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RSPO tops among certification schemes, though all must improve: report

Oil palm fruit in Indonesia. Palm oil is used in everything from detergents and cosmetics to breakfast cereals and ice cream. Photo by Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay

  • A new report from the Forest Peoples Programme ranks certification schemes for biofuels and edible oils.
  • The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil topped the NGO’s rankings, although it too has significant problems.
  • “It seems that about half of RSPO members’ palm oil sold in Europe, mostly for biofuels, is…not RSPO-certified. For those concerned about human rights and social justice, this is very troubling,” FPP campaigner Marcus Colchester said.

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil has the strongest set of requirements among certification schemes for edible oils and biofuels, even if its members often get away with flouting its standards.

That’s the main conclusion of a new report from the Forest Peoples Programme (FPP), an international NGO.

The RSPO is the world’s largest association for ethical production of palm oil, found in everything from ice cream to laundry detergent.

It was formed in 2004 in response to a growing recognition that oil palm expansion was fueling rainforest destruction and land grabbing in countries like Indonesia, where legal protections for the environment and indigenous communities were seen as weak, enforcement of the law even weaker.

Companies that join the RSPO pledge to adhere to a stronger set of standards, improving their image in the eyes of consumers. The RSPO prohibits clearance of ancient rainforests and carbon-rich peatlands, and it bans planting community lands without that community’s consent.

The RSPO’s membership also includes firms that refine and use palm oil, as well as banks and NGOs like the FPP.

The FPP’s report ranks the certification schemes as follows:

  1. Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil
  2. Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB)
  3. Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN)
  4. International Sustainability & Carbon Certification (ISCC)
  5. Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO)
  6. Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO)

ISPO is the Indonesian government’s official certification scheme. It is essentially a stamp of approval that a company is following Indonesian law.

The FPP noted that ISPO “provides very little protection of human rights and community livelihoods.”

“The schemes vary a lot,” Angus McInnes, the report’s author, said in a statement. “None is perfect and all could benefit from adopting some stronger provisions from competing schemes. RSPO now provides the most robust standard for oil palm certification, although there are still some gaps. The main challenge for RSPO is to ensure RSPO members actually apply the standard in practice.”

Indonesia and Malaysia are responsible for nearly all the world’s palm oil production, although the industry is expanding to other countries, especially in Latin America and Africa, as it runs out of land in the Southeast Asian nations.

India and the EU are the biggest importers. China and the U.S. are major palm oil consumers, too.

“The European biofuels market by and large relies on the ISCC certification scheme to fulfil EU requirements,” FPP campaigner Marcus Colchester said in a statement. “Although precise figures are not available, it seems that about half of RSPO members’ palm oil sold in Europe, mostly for biofuels, is ISCC- and not RSPO-certified. For those concerned about human rights and social justice, this is very troubling as the ISCC standard, while quite strong on environmental requirements, falls way below the RSPO standard on social protections.”

 

Banner image: Oil palm fruit in Indonesia. Photo by Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay.