Today was the final day of the 8th Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia. Many controversial and heated issues were hashed out at the four-day gathering as the different interests — which include palm oil producers, processors, traders, retailers, banks, and environmental and social NGOs — battled to be heard.
The goal of the RSPO is to promote the growth, production, distribution, and use of sustainable palm oil in the global marketplace. But after spending several long days with the world’s largest palm oil industry leaders, I’m feeling very critical of the RSPO’s ability to move fast enough to protect Indonesia’s incredibly fragile and threatened remaining forests from being converted into oil palm plantations.
The RSPO came to a close with the 7th General Assembly (GA7), the official gathering of the RSPO Executive Board where they vote on new resolutions. As an observer at the GA7, I watched as the Indonesian palm oil growers association (GAPKI) and Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC) tried to gut the RSPO and undermine its code of conduct. Specifically, they tried to pass a resolution that “35% of members with voting rights in the RSPO organization constitute the quorum” rather than the 50% + 1 always needed in a democratic process. This was an attempt by producer companies such as Sime Darby and Wilmar to strong-arm the political process of the RSPO.
However, once the producers realized they would be breaking the code of ethics, they decided to withdraw their proposal. How embarrassing.
Another resolution that the producer block brought forward was to delay the implementation of the New Planting Procedure, a resolution adopted last year that makes it harder for companies clearing land for new palm plantations to violate community land rights, operate without all necessary permits, or overlook the importance of High Conservation Value (HCV) forests.
It was yet another clear example of large producer companies undermining the respectable attempts of other RSPO members by trying to weaken RSPO Principles and Criteria in order to continue business as usual.
Other power plays were rebuffed as well. For instance, Cargill tried to win a seat on the RSPO Executive Board, but lost the vote. Shucks, nice try guys.
The lack of progress by the RSPO Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Working Group to figure out how to really curb the GHG emissions that have made Indonesia the third largest emitter of GHG pollution globally was especially disappointing, as was the omission of carbon storage from High Conservation Value (HCV) definitions of forest lands within palm oil plantations (no joke).
I’ve now got serious doubts about the sincerity of some of the RSPO members. Why were most of the proposals this year and last year brought forward by the grower/producer block? Why did I not hear any mention of rainforest destruction, the draining of peatlands, or the critical state of the endangered orangutan even once in four days of meetings? And why is it that companies like Sinar Mas who grossly violate the RSPO Principles and Criteria are still allowed to be members, thereby casting doubt on the whole organization and muddying its credibility?