Oil palm plantation in Sumatra. Photos by Rhett Butler
The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) today called for greater collaboration between it and the leading implementer of zero deforestation policies, The Forest Trust (TFT).
In a letter posted on its web site, the RSPO noted that both organizations have a similar goal: improving the environmental performance of palm oil.
“Collaboration within RSPO members and externally with like-minded organizations is essential to delivering on our mission. The greater the number of engaged actors, the better our chance to transform the market to make certified sustainable palm oil the norm, and not a niche,” stated the letter. “The potential synergies between the RSPO and TFT are strong. We share similar intents. Consumers are relying on both of us to do the right thing.”
But despite the common goal, the letter says that the divergent standards may be sending a mixed message to the marketplace, confusing growers and buyers.
“If everyone relies on completely different criteria, achieving scale and maintaining flexibility will be difficult,” says the letter. “To maximize acceptance of these criteria, a broad spectrum of interests must agree on what the criteria should include. RSPO has done so by involving seven different stakeholder groups in the definition of its own standard.”
The letter goes on to invite TFT to re-engage with the RSPO.
TFT very publicly resigned from the RSPO in 2012 over what it perceived as weak criteria for limiting deforestation and peatlands conversion for oil palm plantations. TFT has since brokered a number of “zero deforestation” commitments from major palm oil producers, traders, and buyers, including Neste Oil, Ferrero, Reckitt Benckiser, Wilmar, New Britain Palm Oil, Cerelia, Vandemoortele, Mars, Florin, and Delhaize Group, among others. Those agreements were modeled after policies TFT established with Nestle and Golden-Agri Resources. TFT is also implementing Asia Pulp & Paper’s forest conservation policy.
The RSPO is a multistakeholder body that sets social and environmental criteria for palm oil production. Many of the world’s largest palm oil companies are members as are a number of major environmental groups and palm oil buyers.
RSPO LETTER ON TFT
Solving the problems caused by unsustainable palm oil cultivation, including loss of tropical
forests, GHG emissions and land conflicts, is the goal of many food and non-food companies.
However, ending deforestation while delivering the world’s most widely-used vegetable fat,
is a complex issue. And while the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was created
to address this issue through the creation of the RSPO standard, no single organization can
tackle it alone. It is a journey of continuous improvement involving the collaboration of many
actors across the palm oil supply chain: growers, processors and traders, manufacturers,
retailers, investors, environmental NGOs and social NGOs.
Much has been achieved over the last decade. Yet deforestation and social conflicts provoked
by palm oil cultivation remain a reality in some regions. We need to convert more growers to
our sustainability agenda. RSPO is undoubtedly the most comprehensive and robust standard
today. But there is room for innovation within the RSPO and ensure a more stringent
implementation of its criteria.
Collaboration within RSPO members and externally with like-minded organizations is
essential to delivering on our mission. The greater the number of engaged actors, the better
our chance to transform the market to make certified sustainable palm oil the norm, and not a
One such organization is The Forest Trust (TFT). As a key player in the struggle against
deforestation, they have an important voice in the palm oil dialogue. The potential synergies
between the RSPO and TFT are strong. We share similar intents. Consumers are relying on
both of us to do the right thing. Which is why I am writing today to invite TFT to collaborate
with the RSPO.
Palm oil is a commodity with little regard given to who produces it and to where it is
produced. To transform this market, industries need a standard, specifically a set of common
principles to define sustainable palm oil in a uniform way across the globe, so that it is the
same, no matter where it is produced.
Some end users, however, aspire to achieve a higher level of sustainability assurance by
tracing their palm oil to a specific plantation. This is information that could be delivered
today only by a few players, due to their favorable economic or geographical circumstances.
To do so, someone outside the market needs to map the supply chain – provided it does not
change over time – and identify the sources. Once the sources have been found,
manufacturers and growers can work together to improve the requirements of the product.
This is the role of organizations, such as TFT, who focus on these aspects. They allow
individual companies and growers to work together, trace palm oil and implement specific
sustainability requirements, which can build on the RSPO platform.
This model, as proposed for example by TFT, has three main challenges. Firstly, growers
have multiple customers and want to maintain access to a global commodity market. To
preserve this flexibility they’ll continue to need a standard.
Secondly, if everyone relies on completely different criteria, achieving scale and maintaining
flexibility will be difficult. To maximize acceptance of these criteria, a broad spectrum of
interests must agree on what the criteria should include. RSPO has done so by involving
seven different stakeholder groups in the definition of its own standard.
Thirdly, in this model, once palm oil has been produced sustainably, the next step is ensuring
the product is not mixed with non-sustainable palm oil during its journey from plantation to
factory. Traders and refiners must be able to guarantee that mixing has not happened. To a
certain level, this can be done today. Palm oil in products can be sourced and traced back to a
single oil mill and its set of certified plantations, through the RSPO Identity Preserved Supply
Chain Model. This said, not all players can achieve this in the short run. Once again, industry
needs a standard aimed at scale and flexibility. To this end, RSPO has created and is open to
improve its specific certification system for the supply chain.
These challenges reinforce the importance of collaboration between RSPO and TFT.
Today, RSPO and its members can count on 55 certified growers companies, 248 certified
palm oil mills and thousands of smallholders worldwide. This certified palm oil reaches its
final destination via a supply chain including 693 certified supply chain members and 1388
certified facilities, in which it is stocked, refined, processed and marketed. Certainly, anyone
wanting to source sustainable palm oil and become a sustainability leader can rely on this
critical mass, and build on it to go even further. RSPO is a standard. Many brand products
rely on standards for some of their components, and yet they achieve significant brand
RSPO welcomes the role of market leaders who use its standard as the building block of a
more ambitious project. TFT has been particularly effective in helping many European
companies to deliver on their sustainability commitments. Our role, however, considers the
broader market rather than individual companies. Working together with TFT and its
partners, we can ensure our house will be bigger, and more RSPO certified palm oil will be
sold. These companies are a great asset to increasing demand for certified sustainable palm
oil and converting more growers to a sustainable palm oil agenda. I look forward to
discussing with TFT ways to make this a reality.
RSPO Secretary General