Is that riparian buffer zone along the Kinabatangan River in Malaysian Borneo up to code? Photo by Rhett A. Butler
Over the past 25 years palm oil production has emerged as one of the biggest drivers of deforestation and peatlands degradation in Southeast Asia. And there are fears that expansion in West and Central Africa could soon make palm oil a major cause of forest conversion on that continent.
To help mitigate the environmental damage caused by palm oil production, in 2004 a variety of stakeholders came together to form the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a body that sets standards for production. Yet the RSPO can only be effective when its rules are enforced. With a budget that pales in comparison to the multi-billion dollar industry it aims to police, the RSPO relies partly on monitoring by outside organizations. Accordingly, it has a complaint process for local communities, NGOs, and other groups to report when an RSPO member has broken the rules.
Now a new guide published by the Forest Peoples Programme (FPP) aims to facilitate independent monitoring by explaining the RSPO’s system for resolving disputes and providing step-by-step guidance on submitting a complaint. FPP says that while the RSPO’s complaint system could still be improved, it can still be a tool for addressing abuses by palm oil companies.
“In our view, there remains a wide gap between how the RSPO Complaints System ought to function and what it is actually able to achieve,” said FPP in a statement. “We have been encouraging the RSPO to upgrade its process and in the meantime offer this guide in the belief that having access to an imperfect system is better than none.”
The new guide comes as the RSPO is working to resolve a dispute between palm oil giant Wilmar and local NGOs over a plantation in Nigeria. According to a complaint filed with the RSPO last year by the Rainforest Resource & Development Centre, local community members are contesting Wilmar’s establishment of an oil palm plantation in Cross-River State. Wilmar has so far denied the claims. The case took a worrying turn earlier this month when Rainforest Resource & Development Centre director Odey Oyama said that he has been placed on a government watch list due to his advocacy against the project.