Palm oil is a vegetable oil found in literally thousands of products ranging from soaps and cosmetics to countless foodstuffs including chocolates, cereals, dairy products and crisps. Its popularity is due to its comparatively low cost to produce and ready availability – but this comes at a terrible cost and palm oil production is widely linked to deforestation, illegal logging, human rights abuses and biodiversity loss.
Illegal, environmentally destructive and socially exploitative palm oil production is driving deforestation and biodiversity loss, violating human rights and undermining the rule of law in producer countries.
National laws are often inadequate to protect forests, people and biodiversity, while the private and public sectors often ignore existing legal protections. Industry ‘sustainability’ certification schemes such as the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) also offer weak protections, are variably implemented and enforced, and often result in proclaimed standards not being met. Booming global trade in palm oil – used in everything from biscuits and biofuels to cosmetics and cleaning products – incentivises increased production.
The most progressive ‘No deforestation, no peatland, and no exploitation’ (NDPE) policies from major palm oil companies are beginning to emerge, but their policies are voluntary and their reliability is still largely untested.
The difference we’ve made
To date, our investigations and advocacy have:
- exposed widespread illegality in palm oil permitting and forest clearance in Indonesia and how this undermines reforms to the timber sector (see: Up for Grabs (2009); Testing the Law (2012); Permitting Crime (2014); Still Permitting Crime (2017);
- submitted multiple RSPO Complaints generating multiple Stop Work Orders on rogue plantations covering tens of thousands of hectares of land and forests;
- revealed deficient, substandard and fraudulent audits of palm oil production by RSPO accredited environmental assessors and certification bodies in a 2015 report (Who Watches the Watchmen). The report resulted in the passage of GA12 Resolution 6h (2015), which established an Assurance Task Force seeking to improve RSPO assessments and auditing;
- filed the first ever NGO complaint with the High Conservation Value Resource Network (HCVRN) seeking de-accreditation of a fraudulent but prolific environmental assessor;
- exposed widespread violations of the Ethical Guidelines underpinning investments of the Norwegian Government Pension Fund Global (GPFG) – the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund – resulting in deforestation risk being added to the Fund’s climate policies and subsequent divestment from dozens of palm companies.
Since 2015, we have also actively contributed to an EU NGO forest coalition calling for an EU Action Plan on Deforestation and Degradation at the EU level through a series of briefings, letters, meetings, statements, news updates and social media communications with and directed at EU decision-makers.
Our support to Indonesian partners since 2016 has also resulted in increased efforts to reform the Indonesia Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO) through the development and publication of position papers and reports on ISPO weaknesses. We have also supported partners in Myanmar who are facing threats from opaque business dealings between the previous military regime and companies for land and conversion of forests to oil palm plantations. Expansion of oil palm concessions and timber laundering through those concessions are also a threat. The lack of compensation and land security are at the core of threats facing communities in Tanintharyi, southern Myanmar (see the Green Desert report, 2017).
In palm oil producer countries, we will continue research, investigations, advocacy and communications that:
- expose violations of laws and sustainability standards where encountered, triggering formal grievance or law enforcement procedures where possible;
- assist Indonesian civil society in strengthening national laws and palm oil production standards, including the ISPO;
- continue pushing for improved auditing and environmental assessments in RSPO palm oil sustainability certification and for the inclusion of ‘no deforestation’ within the RSPO standard;
- monitor forest clearance in the frontier forests of Papua and West Papua provinces of Indonesia and report on the policy implementation of companies proclaiming progressive “zero deforestation” policies.
In palm oil consuming markets, such as the EU, we will:
- work to engender legislative restrictions on trade in illegal and unsustainable palm oil products and support for sustainable production practices through EU Action on Deforestation – building on lessons and mechanisms already learned in the EU’s Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan against illegal logging
- Assuming success, we will then work to monitor company compliance with new trade policies, and seek their enforcement where companies are found wanting.
How you can help
Anyone can help our palm oil work, including by:
- Blowing the Whistle – anonymously inform us of violations of legal or certification standards in palm oil production
- Amplifying our Asks: promote our work, or distribute our social media communication
- Lobbying your representatives: ask your MP, MEP, or other political representatives to support policies that reduce social and environmental impacts of palm oil
- Supporting our work: by donating to us.
Header image © ALARM