Malaysia’s “Sustainable” Palm Oil Just Pure Greenwash

Written by Ashley Schaeffer

Topics: Agribusiness

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Malaysia Sustainable Palm Oil. Photo: astromediashop
Malaysia Sustainable Palm Oil. Photo: astromediashop

As I reported on Monday, the Malaysian government—hand in hand with the country’s largest palm oil companies—is attempting to undermine the RSPO’s “sustainable palm oil” certification standard by creating its own certification. Problem is—the Malaysian palm oil industry’s version of “sustainable palm oil” is pure greenwash which is extremely problematic for the companies and consumers demanding real standards of sustainability that are based on sound science. The entire notion of determining a baseline of “sustainability” for forest preservation will be lost.

Yesterday’s Malaysian paper StarBiz update on the process does not bode well for the species, communities and forests of Indonesia that are most threatened by the expansion of palm oil plantations. It reported that the “draft on the Malaysia Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) certification scheme is currently being formulated with the Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) earmarked as the main moderator.” Does it seems strange to anyone else that Malaysia’s Palm Oil Board – in charge of advocating for palm oil expansion at any cost – is formulating a certification scheme for sustainable palm oil? Where are the scientists, agronomists and ecologists?

The article continues:

“the [Malaysian] Government is serious about introducing its national green palm oil certification scheme as an alternative to the current voluntary Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) certification…this is an opportunity for Malaysia to tell the world that its oil palms are grown in a sustainable manner and do not involve the clearing of virgin forest.”

Malaysia "Sustainable Palm Oil:" Social responsibility or Greenwash?

Malaysia wants to tell the world that land conversion for its oil palm “doesn’t involve the clearing of virgin forest?” Clearly the preservation of natural forests is important, but what about the Free, Prior, Informed Consent (FPIC) of its Indigenous peoples and forest communities? What about its critical habitat for endangered species like the orangutan? What about its other forested areas that are not natural forest land anymore but secondary forests—key habitat for endangered species and diverse forest peoples? I think Malaysia has more at stake that it cares to admit. Watering down criteria for the “sustainability” of its palm oil plantations could turn out to be nothing short of devastating for the people and wildlife of Malaysia.

13 Comments For This Post I'd Love to Hear Yours!

  1. Ed says:

    …and this story is pure blackwash! you have no clue of the functions of MPOB.

  2. Ashley S says:

    Hi Ed- I’d love to hear your thoughts. Could you say more about the functions of MPOB and a little about your background? Thanks!

  3. adam lee says:

    funny how ‘RAN: environMENTALism with teeth’ keeps sinking your sharp teeth on small developing countries like Malaysia and Indonesia but chose to ignore developed/western countries blatant land-use with less efficient crops.

    Indonesia and Malaysia, poor and struggling countries economically, collectively only used up 10mil ha of their land for food production i.e. palm oil. USA used up more than 35mil ha.

    Yet Indonesia and Malaysia produce 40mil tons of edible oil. US produces only 8mil tons of soybean oil.

    the Americans ran out of land to farm, so they venture south to the Amazon. Since then, Brazil has cleared 23mil ha of land for soybean.

    worldwide, soybean production uses up more than 100 MILLION HECTARES of land, palm oil only amounts to 12mil ha. yet we don’t see RAN blow your top and admonish soybean for clearing up ten times more land than palm oil, do we?

    USA, Brazil and Argentina are guilty for clearing more than 72 mil ha of land. What do you think those land were? desert? they were once forest too for god’s sake! so many trees were fell in the amazon, yet do we hear RAN make a noise?

    or have your snout got stuffed with greenbacks from the western countries so much so that they muzzled your noise? yes, you have teeth, but your teeth only rip apart the ‘have-nots’. when it comes to the ‘haves’ your teeth are only good for flashing a gleaming smile, appreciative of the big bucks pouring into your pockets.

    p/s: to the administrator: I know you don’t have the guts to publish my comment but you’ve read this. that’s good enough.

  4. Ashley S says:

    Hi “adam lee” and “Ed,”

    Since both of you are writing from the same “JARING communications Sdn Bhd” IP address in Kuala Lumpur, in the city of Petaling Jaya, I’m guessing both of you work for the Malaysian palm oil industry. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts and concerns with us.

    While I don’t plan on addressing all the fallacies in your response, I would like to point out that as Kuntoro Mangkusubroto said at the International Conference on Forest Tenure, Governance and Enterprise last month, “plantation and forestry-related sectors contribute to 0.1% of [Indonesia's] GDP growth in 2010.” Therefore, working to slow deforestation in natural forests and peatlands does not work against the economic situation there. One tiny fraction of one percent is certainly not enough to bolster any economy, especially when it comes at the price of communities losing ownership of their native customary land rights to massive palm oil plantations.

    Indonesia and Malaysia hold the fastest rate of industrial expansion for any commodity anywhere in the world. Any industrial scale expansion taking place this quickly needs safeguards in place to protect the forest and communities most impacted. Specifically, environmental, social/human rights and transparency safeguards.

    I am interested in your perspective here. Do you see value in conserving forests for people, climate, habitat for endangered species and other key land uses?

    My main point in this blog post, which you failed to address, is that the MPOB is unlikely to create a certification standard with added due diligence. Much to the contrary, it will be even weaker than the already lacking RSPO standard while being even easier for companies to attain. Is that what the MPOB wants? An easier system to get companies certified “sustainable?”

  5. Jenn B says:

    Wow, Ms Schaeffer, all I have to say is “TOUCHÉ!”

  6. adam says:

    “In a world overflowing with riches, it is an outrageous scandal that more than 1 billion people suffer from hunger and malnutrition and that every year over 6 million children die of starvation and related causes. We must take urgent action now.”

    Jean Ziegler, UN Human Rights Council’s Advisory Committee, January 2010

    But RAN is not perturbed by this, right? otherwise RAN would not be so steadfast in your condemnation of food production i.e. palm oil (that takes up a miniscule 0.22% of the world’s agricultural land) and would rather have rainforest in place of the areas for crop instead.

    of course if the hungry 1 billion people need to eat, they can just eat tree bark. The hungry folks won’t be allowed to even eat a banana as it is reserved by RAN for orangutan instead. to RAN, it’s okay, as long as the animals have a nice place to live, what do you care about (6 million) poor, hungry and malnourished children?

    oh wait, no, RAN do care about the hungry and malnourished people. that’s why RAN are silent on soybean and rapeseed oil producers. even though they total more than 100 million ha all over the world. my figures are false? don’t take my word for it. go find out about it yourself. the US Department of Agriculture keeps a very good data about land used for agriculture.

    Brazil for example, had about 14 million ha planted with soybean in 2000, by 2010, Brazil’s land use for soybean is 23.2 million ha. that’s an increase of 9.2 million ha. During the same period, both Malaysia and Indonesia combined, increased only 4.3 million ha. yet the additional land in Brazil produces only about 2 million tons of soybean oil while the additional land in both Malaysia and Indonesia produces more than 17 million tons of palm oil.

    Argentina is following suit with their soybean farming. Don’t believe me? read this recent article by LA Times:,0,1679915.story

    yet, palm oil is singled out by RAN for deforestation???

    RAN campaigns against palm oil. yet without palm oil, at the current world population,
    - global output of oils and fats will lessen by almost 40 million tons a year
    - global usage of land for oils and fats production will increase by a minimum of 30 million ha
    - edible oils prices will skyrocket as the food supply cannot keep up with demand, further alienating the poor.

    by campaigning against palm oil, RAN is advocating an illogical policy. Your policy will only result in a scenario where the rich, gets poorer and the poor gets… death. congratulations RAN!

  7. Dear “Adam,” “Adam lee,” and “Ed,”

    Well hello again! Since, as I pointed out earlier, all “three” of you are writing from the same “JARING communications Sdn Bhd” IP address in Kuala Lumpur, in the city of Petaling Jaya, I’m now pretty confident that all of you work for the Malaysian palm oil industry. No problem, but I think it would help me understand where you are coming from to know who you work for and what your objectives are.

    Again – I appreciate you sharing your thoughts and concerns with us. However, you didn’t share any new information with us in your last comment. I would like to invite you again to share your perspective with us: do you see value in conserving forests for people, climate, habitat for endangered species and other key land uses?

    I am still hoping you can help me understand how the Malaysian Palm Oil Board will create a credible standard for certified “sustainable” palm oil. Putting your opinions aside and instead only pulling from fact and science, will Malaysia’s new certification scheme ensure that Malaysia’s palm oil companies like IOI do a better job growing “sustainable” palm oil?

    Thank you for sharing your insights with us.

  8. andrew ng says:

    As a Malaysian I read the comments from Adam above and feel there’s a need to correct some views and opinions he makes, especially regarding Malaysia and the palm oil sector.

    Malaysia has always boasted about its strong economy – an Asian dragon. Contrary to what is being alluded to in his argument, Malaysia fares well when looking at GDP per capita ( In fact the revenues from petroleum have fueled the country’s growth, infrastructure, education, etc.

    Who benefits from palm oil trade in Malaysia? Palm oil trade revenues and profits are enriching the owners and significantly less to average Malaysians.

    I can’t see how the executives and major shareholders or owners at huge oil palm conglomerates like IOI, Sime Darby, United Plantations, etc. can be considered the “have-nots” as Adam claims. To illustrate, Forbes publishes its rich list annually and for Malaysia:

    Taking only from the Top-10, we see IOI boss Lee Shin Cheng at No.4 with a whopping $5BILLION worth. Not quite as staggering as Malaysia’s richest Robert Kuok (ie. Wilmar) who is worth $12.5BILLION.

    But I do agree there are “have-nots” and primarily that includes plantation workers and indigenous communities bumped off their land for some large plantation company. Case in point: IOI Corp grievance in Long Teran Kanan, Sarawak. The arduous work and low pay in estates means most Malaysians avoid working there if possible.

    Forest conservation is more complex and meaningful than the orang-utans pseudo-argument used, something that I know with confidence most Malaysians appreciate. Such reductive argument merely exposes the lack of ideas and gives no justification for the thinly veiled attempt to prevent Malaysia’s palm oil industry from evolving.

    Being competitive in an increasingly demanding marketplace is crucial for any industry to be successful. While i fully agree that other crops like soybeans have a horrible track-record of unsustainably and require pressure for change as well, it does not reduce the very negative environmental and social impacts many NGOs have documented regarding the palm oil industry.

  9. Adam says:

    Agenda 21 of the Rio Declaration on Environment & Development:

    “States have, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and
    the principles of international law, the sovereign right to exploit their own resources pursuant to their own environment and developmental
    policies and the responsibility to ensure that activities within their
    jurisdiction or control do not cause damage to the environment of other
    States or of areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction.”

    Malaysia has pledged at the United Nation Rio Earth Summit in 1992, to maintain at least 50% of its total land area under forest. Until today and despite all the (regulated) development, Malaysia still has 56% of its land area as permanent forest.

    I say regulated, because, as a sovereign country, Malaysia has its own laws and regulations. Land Conservation Act 1960 (Revised 1989) Act 385 is one of them.

    Do RAN care to comment on that?

    Mr. Andrew Ng,

    You pointed out that Malaysia’s revenue came mostly from Petroleum. Are you saying that Malaysia should discard oil palm cultivation and rely entirely on petroleum? Wait, the basis of RAN’s campaign against palm oil is because palm oil allegedly causes deforestation and deforestation contributes 17% of global GHG emissions (CO2 equivalent). You may want to reread the IPCC’s report that 57% of GHG emissions are from fossil fuel. oh yeah, petroleum is drilled offshore, so no rainforest is harmed, so RAN don’t give a hoot about it.

    Rid Malaysia of oil palm plantation? afforest instead for the benefit of the developed countries, which are devoid of any forest? tell that to the FELDA settlers in Malaysia. Those farmers used to earn less than USD250 per month before they joined the FELDA scheme. Now they earn about USD1,000 per month. not wealthy, but enough to feed their children and spare some money to send a child like me to university for some education.

    you pointed out few names of folks who made money from palm oil. You can’t be so naive to think that no industry in this world that do not gives out equitable wealth? any industry in any country will bound to have few folks who make more money than most. that’s capitalism for you. but overall, palm oil industry provides more than 500,000 direct jobs in Malaysia. perhaps in your u-topian la la land, all lands are forested and everyone gets the same amount of wage for… err, keeping the forest intact.

  10. Ed says:

    Dear Mr. Andrew Ng,

    From a Malaysian to fellow Malaysian, please read:

    The ill-informed and misguided RAN are not folks that you would want to associate yourself with. Please study their objectives carefully. What they preach, if adopted by the public, may ultimately cause more harm than good.

    But I don’t need to tell you that. You seems intelligent enough to figure that one out yourself.

  11. Ed says:

    Dear Mr. Andrew Ng,

    From a fellow Malaysian to another, you may want to read this:

    p/s: Dear Administrator, you didn’t publish my last comment. Why? Have you gone ‘toothless’ over a comment by a nobody? I thought RAN is all about ‘environMENTALism with teeth?’

  12. Mike G says:


    You may have noticed that we’re not afraid to post anything you’ve written. You keep making these baseless allegations that we won’t post your comments, so let me fill you in on how blogs work: we are moderating comments to keep spam from flooding our blog, and you might experience a brief delay when you post a comment. But you can rest assured we’ll keep posting your comments, no matter how misinformed and misleading they may be. We have nothing to hide whatsoever, unlike you, as you still have yet to divulge what your connection to the palm oil industry might be. You keep lobbing these diatribes at us, and yet you clearly are the one whose behavior is duplicitous. What do you have to hide, Ed? Why won’t you tell us who you work for?

Trackbacks For This Post

  1. Malaysian palm oil scheme: more problems, fewer answers » Rainforest Action Network Blog
  2. Go Nederlands! Dutch Government Rejects Bogus, “Certified Sustainable” Timber From Malaysia » Rainforest Action Network Blog
  3. What RSPO Certification Does NOT Mean | gettingonmysoapbox

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