Coffee Sustainability
Reference Code


A common language for the sector to collectively advance farmers’ prosperity, social well-being, and the conservation of nature

Following completion of a broad international public consultation, the Global Coffee Platform has published the Coffee Sustainability Reference Code, which provides a foundation to support the primary principles of sustainable coffee production. This reference code offers a common language to enable farmers, producer organizations and their business partners, as well as donors, NGOs, financial institutions and governments to advance their coffee sustainability efforts, collaboratively and effectively.

The Coffee Sustainability Reference Code provides sustainability stakeholders with a simplified and fit-for-purpose framework to foster better understanding of principles that support baseline sustainable coffee production. In addition, it addresses ongoing challenges in the coffee sustainability landscape as well as key emerging concerns such as climate change, or diversity, equity and inclusion.

According to Annette Pensel, GCP Executive Director, the revised code is “from the coffee community for the coffee community” and ultimately seeks to advance farmers’ economic prosperity, social well-being, and the conservation of nature.

“The Coffee Sustainability Reference Code helps to enhance and align work underway so that more coffee farmers can be reached, and to encourage all coffee production to be sustainable.”

We can collectively undertake strong concerted action to support a more sustainable and resilient future for farmers and the sector overall, but to do so, we need a shared understanding of baseline sustainability on which other innovations at farm level and beyond can be built.

Gelkha Buitrago, GCP Director Programs and Corporate Partnerships

The Code in 2-minutes

The Coffee Sustainability Reference Code sits on the shoulders of many sustainability champions giants who have been working to advance sustainability for many years.

A lot of good work has been done already! But there is also fragmentation of efforts. This has left many small holder farmers unreached by the fundamental enabling environments needed to operate prosperous farms and create well-being in their communities.

It is good news that increasing numbers of companies, governments, banks and NGOs are stepping up their commitments supporting sustainable coffee production and procurement as a road to a prosperous future for coffee farming families.


Watch this animated explainer video here

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Decoding Sustainability

Centered on the three dimensions of economic prosperity, social well-being, and environmental stewardship, the Coffee Sustainability Reference Code outlines 12 principles, broken down into practices and expected results that describe baseline sustainability for coffee production and primary processing.    

The code also defines five critical practices: elimination of the worst forms of child labour, elimination of forced labour, no deforestation, no use of prohibited pesticides, and the newest addition, continuous improvement. 

“While the Coffee Sustainability Reference Code addresses the beginning of the supply chain, with farmers on the ground, downstream actors are expected to share the responsibility for sustainability,” says Annette Pensel, GCP Executive Director. “This includes supporting and incentivising the efforts of coffee farmers to introduce, maintain, and go beyond these baseline principles across all dimensions, as well as promoting equitable trading and sourcing practices.” 

Moreover, as custodian of the code, GCP believes the Coffee Sustainability Reference Code will serve the coffee sector to better align activities, inspire continuous improvement, and accelerate individual and collective action.

Coffee sustainability is a shared responsibility and as a common language, together we can use this reference code and advance towards a thriving, sustainable coffee sector for generations to come.

Read the Code now

The code in your language.

Bahasa Indonesia

The Code at a glance








Expected Results

Economic Dimension

The Principles

  1. Business management
  2. Agricultural Services
  3. Business Integrity


The Principles

  1. Right to childhood
  2. Human rights
  3. Working conditions
  4. Community


The Principles

  1. Biodiversity
  2. Pest & Weed Management
  3. Resource Conservation
  4. Pollution Prevention
  5. Climate

Evolution of the code
scroll through the history


The Common Code for the Coffee Community (4C) launched as a result of a participatory, extensive, transparent and balanced consultation with coffee stakeholders worldwide.


The 4C Association, the multi-stakeholder membership platform started operations. It owned and operated the 4C Code.


A full revision took place between 2013 and 2014, and the version 2.0 Code was published in July.


The 4C Code and its Verification system was transferred to the company Coffee Advisory Services (CAS), and sold by GCP. CAS has since changed its name to 4C Services and is now a fully-fledged sustainability certification standard.
The 4C Association evolved into the Global Coffee Platform, continuing to own and periodically revise the Baseline Coffee Code.


First and second version(v1.0 and v1.1) of the GCP Equivalence Mechanism published.


Third version (v1.2) of GCP Equivalence Mechanism published.


Version 3.0 of the Code renamed as Coffee Sustainability Reference Code published.


GCP Equivalence Mechanism Version 2.0 to be published.

Pesticide Action Group

The Pesticides Action Group is a diverse group that includes experts of GCP Members from producing and consuming countries as well as from different segments in the coffee value chain. This technical action group will work to identify, prioritize, share best practices and provide information on reducing, phasing out and eliminating damaging pesticides. It will also explore effective, feasible and financially viable alternatives to substances that must be phased out, and will share results with GCP Members, Country Platforms in coffee producing countries and the broader sector. Results of this work will support farmers in the transition to less hazardous pesticides and will be used to inform global and local sustainability programs/efforts on pesticides. 

Catch up and explore the Coffee Sustainability Reference Code during a 45-minute webinar recording and find out why it is relevant today, how was it developed and how coffee industry leaders and other actors can leverage it to address sustainability challenges.

Join this conversation with:

catch up

  • Ms. Gelkha Buitrago, Director of Programs and Corporate Partnerships, GCP
  • Mr. Gustavo Bacchi, System Director at 4C Services GmbH
  • Mr. John Schluter, Chairman, Café Africa and Chair GCP Technical Committee
  • Mr. Jonathan W Clark, Senior Trader, Director at Dakman Vietnam Ltd.
  • ​Mr. Matt Smith, EVP, Supply Chain, Westrock Coffee/S&D Coffee & Tea
  • Ms. Paramita Mentari Kesuma, Executive Director, SCOPI Indonesia

Archive: GCP Baseline Coffee Code

The Coffee Sustainability Reference Code is the successor of the Baseline Coffee Code. If you are interested in older versions of the code, you can access them here: GCP Baseline Coffee Code


For more information regarding the Coffee Sustainability Reference Code,
please contact:  

GCP Secretariat

Secretariatemail me

Download the press release here. Additional media queries may be sent to:

Claire Mathieson

Communications Manageremail me

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