Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil
The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was established in 2004 with the objective of promoting the growth and use of sustainable oil palm products through credible global standards and engagement of stakeholders. The seat of the association is in Zurich, Switzerland, while the secretariat is currently based in Kuala Lumpur with a satellite office in Jakarta. The organization claims more than "1000 members from over 50 countries" as of 2012.
RSPO is an association under Swiss Law composed of various organizations from different sectors of the palm oil industry (oil palm producers, palm oil processors or traders, consumer goods manufacturers, retailers, banks and investors, environmental or nature conservation NGOs and social or developmental NGOs) for the purpose of developing and implementing global standards for sustainable palm oil.
RSPO is inspired by the idea of the "roundtable" in which all members have equal rights. There are different types of membership with different membership fees: Ordinary Member, Ordinary Member (small grower), Affiliate Member, and Supply Chain Associate. Affiliate Members and Supply Chain Associates do not have voting rights in the General Assembly but Ordinary Members, and Ordinary Members who qualify as small growers do. Affiliate Members include groups such as academic organizations or individual supporters while Supply Chain Associates are organizations dealing with less than a total of 500 metric tonnes of palm oil or palm oil derivatives per year.
The organization holds an annual meeting to bring together the various stakeholders to negotiate and deliberate on various issues affecting the industry.
The formation of the RSPO has not been without criticism from various sectors, especially the environmental NGOs. The main issues flagged include: the impact of palm oil plantation expansion on the orangutan population; destruction of tropical forest for the new oil palm plantation schemes in South-East Asia; and the burning and draining of large tracks of peat swamp forest in Kalimantan, Indonesia. The fact that RSPO members are allowed to clear cut pristine forest areas, when there would be large areas of Imperata grasslands (alang alang) available in e.g. Indonesia raises doubts about the commitment on sustainability, see e.g. Bumitama Agri's CSR (Corporate social responsibility) on logging practices. In 2013, the 11th annual RSPO meeting was crashed by palm oil workers and others, and Indonesian and international labour-rights groups have documented a litany of abuses, including forced labour and child labour. A 2013 study uncovered "flagrant disregard for human rights at some of the very plantations the RSPO certifies as 'sustainable.'"
NGOs and the RSPO
|This section is outdated. (August 2013)|
Non-governmental organisations interested in the issue of palm oil production and the destruction of rainforest are divided about the RSPO.
Friends of the Earth International
FOEI are extremely critical of the RSPO. Their website stated in 2009:
Essentially, RSPO companies are subjected to technical principles and criteria, but social and environmental issues of oil palm cultivation are largely framed within flawed political processes, poor governance and unsustainable market demand. Understood within this context, the RSPO is a voluntary certification process for a market premium and membership that may be able to add a much sought after and totally misleading 'green tag' to the industry. Moreover, it provides certification without having to actually address some of the most very basic, structural issues that gave rise to the adverse impacts of oil palm cultivation. Friends of the Earth International therefore does not regard the RSPO as a credible certification process as it is only a limited tool of technicality which is not able to adequately address the horrendous impacts of oil palm cultivation on forests, land and communities.
Greenpeace are occupying a difficult ground of being both a supporter and a critic of the RSPO. According to a press release on the Unilever website from December 2009 Executive Director of Greenpeace John Sauven said:
Unilever's decision could represent a defining moment for the palm oil industry. What we're seeing here is the world's largest buyer of palm oil using its financial muscle to sanction suppliers who are destroying rainforests and clearing peat lands. This has set a new standard for others to follow.
But Greenpeace UK's website states:
Industry efforts to bring this deforestation under control have come through the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). It was set up in 2004 to establish clear ethical and ecological standards for producing palm oil, and its members include high-street names like Unilever, Cadbury's, Nestlé and Tesco, as well as palm oil traders such as Cargill and ADM. Together, these companies represent 40 per cent of global palm oil trade.
But since then forest destruction has continued. Many RSPO members are taking no steps to avoid the worst practices associated with the industry, such as large-scale forest clearance and taking land from local people without their consent. On top of this, the RSPO actually risks creating the illusion of sustainable palm oil, justifying the expansion of the palm oil industry.
The results of an investigation published in 2008 by Greenpeace  found worrying issues with one of Unilever's main palm oil suppliers, which Unilever accepted and announced they would stop using that supplier. Unilever and Greenpeace also announced that they would work together to lobby for a moratorium on deforestation for palm oil.
Unilever is currently purchasing GreenPalm certificates and aims to buy all of their physical palm oil from certified sustainable sources by 2015. Although Unilever uses more than a million tonnes of palm oil per year, this represents less than 5% of the total production of palm oil.
PT SMART, the palm oil supplier that was working with Unilever, apparently thinks that the Unilever contract is too small to be of any serious consequence. The cancelled contract apparently affected only 3%  of their total production. PT SMART is a member of the RSPO.
Rainforest Action Network
The RAN also has a position of qualified support for the RSPO system. Blog posts by David Gilbert, a Research Fellow at RAN, who attended the 2009 RSPO annual meeting in Kuala Lumpur, showed some of the intense dissatisfaction with the process:
The RSPO is the world’s largest annual meeting of oil palm industry, environmentalists, human rights advocates, and, most importantly, community members. Today, I watched as a community member from Borneo stood up in front of oil palm producers, NGOs, and technocrats, identified himself as a victim of oil palm expansion, and tore apart the falsity that some of the world’s richest businessmen desperately want us to believe; the falsity that oil palm helps the world’s poor:
"They say oil palm is development. They say Malaysia has cars and big cities because of oil palm. But it is not oil palm, it is from other things, like our oil and our logging. Giant companies, most of them Malaysian, ignore customary land rights and take our land out from under us...
Oil palm does not lead to the development of a country. Wealth, contained in the natural resources of the our forests and controlled by us, is flattened and burned, and then collected by the world’s rich, from Companies like Sinar Mas, Cargill, IOI, and Duta Palma. Oil palm does not bring wealth to the poor, it takes it away. Oil palm development, like so many neo-colonial trading systems, makes the poor poorer and the rich richer."
World Wildlife Fund (WWF)
Clearing for oil palm plantations threatens some of the world’s greatest forests, endangered species such as orangutans, and puts forest-dwelling people at risk. But with better management practices, the palm oil industry could provide benefits without threatening our some of our most breathtaking natural treasures...
Reaching those objectives requires a common language for industry, environmental and social groups to work together. Through the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), WWF has helped to establish a platform for these parties to collaborate towards the production of sustainable palm oil.Thanks to the RSPO, sustainable palm oil is now on the market. By applying stringent production criteria to all stages of palm oil manufacture, some companies are proving that oil palm plantations need not flourish at the expense of rainforests. But so much more remains to be done. Too many palm oil producers still ignore the destructive impacts of palm oil plantations, contributing to biodiversity loss and social unrest and more companies that buy palm oil need to switch to using certified sustainable palm oil in their products.
WWF continues to monitor the palm oil industry.
Other Roundtable initiatives
Similar initiatives have been established for other sectors including: Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials, Roundtable on Sustainable Forests, Roundtable on Sustainable Development, Roundtable on Responsible Soy, and Roundtable for a Sustainable Cocoa Economy.
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- "Round Table on Responsible Soy Association". Responsiblesoy.org. 2011-06-21. Retrieved 2013-08-05.
- "Roundtable for a Sustainable Cocoa Economy: TOWARDS A SUSTAINABLE WORLD COCOA ECONOMY". Roundtablecocoa.org. 2009-02-12. Retrieved 2013-08-05.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil.|
- Official website
- Palm Oil - Production, Consumption, Exports, and Imports Statistics by Country
- Are emission reductions from peatlands MRV-able?
- The impacts and opportunities of oil palm in Southeast Asia: What do we know and what do we need to know? (2009).
- FAQ: Palm oil, forests and climate change.
- What is the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil? | Visual.ly