Two weeks ago, an audit revealed that a cane farmer attached to the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association was employing irregular practices as it relates to cane delivery. This revelation caused the BSCFA to be suspended by FLO-CERT from Fairtrade. That’s a big deal for BSCFA because if the situation is not remedied in about six months it might lead to decertification. That would translate to millions of dollars loss in funding and would eventually hurt the sugar industry. The BSCFA was given thirty days to present corrective measures and they have wasted no time as those measures have been drafted and sent to Fairtrade for approval. CEO Oscar Alonzo explained.
“We sent those corrective measures yesterday to FLO-CERT, again we cannot go into too many details on it until FLO-CERT confirms that they are accepting the measures and also we propose objective measurements to back up our compliance with these criteria. FLO-CERT also has to confirm whether or not they will accept our evidence or whether they will propose alternative objective measurements so members, farmers, and members of the press we ask you to take us into account with that, we are still in a process in regards to this FLO-CERT audit and certain details we will not be able to provide you but we will give you information to let you know how the process is going and how it is impacting us and what steps we are taking to have the suspension lifted. FLO-CERT has carried out the audit of the three associations, they have to carry it out in accordance with the requirements of the Fair Trade Standards and generally they should audit what is expected of these associations under those FairTrade criteria. However when the other auditor came to do our audit it appears that the focus, because each year there is a different focus that the auditor decides to undertake in order to show that they are looking at the audit. Some years it’s in relation to the environment, some years it’s in relation to the government’s issues one never knows where the auditor will come and do the audit but this year apparently the focus was on a criteria relating to the sale of sugarcane by members and that was part of the focus, there were other areas that she focused on and that was one of the areas she focused on and this is when she had discovered the non compliance.”
The audit revealed that San Estevan Cane farmer, Eloy Escalante was delivering cane that was not his. The audit revealed that Escalante was delivering cane produced by the son of Edmund Castro who had entered into an agreement with Escalante. According to Alonzo, that was the major noncompliance that caused the BSCFA to be suspended.
“What are these non compliances that were encountered ? You have a criteria which states that only products from members are sold as fairtrade and when the auditor came she visited a producer from San Estevan who was renting his land to a person who is not a member of our association and that person was delivering them cane under that producer’s name from San Estevan. So what Fair Trade requires is that all products that are sold under FairTrade come from the members themselves and this was then identified as a major non compliance. Now linked to that are other core criteria and the two other co criteria that was linked to it and it was found that it was also in non compliance was in relation to the fact that the second organization was ensured that the Fair Trade principles are respected also by the member organizations and for products that are not included in the FairTrade certification scope this means that the second organization implements the core FairTrade principles at all member organizations. The core principles are defined as major compliance criteria and the FairTrade FLO-CERT public criteria lists small producer organizations. So the fact that this person was from the branch of San Estevan which is a second grade and a third division then it declared that we are supposed to have ensured that the producer was carrying out and complying with the FairTrade principles and hence having been found that cane was being delivered under his name that was not his it meant therefore that those principles were not being adhered to by the second grade organization. The third criteria that is linked to it is in relation to the criteria for sugar and this criteria states that the products have been produced and source from members before the sale of the FairTrade products so in effect if that cane was being sold to the miller it had to be sourced from a member of the organization that is FairTrade.
According to Alfredo Ortega, the agreement made between the two parties is not illegal.
“What has happened in that situation is that that is an arrangement or agreement being done with that particular registered farmer with that individual person on which they came into that agreement so that person delivered under that name but that person and I T think that this where the little piece of confusion is, what has been done between Mr.Castro and the particular farmer is legal under the industry because they have an administration signed on which Mr.Escalante signed over that administration to Mr.Castor so he legally has that potential to deliver using that name. The situation with this is that there has not been a transfer from that particular name to Mr.Castor’s name that is the situation but legally it is legal because they have that documentation, the board has that documentation, there is a paper in the association of that and that is at the bank that shows Mr.Castro is the administrator of that particular license and he has the authority to do transactions over that delivery that he does.”
This evening BSCFA informed us that Flo-Cert accepted their corrective measures. BSCFA has been given four months to implement the corrective measures. If the association is successful then the suspension will be lifted.