It’s been a tumultuous few months for cheerleaders of Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil-certified “sustainable” palm oil, and now the ground just became even more unstable. In an interesting turn of events — what some alarmists are calling “the beginning of the end” for the RSPO — Indonesia’s Palm Oil Association (GAPKI) has walked out on the RSPO.
Although I’m not exactly sure what this means, it raises interesting questions for the further evolution of the RSPO certification standard. Industry associations typically defend the lowest common denominator of their memberships, making them unlikely allies when pushing for changes to business as usual. I witnessed firsthand GAPKI’s aggressive obstructionist tactics at the last RSPO annual meeting in 2010.
GAPKI has jumped ship in the hopes that the Indonesian government-sponsored palm oil certification scheme, Indonesia Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO), will rubberstamp existing practices as “sustainable.” Malaysia is also setting up its own palm oil industry controlled certification scheme as an alternative to the RSPO.
Does this mark the beginning of the end for the RSPO? Or the beginning of a new era of credible RSPO certification standards that actually embody strong zero deforestation criteria without GAPKI blocking progress at every step of the way?
In my mind, the most important question here is how big consumer facing brands are going to make meaningful commitments to their customers. Both Malaysia’s Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) scheme and Indonesia’s ISPO are deep greenwash, essentially government-led, industry-controlled schemes to enable larger exports of falsely labelled “sustainable” palm oil to countries around the world without addressing the huge negative environmental and social impacts of its production.
More and more large companies around the world are adopting zero deforestation policies for their palm oil supply chains, creating markets for growers willing to meet the higher standards of high value markets. The Consumer Goods Forum, with over 600 hundred large companies in 70 countries and $2.9 trillion in annual revenues, has passed a resolution to eliminate tropical deforestation from their collective supply chains by 2020. With GAPKI gone, they will be looking to the RSPO to embrace this opportunity.
The weaker governance and standards of the ISPO and MSPO and the clumsy attempt by provincial palm oil grower interests to ice out their customers from decision-making means they will never be trusted in the marketplace for any sort of quality assurance around environmental or social safeguards.