Through the Impartiality Policy, we aim to ensure impartiality, transparency and independence in all of our activities. This is central to safeguarding the integrity of Preferred by Nature’s decision-making so that stakeholders can have confidence in the integrity of our activities.
The purpose of this policy is to describe how Preferred by Nature ensures independence, impartiality and transparency in all its activities. Our goal is to make unbiased findings and fair decisions. Preferred by Nature strives to avoid situations where a risk to impartiality arises, or a potential conflict of interest becomes real. A conflict of interest occurs when an individual or organisation has multiple interests, one of which could possibly corrupt the motivation in a given activity. Preferred by Nature’s structure and policies have been designed to mitigate potential or avoid actual conflicts of interest, at both individual and organisational levels.
Preferred by Nature has additional policies related to impartiality management such as Anti-Corruption Policy, Whistleblower Policy, Donations Policy and Open Source Policy, which are available on our website.
1.1 Our structure
Preferred by Nature is a mission-driven organisation. Our mission is to support better land management and business practices that benefit people, nature and the climate. Preferred by Nature owns a certification branch (Assurance) providing conformity evaluation services, including certification and verification. Preferred by Nature’s structure reflects this focus on main types of activities, namely:
- Assurance: fee-for-service certification work in accordance with normative standards that are accredited/recognised by third parties; NEPCon OÜ based in Estonia is in charge of Preferred by Nature’s certification activities. NEPCon OÜ is wholly owned by NEPCon F.M.B.A., a registered non-profit organisation registered in Copenhagen, Denmark. In a few cases local entities hold their own accreditations if required by local rules (e.g. PEFC forest management in Russia or the national forestry standard NMX in Mexico). All certification decisions are taken by Assurance staff.
- Projects and Solutions: fee-for-service client advisory activities under the Sustainability Framework program including supply chain risk assessment and due diligence facilitation according to company policies and procedures; and implementation of donor-funded projects. Projects and Solutions activities are managed by NEPCon F.M.B.A.
- Strategy and Innovation: development of new service areas and administration of open training courses.
NEPCon F.M.B.A. has established subsidiary organisations in different countries with the aim of providing payroll service to staff based in these countries who are delivering local services. These entities provide invoicing services for clients based in these countries as well as ensuring compliance with local tax regulations.
The legal and financial separation of activity areas in Preferred by Nature is continuously monitored to ensure impartiality.
1.2 General principles
The following principles are applicable to the entire Preferred by Nature organisation to assure impartiality and reduce the risks of conflicts of interest:
1.2.1 We identify, document, analyse and mitigate risks to impartiality on an ongoing basis.
1.2.2 All our employees as well as Board members and Impartiality Committee members sign a conflict of interest statement and disclose any actual or potential conflicts of interest at least annually. Such disclosures are then analysed and appropriate risk mitigation measures undertaken. As per signed conflict of interest agreements, all parties have the responsibility to update declarations as new situations arise that may pose a conflict of interest.
1.2.3 External oversight of our impartiality is provided periodically by multiple, independent, third party accreditation bodies. Furthermore, oversight of our impartiality is provided by the Preferred by Nature Impartiality Committee which meets at least annually.
1.2.4 We do not offer services that directly prepare organisations for attaining certification in external schemes where Preferred by Nature is accredited as a certification body. Preferred by Nature’s non-certification services are not intended to be used by certified operations or applicants as direct evidence of conformity with certification standards. Unless it is allowed by certification scheme requirements, for external certification schemes where Preferred by Nature is an accredited certification body we do not:
- develop company procedures or management systems to meet certification requirements;
- help address nonconformities issued against certification standards;
- conduct internal audits which are required by the company as evidence for certification;
- conduct supplier or subcontractor verification which is required by the company as evidence for certification;
- conduct trainings that provide company-specific solutions/instructions on certification requirements. We train only on generic information that is publicly available to certified companies and applicants for certification. We do not offer FSC trainings one-on-one with FSC-certified organisations or applicants.
1.2.5 Our risk management system identifies services which could create a conflict of interest with certification activities. Prior to engaging with a new certification applicant/client we conduct a review to identify if the client was previously involved in non-certification activities or other services provided by Preferred by Nature. When such cases are identified, appropriate risk mitigation measures are undertaken, based on a case-by-case analysis to evaluate whether a conflict of interest may exist. If an actual conflict of interest is identified, we may recuse ourselves from delivering certification services, for a minimum of 3 years.
1.2.6 It is recognised that some projects implemented by Preferred by Nature are financed from public sources. At the same time, we offer fee-based assurance and advisory services. It is considered important to safeguard that public funds shall not be used directly or indirectly to support our fee-for-service activities. The following mitigation measures are implemented to safeguard the impartiality of our project work:
a) We manage our internal database and financial systems to ensure that commercial activities are separated from publicly funded project work.
b) We operate under the principles of Open Source in terms of publicly sharing our knowledge and systems. This means that all tools and publications that we develop will be posted online for free and are available for any interested stakeholders. Wherever possible we also seek to publish project outputs. Preferred by Nature publishes on its website the list of projects we are engaged in, to ensure transparency and enable stakeholder oversight of the impartiality of our project work.
c) We operate as a not-for-profit and mission-driven organisation. This means that the commercial services for private organisations and companies are provided according to these principles. From a financial perspective, any surplus revenue generated by fee-for-service activities will be channelled back into the activities aimed at meeting our vision and mission.
1.2.7 Preferred by Nature has developed a due diligence system (DDS) based on the requirements of the European Union Timber Regulation (EUTR). This system, which has been recognised by the European Commission, forms the foundation of Preferred by Nature's LegalSource™ programme which includes multiple legality support services. LegalSource is provided to EU Operators to support their compliance with the EUTR following the requirements of the regulation. According to the FSC interpretation Preferred by Nature can provide this EUTR support services to FSC-certified EU Operators, including systems development and training without considering it as a conflict of interest.
1.2.8 While we may recommend consultancy organisations to support a certification client, we do not state or imply that certification would be simpler, easier, faster or less expensive if a specified consultancy organisation is used:
a) We shall not have any agreements with nor engage in any financial or contractual arrangements with a consultancy organisation or consulting company (‘consultants’) in which (a) we remunerate the consultant if the consultant recommends a client to Preferred by Nature; or (b) conversely, the consultant pays us for a recommendation of the consultant to the client;
b) We shall not engage any consultants to act as sales agents for us.
1.2.9 We provide some generic templates which are made publicly available to anyone; for example, generic Chain of Custody procedures, product group schedule, etc. According to our Open Source policy, these templates are publicly available on our website and can be voluntarily used by any company. The templates do not provide company-specific solutions and include the disclaimer that templates do not guarantee conformity with certification requirements and that conformity is the sole responsibility of the client.
1.2.10 On an individual level, our primary focus is to ensure that any person performing tasks related to our assurance services is free from conflict of interests and can perform tasks objectively and in an impartial manner.
1.2.11 Auditors, certification decision-makers and dispute resolution staff cannot be assigned relevant client-related tasks if they worked at or provided consultancy to the client within the previous three years. Regardless of time period, all past relationships will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis and − even if three years have passed − the person may not be assigned to these tasks if the potential still exists for conflict of interest.
This policy was approved by Peter Feilberg, Preferred by Nature´s Executive Director on 18 February 2021.