Having an uninterrupted, valid certificate is a prerequisite for running your business with UTZ smoothly. Annika Gabriel, Standards & Assurance Officer at UTZ, explains who does what in the certification process, and offers tips for ensuring your audit goes without a hitch.

“UTZ doesn’t conduct certification audits to ensure that companies and farmers comply with the rules of certification”, says Annika. “Instead we work with 60 approved independent certification bodies (CBs) worldwide to provide you with choice and flexibility. Working this way offers third-party assurance for our program, and keeps costs low; you have the flexibility to work with any UTZ-approved certification body of your choice, and you can also combine different audits.”

Certification Bodies audit farmers and supply chain actors against the UTZ standardsUTZ and CBs

Annika explains the role of UTZ vs that of the Certification Body: “We train CBs on how to interpret our standards (the Code of Conduct for farmers and the Chain of Custody for the supply chain), and provide guidance on how different requirements can best be checked. The CB carries out your audit, assessing whether or not certification requirements have been fulfilled. The final audit decision is up to them.“

You and your CB

“You are a client of your chosen CB, and have a direct contract with them”, Annika continues. “UTZ is not involved in this process. All agreements, such as the timing of the audit, will be specified in the contract you have signed with your CB. Anything related to timelines that are applicable for both you as well as for your CB are also specified in the certification protocol. If you aren’t happy with the process or outcome of the audit, you must communicate that directly to your CB. If you are not happy with their reaction, you can let us know by using the grievance form. “

Annika’s tips on getting the best out of your audit process:

  1. Managing expectations is key. Consider including a consultation with your CB to discuss specifics of the audit: for example, what kind of documentation is needed to prove a specific control point.
  2. Make sure audits take place well in advance of your certificate expiring. After all non-conformities are closed, and depending on whether all documentation is clear, it takes between 30 and 40 working days (or 1.5-2 calendar months) to issue your new certificate.
  3. UTZ audit_checklist to be filled outYou can request an extension of your current certificate if necessary. An extension can be given for a maximum of four months. An extension can only be requested when the current certificate is still active and a new audit date has been set. Beware: once your certificate has expired, an extension request is no longer possible – it’s vital you apply before this happens.
  4. You can always share your experience with your CB with us via membersupport@utz.org or your account manager. In case of difficulties we will do our best to support you, but please contact us in good time. Once your license expires it’s too late for us to intervene. We can’t promise immediate improvement, but we will always address any issues during training sessions and regular updates with the CB.
  5. Remember you are not bound to one CB; if you are not happy with your certification body, it may be worth looking for another one.

For more info on certification process and CBs, read the certification protocol.