Our History

The Common Code for the Coffee Community (4C) project is set up with support from the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and the German Coffee Association (DKV). Shortly afterward, the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), the British Development Cooperation and the European Coffee Federation (ECF) join the project. In this unprecedented multi-stakeholder effort, more than 70 representatives from over 20 countries – mostly representatives of coffee producers, as well as key industry and trade representatives, NGOs and governmental organisations - launch an initiative to create a dialogue about strategies and measures to address key issues and develop a common understanding about “sustainability” for the mainstream coffee sector. The “Common Code for the Coffee Community”.


A multi-stakeholder Steering Committee, including representatives from sustainability standards and the International Coffee Organization in observer roles, develops the basic elements of the 4C system, including: the Code of Conduct, the Rules of Participation for Trade and Industry Members, and the governance structure. The Code of Conduct is tested in various projects in coffee-producing countries around the world. Coffee that is produced, processed, and traded according to the Code of Conduct is called 4C Compliant Coffee.

2004 - 2006

As a key milestone in the association’s development, thirty-seven organisations representing producers, trade and industry, and civil society, officially establish the 4C Association on the 1st December 2006.


The 4C Association sets up its verification system in 15 producing countries, resulting in 32 registered producer entities (4C Units) covering approximately 3,400 individual producers, 78,000 ha of coffee production, and 2 Million bags of verified coffee (4C Compliant Coffee). Through its commercial reporting, the 4C Association publically reports on the received volumes of verified coffee (4C Compliant Coffee) by the end of each respective coffee year (from October to September).


The 4C Association opens its regional offices in East Africa, Central America and Brazil to build partnerships with local and regional organizations, and coordinate support activities and projects in these coffee-producing regions.


The standards and systems of the 4C Association and Rainforest Alliance are benchmarked. Thanks to this process, holders of both the Rainforest Alliance Certificate and the 4C License have full access to the growing market for 4C Compliant Coffee. This opens up new marketing opportunities for producers who cannot sell their entire production under a specific certification scheme.


The 4C Association opens its fourth regional office in the coffee region of DakLak province in Vietnam, the largest coffee-growing region in Vietnam.

December 2009

Nestlé CEO Paul Bulcke announces the NESCAFÉ Plan, which assures 4C Compliance for all coffee purchased through their Farmer Connect Network by 2015. This amounts to approximately 180,000 tons of green coffee per year, aiming to benefit over 170,000 producers and their families.

August 2010

The Council approves a new business model for the 4C Association during its 8th meeting in Tanzania. With this new business model, the 4C Association switches to a demand-driven approach, creating a favourable framework for buyers and sellers to better connect along the 4C supply chain. It also expands the scope of the Collaboration Platform and strengthens relationships with other sustainability standards - Fairtrade International and UTZ Certified become members.

February 2011

Kraft Foods (Mondelez International) announces an ambitious goal of sourcing 100% sustainably produced coffee beans for all EU coffee brands by 2015. To reach this target, Kraft Foods considerably increases its sourcing of 4C Compliant Coffee and certified coffees from other recognized sustainability standards

May 2011

The 4C Association achieves full membership in the ISEAL Alliance, the global association for social and environmental standard setting organizations.

September 2011

The 4C Association enters into a strategic partnership agreement with the Sustainable Coffee Program powered by IDH, The Sustainable Trade Initiative. The partnership with the public-private consortium aims to develop country-specific approaches that enable coffee producers to become more resilient in an ever-changing market.

January 2012

A stakeholder workshop is held to discuss the need for collaboration within the coffee sector that focuses on overarching sustainability issues. The Vision 2020 Dialogues begin, aiming to inspire a shared vision for increased impact for farmers by creating an effective public-private collaboration framework under the leadership of the 4C Association, the International Coffee Organization (ICO), IDH, The Sustainable Trade Initiative and other stakeholders.

June 2013

The total number of members exceeds the 300 mark for the first time. The membership of the 4C Association now covers a span of 21 countries, while the Entry-level Standard encompasses over 360,000 producers with a total production potential of 38 million bags.

March 2014

The dual functionality of the 4C Association – as the Collaboration Platform and the Entry-level Standard – is strengthened with an internal reshape.

October 2014