Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil

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The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil is an industry body containing producers and consumers of Palm Oil. It was established in 2001 as a market-led initiative to reform the way palm oil is produced, processed and used.

The RSPO's goal was to establish clear ethical and ecological standards for producing palm oil, and its members include high-street names like Unilever, Cadbury's, Nestlé and Tesco, as well as palm oil traders such as Cargill and ADM. Together, these companies represent 40 per cent of global palm oil trade. [1]

But since then, forest destruction has continued. Many RSPO members are taking no steps to avoid the worst practices associated with the industry, such as large-scale forest clearance and taking land from local people without their consent.

Member companies pay lip-service to forest and peatland protection, whilst the reality is very different. The existing standards developed by the RSPO will not prevent forest and peatland destruction, and a number of RSPO members are taking no steps to avoid the worst practices of the palm oil industry. Some like palm oil processor Duta Palma, an RSPO member, are directly involved in deforestation. Worse still, at present the RSPO itself is creating the illusion of sustainable palm oil, justifying the expansion of the industry.[2]

Greenpeace suggests the formation of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil is a cover for the deforestation that was already taking place. They say "a handful of international corporations are ultimately responsible for the slashing and burning of Indonesia's peatland forests for food, fuel and laundry detergent. Some of the best known brands in the world are literally cooking the climate" [3]

Certification Schemes

The RSPO is the governing body for certification of sustainable palm oil. However these claims cannot always be guaranteed to the consumer because there are not sufficient lines of supply to differentiate between sustainable palm oil and palm oil drawn from deforested lands.[4] Palm oil is cerificated into three categories 'segregated', 'mass balance' and 'book and claim'. Only segregated is from a sustainable source.

A study by James Cook University and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, argues that the initiative's objectives are undermined by the composition of its membership, which is dominated by palm oil industry growers, processors, and traders.[5]The author William Laurance said "Clearly, there is much scope for the RSPO to improve its act. It needs to get tougher with member companies that are destroying large swaths of primary forest. Otherwise, it risks becoming an apologist for an environmentally destructive industry." [6]

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External resources

Website of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil

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