Monday, December 21, 2009

Sustainable palm oil: A pipe dream

So where is sustainable palm oil? The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, a multi-stakeholder initiative, was founded in 2003 with a promise to establish a mechanism for sustainable palm oil production. An impressive number of multinational companies and NGOs signed up to the initiative to work together to find ways to produce palm oil sustainably.

The RSPO finally came up with a certification scheme to certify sustainable palm oil in 2008 generating hopes that soon sustainable palm oil will start flowing.

But WWF, a key NGO in RSPO, lamented in May that only one percent of the total sustainable palm oil produced was actually bought. It said out of 1.3 million tonnes of certified sustainable palm oil produced, only 15,000 tonnes was sold. By the way, the world produces 43 million tonnes of palm oil annually. Only 1.3 million tonnes of this was certified sustainable palm oil.

A media report recently pointed out that only three palm oil producers have managed to obtain the RSPO certification so far. And seems they are now stuck with unsold stock of sustainable palm oil which no one wants to buy. Why should other producers make the mistake of going through the trouble of RSPO certification?

Surprisingly, when I visited the RSPO website today, I could not find any list of certified palm oil producers. Rather, I found several isolated announcements mentioning names of companies which have been given interim approval, based on self-assessment, to claim compliance with the certification criteria of RSPO. Now this is scary that a RSPO member can be allowed to claim its palm oil from sustainable sources based on self-assessment.
The actual certification though is given only after a third party audit which, it appears, only three producers have managed to get so far.

I wrote about the RSPO initiative in Ethical Corporation magazine in the July 2008 issue. The report mentioned Unilever’s lead (after they were embarrassed by a high-pitch campaign by Greenpeace) by committing to the tough goal of buying all palm oil from certified sustainable sources by 2015. I concluded the feature by saying “Though Unilever has taken the lead, the rest of the industry will have to act as well in order to make any real impact. A public commitment by large companies to purchase palm oil only from certified sources will send a clear signal to producers on the ground. Failing to act may turn sustainable palm oil into a pipe dream.” And sadly, a pipe dream it remains.

1 comment:

Toby Webb said...

Great post