Why ‘RSPO Sustainable Palm Oil’ is not responsible

Written by Gemma Tillack

Topics: Forests, Learn

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rspo_logoWhen you go to the grocery store and you buy a bag of chips, a chocolate bar, crackers, ice-cream, doughnuts, frozen snacks or other candy, you may see a label on the products saying ‘RSPO Certified Sustainable Palm Oil’ or ‘Green Palm Sustainability.’ Such labeling makes it is easy to think that the product you are holding contains palm oil that has been produced responsibly. But what does the label really stand for?

The Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is a global certification scheme formed in 2004 to set the standard for ‘sustainable palm oil’. But the sad truth is, many of the companies that use these labels are in fact still causing rainforest destruction and the clearance and draining of carbon-rich peatlands that release massive amounts of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere.

Shockingly, Indonesia – the world’s largest palm oil producer – is also the world’s third largest greenhouse gas emitter after only China and the US. But unlike China and the US, 50% of Indonesia’s emissions are from cleared and drained peat lands, and 35% from clearing rainforests. Palm oil expansion is one of the top drivers of this destruction but under the RSPO these companies don’t need to publicly report the emissions they are responsible for. How are we going to fix this global problem if companies don’t fess up to their emissions?

Today in Kuala Lampur, the RSPO, which includes some 400 members who are palm growers, oil processors, traders, consumer goods manufacturers, retailers, investors and social and environmental NGOs, voted to adopt a new RSPO standard that still fails to address the climate impacts of palm oil productions. This vote by the RSPO members to support a new RSPO standard that certifies deforestation and excessive greenhouse gas emissions as ‘sustainable palm oil’ is a step in a wrong direction for the credibility of the RSPO.

The new RSPO standard is not a standard that can be trusted to produce Responsible Palm Oil. What’s needed now is for the companies that produce, trade and use palm oil in their products to go beyond the RSPO and commit to producing and sourcing palm oil that is truly RESPONSIBLE.

For this reason, RAN has just sent letters to 20 snack food companies—makers of some of the most popular brand name products in America—alerting them to the rainforest destruction in their supply chains. RAN has launched a campaign to convince America’s favorite snack food companies to go beyond the RSPO and to source RESPONSIBLE palm oil.

In order for us to succeed we need your help.

Stand with us by signing this petition and demand the snack food industry does what the RSPO has failed to do: remove rainforest and peatland destruction from its products.


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

  1. John Dziak says:

    Dear Ms. Tillack,
    Thanks for this information. Doesn’t soap often contain a lot of palm oil too though?

  2. CEDA says:

    Thanks for the stuff

  3. Janet says:

    It’s very hard to read all the ingredients w/o a magnifying glass. In addition, I doubt if most people can remember all the other names for palm oil. If it does say “responsibly produced or harvested,” it may not be. I don’t know HOW to follow the rulebook, and I’m really trying. About the only way to truly avoid palm oil is to avoid buying processed food at all. Am I right?

  4. Erin says:

    You bring up a very good point, but the point of RSPO isn’t to address climate change as a whole (or at the very least, not to make it it’s sole concern). That’s a can of worms that will take time and yes, constant vigilance from the consumer. What you’re missing out on here is the fact that palm oil harvested through shady measures such as using wild vegetation (illegal logging using slash and burn practices) instead of plantation grown (why do you think the Orangutan populations are severely hurting?) and making sure their practices aren’t exacerbating that issue of irresponsibility any further. It’s not a perfect system (and don’t get me wrong, I completely agree there needs to be a balance between addressing deforestation and expanding industry) but saying it isn’t working at all is a gross understatement. Is it better to buy products that don’t contain palm oil? Absolutely. Is it always possible? Not at all. I feel good buying a product I know is committed to addressing these issues of sustainability and protection of biodiversity as opposed to not holding any accountability until every last tree is gone. The Indonesian government is also responsible for logging and production standards, yet you fail to hold them accountable as well. I feel this article lacks objectivity, is all.

  5. Marissa says:

    What do you suggest companies do to “go beyond” buying certified palm oil?

  6. Gwen says:

    Okay boys and girls…lots of foods listing the generic word VEGETABLE OIL include palm oil in that concoction.
    They also use a host of pseudonyms. If you see one of these ingredients listed in your products…put it back on the shelf & contact the manufacterer!

    Sodium Laureth Sulfate
    Sodium dodecyl Suphate (SDS or NaDS)
    Elaeis Guineensis
    Stearic Acid
    Steareth-2 (or) Steareth-20
    Sodium Laurel Sulphate
    Sodium Lauryl Sulfoacetate
    Hydrated Palm Glycerides
    Sodium isostearoyl lactylaye
    Cetyl Palmitate
    Octyl Palmitate
    PKO & PKOo (Palm Kernel Oil or Palm Kernel Olein)
    PKs (Palm Kernal Stearin)
    PHPKO (Partially hydrogenated Palm Oil)
    FP(K)O (Fractionated Palm Oil)
    OPKO (ORGANIC Palm Kernal Oil)
    Palmitate (Vitamin A or Asorbyl Palmitate)
    …and of course Palm Oil

  7. gaetan says:


    what about Africa; South America??
    I would like to have you’re opinion about :
    1) soja oïl :95 000 000Ha it’s a very huge forest destructions compares to palm oil plantation only 15 000 000Ha
    2)what about Amazonia forest they cut more land for soja oïl than what Indonesia and Malaysia did for palm oïl plantation
    3) what about the papers compagny woods compagny? they cut more forest than soja and palm oïl industry!!

    it would be really benefit for those people living from Agriculture to ask consumers what they really need instead of causing trouble!

  8. Patricia Ortiz says:

    Thanks for the list of other names for palm oil. You’re right about the Indonesian government and its complicity in the devastation palm oil is causing. The President has said that five-sixths of palm oil plantations are illegal. Then why are they even there? If the President says they are illegal, the government must know where they are. The government has been receiving millions of dollars from other countries to promote reforestation and stop deforestation. Still deforestation goes on, human rights are violated, and orangutans are losing their homes and being deliberately slaughtered despite laws on the books of the government of Indonesia to protect them. Someone should hold this government responsible.

  9. EnergyWise says:

    On the bright side, it is true that palm oil has contributed to economic well-being in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Papua New Guinea and other countries that produce it and no one denies that.

    On a balanced view, we should know the dark side as well, which is what conscientious people are fighting against. Leave alone the destruction of rainforests and the habitat of orangutans, piggy elephants, biodiverstity and issues of paraquat.

    From climate change point of view palm oil production is very damaging to the environment at present releasing millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere yearly. This is more than the carbon dioxide released from the coal fired power plants in these countries.

    The farmers, planters, agriculturists and small holders work hard to bring palm oil on the table, however, in contrast the palm oil mills in the supply chain cause all the havoc. The solution to climate change damage lies at the palm oil mills. The mills should stop considering the 74% biomass by-product remaining after extracting palm oil and palm kernels in the palm oil production process at the mill as waste material. It contain massive amount of clean energy!

    Technologies and means are readily available to harness this energy to replace fossil fuel else outside the mill thereby mitigating the climate change damage by reducing the carbon footprint. The sad part is that the will to adopt is wanting in the palm oil milling industry.

    Rightfully, it’s the palm oil mill that should be in the focus.

    For interesting read browse: http://www.rank.com.my/energywise

    Yours sincerely,

    Climate change is ‘an immediate and growing threat.’
    No stone should be left unturned to mitigate GHG and climate change.

  10. mary s says:

    I purchase organic bouillon cubes. The ingredients include non-hydrogenated palm oil (with an asterick noting it is organic.)

    I contacted them about this and never got a reply. Is this okay to used. I assume if not the store that carries it would remove it.

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