What is the first information you expect to see in an ASC farm audit report? You will probably want to know what the farm produces and where the farm is located. Without this basic information, I think any report is frankly useless.
The ASC standards focus on both the environmental and social impact of farming, and farms must show that they actively minimise their impact on the surrounding natural environment. This extends to careful management of fish health and natural resources. Farms also must be a good and conscientious neighbour; that means operating in a socially responsible manner, caring for their employees, engaging and working with the local community and indigenous people for those farms located in areas of importance to them.
You may have noticed that all of the above require accurate location information. It might seem an obvious point to make – of course information about how farms are situated in, and interact with, their location is needed to properly measure a farm’s impact on its local environment. At first glance it might also seem like an easy enough piece of information to provide – after all, the auditor is there, at the location to carry out the audit. But how easy is it to then accurately record this information onto a map? How does an auditor in a remote part of, say, the Mekong Delta in Vietnam, or at a farm in the sea off the coast of Scotland, accurately record where that farm is? It’s not like they’re in the middle of New York and can simply open Google Maps or check a street sign!
A key word analysis of eight of our ASC standard manuals reveals that the word ‘map’ appears 81 times and the word ‘GPS’ appears 12 times. Clearly there is a lot of importance in accurately logging the geographic area of farm activities and impacts.
So how to auditors find out this information? Well, as part of an ASC audit, they should be able to use Geographic Information System (GIS) tools, that can verify GPS coordinates and review of maps. And a knowledge about GIS is one of the prerequisites for the third-party auditors carrying out audits against ASC standards. GIS can support the verification of requirements and can make auditing easier and more effective. But it’s not all simple – the sheer variety of GIS tools can make it hard for auditors to choose the right one for their requirements.
ASC, the Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®) and Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) recently took part in a project led by Accreditation Services International (ASI) to provide auditors more insights on GIS. All of these organisations are members of the ISEAL Alliance – the global membership association for credible sustainable standards – and ISEAL’s Innovations Fund supported the project.
The outcome of the project is a self-starter kit which should make it easy for auditors to pick up GIS. The self-starter kit explains what GIS is, introduces some commonly used GIS software and applications and describes how to use them. It gives practical advice for using GIS in the field and points to publicly available spatial data sources. The kit is based on a series of field tests ASI conducted with auditors around the world, so it is tailored to their needs.
Although ASC is a third-party certification scheme, meaning auditors are completely independent from the organisation and ASC receives no money from the audit process, we work hard to ensure the standards are applied in a consistent and robust way, and this project will play an important part in that work. Transparency is at the heart of our programme, and a key strengths is the data ASC publically provides about certified farms. We are therefore committed to doing all we can to make sure we’re meeting our goals to provide meaningful information—and it all starts with knowing where these farms are!