Sanctions and appeals process

The system for controls and certification includes identifying breaches and applying appropriate sanctions while offering the operators in question the chance to react and adapt.

Sanctions in the public interest

The number of stakeholders and stages involved in a decision guarantees that decisions are fair for both operators and consumers. Decisions are completely impartial. They offer an opportunity to develop awareness and make a commitment to social responsibility on the part of the operator themselves as well as other operators and consumers.

Certain decisions may have serious consequences for the operator, but if they were not made, their absence could have an even more serious economic impact on the entire sector and also represent unfair competition for operators who respect Organic regulations.  Operators who do not apply Organic principles properly not only put themselves at risk, they also represent a danger for the entire Organic sector.

The guarantee that the Organic sector can be trusted

The application of sanctions offers a guarantee that the organic sector can be trusted. When the controller finds issues of non-compliance, the operator is given an opportunity to present their perspective. This helps to start a conversation. The report which identifies non-compliance issues also includes a commitment to fix them. It is very important for the operator to sign this report, even if they are also expressing their disagreement in writing in the same document.

A precise sliding scale of sanctions

The sanctions are applied based on the control report signed by the operator. The sanctions regime falls under the jurisdiction of the Public Authorities. Sanctions are determined in accordance with a sliding scale which takes into account the gravity of the facts. They can range from a simple note or request for improvements to a complete ban on selling organic products.

To guarantee the decision taken is fair, the certification system operates a separation of powers between control and certification.

All parties play their own role:

  • The controller observes, relates and takes precautionary measures if the product is not organic. They do not make any sanction decisions.
  • The certification manager makes certification decisions. At this level, the fact that the decision does not depend on a single person offers a guarantee that it will be objective and proportionate to the seriousness of the non-compliance issue. Certification is carried out by a team of experts.

In the event that an operator were to change control body, the new control body would take into consideration the sanctions applied by the old control body based on the information they have shared. The application of the sanctions scale and the non-compliance grid is designed to incite operators to adjust to applying the rules better rather than imposing sanctions, even though sometimes it will be necessary to downgrade a batch or a plot.

A progressive non-compliance scale

1. Notes

Simple note: a simple note is used in the event of a minor irregularity or a breach that was obviously not intentional on the operator’s part.

Request for improvement: a request for improvement specifies the irregularity which has been observed, the expected improvement and the deadline by which this improvement should be made.

Request for improvement with written commitment: same application as the request for improvement but with a commitment written and signed by the operator.

2. Warning

warning comes with a description of the sanction which will be applied if the operator does not take the warning into account. A request for improvement which has not been respected by the given deadline is always followed by a warning.

3. Enhanced inspection

An enhanced inspection is automatically carried out when a warning has been issued. The costs of the enhanced inspection must be covered by the operator.

4. Downgrading and suspension

Plot downgrade: downgrade of a given plot for a given period of time.

Batch downgrade: definitive downgrade of a given batch of the operator’s product.

Product suspension: ban on selling a given product advertised as organic for a given period of time.

Total suspension: ban on selling any product advertised as organic for a given period of time.

The CERTISYS® internal appeals procedure

Following the reception of a letter of certification notifying the operator of the certification decision, the operator may make an appeal. Only the operator (natural person or legal entity) can submit an appeal. This appeal may relate to any certification decision issued by CERTISYS®.

To be admissible, it must be sent to CERTISYS® (Quality Division):

  • By recorded delivery
  • Within 14 days: date on postmark
  • Setting out reasons for appeal: new elements which may not yet be known to CERTISYS®.

If the appeal is eligible, it will be examined through a mediation process: a team within CERTISYS® convenes and studies the appeal based on the new elements provided by the operator.

The team is made up of one or several quality, certification and inspection division representatives. The person(s) involved in the inspection which led to sanctions which the operator is appealing take part in the mediation but do not take part in making the decision.

The operator may, on request, be heard by CERTISYS®. In certain cases, CERTISYS® must request the authorisation of the Authorities to modify the sanction. If the mediation results in a modification of the sanction, CERTISYS® modifies the certification documents and sends them to the operator. The result of the mediation is always sent to the operator within 15 days.

At the end of this process, the operator may still make an administrative appeal to the relevant Authorities. To do so, the operator must submit their defence by recorded delivery to the relevant ministry within 30 days of the date on which the CERTISYS® letter was sent.