Oil palm fruits

RSPO gives commitment to investigate palm oil ‘sustainability con’ allegations

A fortnight ago we revealed how consumers are being conned about the sustainability of palm oil – and now the leading industry certification body which we criticised has pledged to investigate our allegations and, if necessary, act.

From initially dismissing our report Who Watches the Watchmen? 2 and claiming it contained “glaring inaccuracies”, voluntary certification watchdog the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) has significantly softened its stance.

In an interview with Edge Markets, RSPO Chief Executive Officer Darrel Webber admitted: “It would be irresponsible for us not to tackle these issues.”

Palm oil is a cheap vegetable oil contained in many products, from cosmetics and foodstuffs to biofuels, but its production – especially in Indonesia and Malaysia – is regularly linked to illegal deforestation, including the habitats of endangered species such as orangutans, as well as human rights abuses and contributing to the climate crisis.

Our investigations established a catalogue of failures within the RSPO certification system meant to assure consumers that all palm oil bearing its stamp of approval is free from such destructive impacts and accused it of effectively giving false environmental credibility to its products, commonly known as ‘greenwashing’

On the day of Watchmen 2’s release, the RSPO published its attack on the EIA but we stood firmly by our report and responded with an open letter to Webber and the RSPO, rejecting the claim of “glaring inaccuracies” and urging the organisation to get its house in order.

In a significant change of tone from the first response, Webber stated in the interview: “The EIA thinks we have a blind spot and we are going to check it out.

“The EIA has been quite constructive. It has given some advice on how to go forward and which we will consider.”

Siobhan Pearce, Forests campaigner and report author, said: “We welcome the response from the RSPO to review the findings in our Who Watches the Watchmen? 2 report and recognising it would be irresponsible not to tackle these issues.

“As the case studies in the report clearly illustrated, the RSPO is still allowing violations of its standards by members and is therefore greenwashing. This ranges from land conflicts being ignored to companies clearing pristine rainforests, legal irregularities, labour issues not being identified, complaint cases being mismanaged and the evasion of RSPO procedures.

“Our report outlined how the Assurance Task Force, set up following the original Who Watches the Watchmen report in 2015, has been one of the worst run and poorest performing parts of the RSPO that has failed to complete its objectives. We understand that at the RSPO’s annual meeting in Bangkok the newly formed Assurance Standing Committee agreed to undertake all the recommendations outlined in Resolution 6b, which will include an independent, public review of the Assurance Task Force.”

Who Watches the Watchmen? 2 was just one of several reports released during the RSPO’s annual meeting to outline ongoing failures to adequately ensure its members implement its standards. Given that the world is continuing to face a climate, deforestation and human rights crisis, we and other NGOs released a statement calling on the RSPO to do its job and fulfil the promise of sustainability and commitments to ending deforestation, peatland destruction and the violation of human rights.

Pearce added: “We task the RSPO to fully review the recommendations and cases within our report and act on these. With the announcement last week that Darrel Webber will depart the RSPO in January, we would appeal to the new CEO to take up these issues with renewed vigour.”