Underlying the UTZ certification is a strict system of audits that ensure the requirements of the UTZ standard are upheld. While many of our partners know about the third-party certification bodies who check up on UTZ farmers and companies, there is also another way we make sure the standard is being followed. This safeguard is called the internal management system (IMS). We caught up with Wim Spieringhs, training and learning officer at UTZ, to talk about the IMS and how it all works.
How audits work
Farmers are audited every year, and certified companies in the UTZ supply chain are audited every one to three years depending on their previous performance. Audits are carried out by independent, accredited auditing companies known as Certification Bodies.
Why we need an IMS
“During an audit, the auditor is not physically able to visit every farm in a farmer group or estate. Instead, they choose a sample of the group members (the square root of the total) to physically audit,” Wim explains. “This is why the IMS is so vital. They are the ones checking up on all of the farms year-round.”
Who makes up the IMS
The IMS is led by a team of people within the farmer group. These people are responsible for monitoring the farms and helping them remain compliant with the UTZ Code of Conduct. The team consists of internal inspectors, collection agents, technical and financial advisors and others who perform (unannounced) internal inspections at all farms within a farmer group and make farmers aware of all of the requirements and rules of the standard.
“During an inspection, IMS auditors will ask farmers many questions covering every aspect of the standard,” Wim says. “Things like the size of their farm, production and sales numbers, if workers are hired, what they are paying them, etc. They will then cross-check this information with workers to make sure it is accurate. The IMS inspector will also conduct further checks on the transportation, housing and diet of workers if applicable and environmental questions such as how much water they use, how they are fertilizing their crops, the varieties they plant and more.”
The IMS in action
Based on the results of the internal inspections, the IMS team creates a self-assessment and three-year management plan for each individual farm. In-between audits, farmers use these tools to evaluate if they are in line with the rules and to identify any areas for improvement. Before the yearly audit, the IMS team sends each farm’s self-assessment to the Certification Body. “This is an important part of the process,” Wim says. “Because the external auditor will then use this information to create a risk-assessment for the farmer group and choose which farms to visit based on the overall risks he identifies within the group. It’s very important that these risks are representative of the whole so that the audit is an accurate reflection of what’s actually happening in the group.”
Designed so that nothing falls through the cracks
The IMS and the IMS team are essential to the UTZ assurance model. “These are the people who get to know the farmers, help them with any questions they may have and are on the ground to sense when something is off and perhaps a standard or requirement is not being followed,” Wim explains. “At its core, the IMS system is designed to help farmers improve their practices where needed and to provide them with reliable information on how to choose the best agricultural practices that fit their social and technical situation. Small steps that ultimately bring us closer to a more sustainable product and world.”