Rotterdam, NL: The arrival of the first certified sustainable palm oil shipment in Europe opens up possibilities for palm oil users to move away from subsidising forest destruction and social disruption from expanding palm oil plantations.
The shipment, from south-east Asia, is of palm oil certified as compliant with the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) Principles and Criteria, a set of standards that ensure that palm oil is produced in a socially and environmentally responsible way. As a founding member of the RSPO, WWF has worked since 2002 with a wide range of stakeholders to ensure that the RSPO standards contain robust social and environmental criteria, including a prohibition on the conversion of valuable forests. “The arrival of RSPO certified palm oil in Europe is an important milestone,” said Rodney Taylor, Director of WWF International’s Forest Programme. “With the RSPO’s certification system up and running, companies now have the means to buy responsibly.” Over 28 million tonnes of palm oil are produced worldwide and it is used in a wide variety of foods including margarine, cooking oil, crisps, cakes, biscuits and pastry. It is also found in cosmetics, soaps, shampoos and detergents.
However oil palm plantations have often imposed environmental and social costs due to loss of habitat important to threatened and endangered species and indiscriminate forest clearing which contributes to climate change. The RSPO brings together oil palm growers, oil processors, food companies, retailers, NGOs and investors to help ensure that no rainforest areas are sacrificed for new palm oil plantations, that all plantations minimize their environmental impacts and that basic rights of local peoples and plantation workers are fully respected.
Several European companies, including Unilever, Sainsbury’s and Albert Heijn, have already made strong public commitments to buy certified sustainable palm oil. Many more companies need to do the same. WWF calls on retailers and manufacturers to get behind the RSPO by making concrete, timebound plans to shift their palm oil purchases to 100 per cent certified. While welcoming the shipment, WWF also believes that the RSPO needs to tighten and strengthen its systems, and will be encouraging such action at the November annual meeting of the body.
RSPO membership is open to producers who are not certified. While its Code of Conduct encourages member producers to pursue certification, the RSPO lacks any real checks on the practices of these uncertified members. Stakeholders do not always appreciate the distinction between a company’s membership of the RSPO and the certification of individual plantations. This places the RSPO’s credibility at risk, especially given the recent Greenpeace reports alleging that several RSPO members are engaged in practices prohibited by the RSPO criteria for socially and environmentally responsible production of palm oil. “The RSPO should fully investigate allegations of misconduct against its members,” said Taylor. “The RSPO can maintain its credibility by refusing to provide any form of cover for a company that violates the RSPO sustainability criteria.”