commissions independent and qualified organizations to conduct the verification. This ensures that the initiative's value proposition of helping smallholder farmers and their families in Africa to achieve better living conditions is observed. Regularly scheduled verification of the Cotton made in Africa standards ensure that the exclusion criteria are adhered to, and reviews the continuous improvement in compliance with CmiA sustainability requirements. This ensures that cotton companies and cotton farmers change their processes in terms of sustainable production for people and the environment fundamentally and sustainably. You can find more information about e.g. the verification process or governance down below or here.
The Verification System: Ensuring Transparency
The CmiA standards, their criteria, and the generic verification system to monitor the standards were designed by experts involving all key stakeholders in the Cotton made in Africa initiative. These include the African cotton companies as well as social, environmental and development cooperation institutions, such as the NABU, Welthungerhilfe, or World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF), Wageningen University in the Netherlands, and the auditing firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). The verification system is subject to regular review and further development by a Technical Advisory Board composed of experts from NGOs, the industry, and cotton producers.
The Verification Process: Periodic Review of Regulations by Independant Bodies
CmiA standards are checked as part of the verification process beginning with the cotton companies who wish to offer cotton in compliance with the CmiA criteria. At the beginning of the cooperation, these companies must submit a self-assessment of compliance with the CmiA criteria. This self-assessment is rounded out with inspections by independent verifiers, EcoCert and AfriCert. They check whether the cotton companies and smallholder farmers who produce cotton in Cotton made in Africa quality comply with the criteria. This also includes random interviews conducted with farmers and inspections in the fields. Verification consists of two separate steps. The cotton company's field activities and the smallholder farmers under contract with them as well as the cotton company's gin are inspected. First, the independent experts must verify that all exclusion criteria have been met. In addition, at least 50 percent of the sustainability criteria need to be rated yellow or green according to the traffic light system for verification. Only then has a cotton company successfully completed the entire verification cycle and is allowed to use the Cotton made in Africa label.
Ongoing Verification: Support for Continuous Improvement
If the verification has been successfully completed, the cotton company is required to submit an annual self-assessment, in which they provide information about the extent to which they continue to meet the criteria of CmiA standards. The self-assessment is in turn verified every two years by the independent verification company, Ecocert or Africert. It checks whether the exclusion criteria have been complied with and whether compliance with the sustainability criteria has continued to improve over time (e.g. from the traffic light color yellow to green).
In order to better implement the set sustainability goals, the cotton company develops a management plan with the verifiers. This plan determines which progress is to be achieved in what way till the next verification cycle and the type of support Cotton made in Africa provides, such as in the form of training. The management plan serves as the basis for the aggregated verification report that is made publicly available and is prepared once a year by the Aid by Trade Foundation. It provides information on the results of previous verifications and serves as a reference for monitoring future verifications.
Non-compliance with the CmiA standards: exclusion from the CmiA system
If the CmiA exclusion criteria are not met, less than 50% of the sustainability criteria in the traffic light system are rated green or yellow, and/or no improvements in implementing at least one sustainability criterion between two successive verifications can be repeatedly shown, the cotton company and the cotton farmers are excluded from the program. They are not allowed to trade cotton under the CmiA license.
The aim of Cotton made in Africa is to give as many smallholder farmers as possible the opportunity to grow cotton sustainably, and feed their families with the income from cotton cultivation. For this reason, Cotton made in Africa takes a problem-solving approach and tries to find solutions for the reasons of exclusion together with smallholder farmers, the verifiers, and cotton companies. In cases of discrepancy, a committee composed of the AbTF Management Board and the Technical Advisory Board convenes to solve the problem and discuss any issues. If the cotton company can provide proof that the problems that have led to their exclusion have been solved, the cotton company can again qualify for the CmiA system after one year through a so-called follow-up verification. Cotton made in Africa supports smallholder farmers through training in which they successively learn to adapt and continuously improve their farming methods to a sustainable social, ecological, and economic basis in accordance with the Cotton made in Africa standards.
Monitoring the Verification System: Two-way Consulting and Review
According to the CmiA verification system, verification and compliance with standards are based on reviews by the independent, qualified companies Africert, EcoCert and Controlunion. In addition, the following verification governance ensures the reliability of the standards:
The highest decision-making body in the verification system of the CmiA standards is the Board of Trustees of the Aid by Trade Foundation, carrier of the Cotton made in Africa initiative. The AbTF Board of Trustees, comprised of elected representatives from non-governmental organizations, the industry, and the public sector, serves as the final arbiter in disputes and oversees the verification system of the CmiA standards.
The Technical Advisory Board, made up of experts from NGOs, cotton companies, producers, companies, and the public sector, advises the AbTF Management Board and Verification Management. An important part of its tasks is to amend and comment on the CmiA standards and its criteria.
Cotton companies together with smallholder farmers as well as gin workers they work with form the so-called "CmiA Unit". A "Managing Entity", usually a cotton company, is responsible for ensuring that the CmiA Unit complies with the CmiA standard criteria. At the "Managing Entity" level, data are collectively recorded and reviewed, making the verification more efficient. This includes data relating to the delivery of pesticides or payment of farmers.