Responsible palm oil
When the word sustainable is used in relation to palm oil, this is usually shorthand for Certified Sustainable Palm Oil, or CSPO – palm oil that is certified according to a standard devised by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). The RSPO is a membership organisation which includes companies that produce, trade, use or invest in palm oil, and conservation and social NGOs. SOS is a member of the RSPO, but in common with many other organisations, we believe that the RSPO standard does not go far enough in addressing some of the most serious impacts of the palm oil industry.
As members, we are working to improve the RSPO standard, but until it can be strengthened, we will advocate the production and use of responsible palm oil, which refers to palm oil that is produced according to the Palm Oil Innovation Group (POIG) Charter. POIG is a collection of NGOs (including SOS) and progressive palm oil producers that have established a detailed set of values that build on, and go beyond, the RSPO standard. The additional requirements stipulate that palm oil operations must be free from deforestation, destruction of peatlands, and human rights abuses. Many big players in the palm oil industry have now made zero-deforestation commitments, including the world’s largest palm oil trader, and Indonesia’s biggest palm oil producer. POIG aims to bridge the gap between responsible palm oil producers and the growing list of palm oil consumer companies which have made ‘No Deforestation’ commitments and are demanding responsibly produced palm oil. It is crucial that companies’ commitments to clean up their supply chains are turned into action, so that a tipping point in demand for responsible palm oil is reached swiftly, driving transformation in the industry.
What can palm oil producers do?
- Stop converting high conservation value forests and high carbon stock areas, including peatlands, to oil palm plantations
- Use degraded land for producing palm oil (for example land that has been previously deforested or cultivated and subsequently abandoned)
- Avoid labour, land and human rights violations
- Be transparent about their production methods
- Invest in research and innovation to increase output and efficiency on their plantations, reducing the need for further expansion
What can manufacturers and retailers do?
Companies using palm oil (and its derivatives) in their products and those selling the products should:
- Source responsibly produced palm oil now
- Ensure their supply chain is traceable
- Apply zero-deforestation commitments to third party suppliers, and to global operations – not just in European and North American markets, where the call for responsible palm oil may be the loudest
- Communicate honestly with customers about their progress on the journey to using only responsible palm oil
What can consumers do?
- Research which retailers and manufacturers are committed to removing deforestation from their products and support those companies in their journey to responsible palm oil
- Join social media campaigns to drive the industry in the right direction (they do work!) and pressure governments to support the production of responsible palm oil
- Support conservation organisations working to break the link between palm oil and deforestation
What can governments do?
The RSPO and POIG represent opportunities for the industry to reduce the environmental costs of palm oil production, but they are voluntary initiatives, and whilst governments continue to allocate plantation concessions within high conservation value forests the industry at large will continue to pose a threat to habitats and biodiversity. Governments in producer countries should:
- Stop the development of high conservation value forests and high carbon stock areas, including peatlands
- Redirect future plantation expansion onto degraded land
- The Indonesian government should reject the new Aceh Spatial Plan which would see large areas of the protected Leuser Ecosystem cleared for oil palm plantations and other development.
Governments in consumer countries should:
- Make national pledges to source only responsible palm oil
- Engage with producer country governments to support the move towards responsible production
- Avoid incentivising the use of palm oil as a biofuel, as this potentially huge new demand could lead to increased deforestation, completely undermining any potential environmental benefits of using biofuels over traditional fossil fuels.