Increasing concern of prominent environmental NGO’s about ceaseless deforestation, caused by the development of palm oil plantations, has instigated the stakeholders in the palm oil trade and processing industry to organize themselves in the Round Table for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and to be certified under it’s principles and criteria in order to ensure that commodities are produced without causing environmental or social harm. RSPO was created in 2004 with the purpose to reach 100% sustainability in the palm oil sector. An essential criterion for certification is that new palm oil plantations may not replace primary forest or be developed in areas with important bio-diversity.
In 2014, according to RSPO, 18% of the world’s palm oil production was certified sustainable and by 2016 around 40% of worldwide stakeholders had subscribed as a member of RSPO. However, serious concerns do persist that the current RSPO standard does not adequately address environmental and social issues. Its principles and criteria allow room for interpretation and form a fragile basis in countries characterized by weak governance, corruption and sloppy land registry. It is absolutely clear that the RSPO is aware of this. In order to enhance its performance, it has launched the RSPO NEXT initiative, focussing on core concerns about palm oil production and its linkages to the unacceptable impact caused by irresponsible deforestation.
Though there is no reason to doubt the commitment of RSPO with regard to its objectives and the sincere motivation of its subscribers, it is obvious that membership can be used as a facade to excuse ongoing business as usual. In addition RSPO is handicapped by its inbuilt ambiguity, serving providers and customers with incompatible interests.
The result is that the certification of palm oil so far had limited effects on deforestation. The RSPO seems to lack a sense of urgency.
It is just on this matter that parallel and complementary action (like Go Palm Oil Free) of NGO’s is indispensable: to increase the pressure and speed up the process. Because for the tropical rainforests and its inhabitants time is running out.