The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil:

Analysis, Prospects and Progress

Marcus Colchester, Forest Peoples Programme and Rudy Lumuru, Sawit Watch


Palm oil is one of the world’s major commodities. Its production has historically been associated with extensive clearance of tropical forests, the (often illegal) takeover of indigenous peoples’ and farmers’ lands and the exploitation of workers and smallholders. Production of palm oil is predicted to double in the next twenty years implying at least another 4-5 million hectares of plantings. RSPO is a joint initiative of some major palm oil companies and the WWF, which is aimed at reforming the palm oil sector and limiting its negative impacts on vulnerable groups and the environment. Set up as an NGO in Switzerland, its Executive Board and membership are dominated by the private sector and it conceives itself as a ‘Business to Business’ venture. While some NGOs have been sceptical of the RSPO, others have seen it as an opportunity to push for better practice. RSPO aims to reform the sector by developing an agreed standard for ‘Sustainable Palm Oil’, getting members voluntarily to adopt this standard and monitoring members’ adherence to this standard by third party assessments.

The RSPO standard is currently being developed through an open, transparent consultative process, which involves a UK-based forestry consultancy and an appointed group of ‘experts’. The expert group is industry-dominated, but does include social and environmental NGOs. Its consensus-based decision-making has, so far, led to a draft standard which accords fairly closely with industry ‘best practice’ and international human rights and environment law. Serious shortcomings of the drafting process are that texts are not being translated into Spanish, French and Bahasa and representatives of indigenous peoples, farmers, smallholders and workers are not directly involved. The lack of translations further hinders their participation.

The draft standard requires: transparency; adherence to national and applicable international law; respect for customary rights; no extinguishment or loss of rights without free, prior and informed consent; adherence to ILO standards on workers, child labour, migrants, forced labour, discrimination, health and safety, and freedom of association and collective bargaining. It also requires: sound management of soils water and biodiversity; minimal use of chemicals; integrated pest management; control of off-site impacts; zero burning; and no clearance of primary forests and areas of High Conservation Values. Further public consultations on this draft standard are planned in June and July 2005. The Board of RSPO hopes that an agreed standard can be adopted by the membership in October 2005.

A number of issues remain unresolved or unclear, including: the role of government in the application of the standard; the responsibilities of industries in the supply chain; the adoption of standards and procedures suitable for smallholders; whether or not to ban GMOs; details of the procedures for verification and dispute of claims; and the development of standards adapted to national contexts.

This briefing by Sawitwatch and FPP has been written and circulated in order to increase public understanding of the RSPO process and to promote judicious engagement or interaction with it. It is not an official document of the RSPO.

1. The RSPO Process:

1.1 What is the RSPO?

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is an initiative of some of the major palm oil industries and conservation organisations, which aims to use market mechanisms to reform the way palm oil is produced, processed and used. The organisation was created to counteract the campaigns of environmental organisations which present oil palm as a major threat to tropical forests and their inhabitants. Groups such as Friends of the Earth[1] and the World Rainforest Movement[2] have shown how palm oil plantations are a major force driving deforestation and are often established on indigenous peoples’ and farmers’ lands without their consent or respect for their rights. The conditions of smallholders and labourers working on or linked to large plantations are often very poor.

RSPO was established as a collaboration between leading actors in the palm oil sector and major conservation organisations, notably WWF as part of its ‘Forest Conversion Initiative’.[3] The business sector was keen that RSPO should counter accusations about social and environmental damage both by promoting the image of the Palm Oil sector as a responsible business and by setting standards for the industry to discourage these negative impacts. The RSPO is also explicit about its intention of encouraging a ‘responsible’ expansion of the palm oil sector to meet an expected near doubling of global demand for oils and fats in the next 20 years, implying the ‘need’ for an additional 4-5 million hectares of oil palm estates.

Formally speaking the RSPO is an NGO incorporated in April 2004 under article 60 of the Swiss Civil Law. RSPO is a membership organisation open to oil palm growers, processors and traders, manufacturers, retailers, banks and investors, environmental and conservation NGOs and social / development NGOs. RSPO is governed by an Executive Board which comprises:

q 4 oil palm growers (1 for Malaysia (MPOA), 1 for Indonesia (GAPKI), 1 for smallholders (vacant), 1 for the ‘rest of the world’ (FEDEPALMA))

q 2 Palm oil processors: (Unilever / PT Musim Mas)

q 2 Consumer goods manufacturers (Aarhus/ Cadbury Schweppes)

q 2 Retailers (Migros / Body Shop)

q 2 Banks/investors: ( vacant )

q 2 Environmental NGOs: (WWF-CH / WWF-Indonesia)

q 2 Social/Development NGOs: (Oxfam / Sawitwatch).[4]

[1] FoE, 2004, Greasy Palms:Palm Oil, the Environment and Big Business, London. E. Wakker, 2004, Greasy Palms: the social and ecological impacts of large-scale oil palm plantation development in Southeast Asia, FoE, London.

[1] WRM, 2004, The Bitter Fruit of Oil Palm: Dispossession and Deforestation. Montevideo.

[1] WWF and industry members are also promoting a parallel initiative named the Roundtable for Sustainable Soy Production. The Forest Conversion Initiative works ‘in partnership with stakeholders that are taking on the responsibility of finding economically viable solutions, committed towards producing and purchasing products from well-managed sources that have not contributed to the loss of valuable tropical forests and that respect the rights of indigenous peoples and forest communities’ M. Diemer and B. Roscher, 2004, Curbing the Loss of Diversity: Update of WWFs Forest Conversion Initiative, RT2.


1.2 How is it meant to work?

RSPO aims to establish clear standards for the production and use of ‘Sustainable Palm Oil’ and encourage trade in such to the exclusion of palm oil produced in more damaging ways. It seeks to so this by:

q Developing a standard for SPO (see section 2)

q Getting this accepted by all RSPO members

q Encouraging RSPO members to reform practices of palm oil production and use, in conformity with the standard

q The Board of RSPO expects adherence to the standards to be voluntary.

q Claims to the production and use of SPO are to be monitored by accredited third party assessors (see section 2.3 for discussion).

Some NGO views about the RSPO

A number of NGOs have decided not to join the RSPO, being sceptical of its effectiveness and the genuineness of its commitments. Of these, some have decided to ignore RSPO, while others are submitting inputs to the process through public comments and indirectly through those NGOs that are engaged. Views expressed include following:

q Any scheme which includes wide-scale conversion of natural habitats into monocrops cannot, by definition, be ‘sustainable’

q RSPO is designed to legitimise further expansion of oil palms

q RSPO is concerned with the sustainability of the palm oil sector not with sustainable livelihoods or environments

q RSPO is unduly dominated by industry

q NGO involvement in RSPO only legitimises an unacceptable process

q Prior experiments with certification (eg timber) have led to little real change

q The real challenge is to reduce consumption.

Other NGOs are working with the RSPO for the following reasons, inter alia:

q They believe that NGO-private sector partnerships are crucial to reform, given the power of corporations and the lack of commitment or capacity of governments

q Leading industry members of the RSPO seem genuinely concerned to improve standards

q Getting the RSPO to agree to the need for change is already an achievement

q Millions of people are already involved in the oil palm sector (as workers and smallholders) and measures are needed to improve their situation

q Setting improved social and environmental standards is by itself a useful way of creating political space for indigenous peoples, farmers, workers and civil society

q The draft standard seems to include real protections for vulnerable groups and the environment

q The process is going ahead anyway: engagement may improve the outcome.

These positions are not, all, mutually contradictory.

1.3 Setting standards:

A discussion draft of the RSPO principles and criteria was put together following the first Roundtable Meeting held in Kuala Lumpur in August 2003, by the interim board of the RSPO with the assistance of the UK-based forestry consultancy, Proforest, which was contracted by RSPO to develop the standard. Proforest advised the Interim Board on the need for the establishment of a broader consultative body to develop the standard. The Board accordingly sought nominations to a Criteria Working Group (CWG), which was established in September 2004.

The CWG is a formal ‘working group’ of the RSPO ruled by its statutes with the task of developing principles, criteria and guidance on the RSPO standards and advising on the means by which claims to SPO can be verified..

RSPO hopes that CWG will develop an agreed standard in time to submit it for discussion and adoption at the third Roundtable in October 2005.

1.4 The CWG:

The CWG is made up of 25 persons (and their alternate) allocated as:

q 10 for palm oil producers (Pacific Rim Palm Oil Limited, IJM (Malaysia), IPOC (Indonesia), Unilever (UK), Unilever (Ghana), New Britain Palm Oil Ltd. (PNG), Agropalma (Brazil), CIRAD (France/Sumatra), FELDA (Malaysia), Dr Kee Khan Kiang (Malaysia)).

q 5 for supply chain and investors (Aarhus Ltd (UK), UniMill (Netherlands), Poram (Malaysia), PT Musi Mas (Indonesia), Daabon Organics (Colombia)

q 5 for environmental interests (WWF-Indonesia, WWF-Malaysia, Conservation International, WWF-US, Dr Gan Lian Tiong (Malaysia))

q 5 for social interests (Sawitwatch, Tenaganita, Oxfam, Partners with Melanesians, Zalfan Hohn Rashid (FELDA, Malaysia).

The 25 persons were selected from among 70 nominations by scoring the votes of members of the Board.

The CWG is obviously numerically dominated by industry interests. It excludes any direct representation of indigenous peoples, smallholders or trades unions or other organisations representing workers in the palm oil sector.

Decisions at the CWG are by consensus, as procedure exists for decision by voting in the case of contested decisions, by which decisions can be made by 3 out of 4 chambers having a majority in favour. The voting procedure has not yet been used.

CWG 1 held a one day meeting on 4 November 2004 and agreed a revised draft of the principles and criteria. This draft was presented for comments to the Second Roundtable on 5/6 November 2004. Taking into account comments from the Roundtable, a public discussion draft was then agreed by the CWG by email and circulated for public consultation. Although this had been requested at CWG 1 translations of the draft principles and criteria into Bahasa, French and Spanish were not made available.

1.5 Public consultation:

The discussion draft of principles and criteria was posted on the RSPO website for public comment in November 2004 and two months were then given for the public to respond. Comments were solicited by email and in two public forums held in Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta to which civil society organisations were invited. In all, some 869 comments were logged by the secretariat, of which the 24 sets of comments sent by email made up 780 of the comments received the rest coming from the minutes of the two public forums. Although the number of comments seems impressive, the extent of inputs is more limited than first appears. The following table analyses the provenance of the emailed inputs.

Table: Analysis of email commentators by ‘sector’







Environment NGO



Social NGO






Total (24)



Of the 24 sets of comments received by email, 14 came from Asia (all apparently from Malaysia and Indonesia) and 10 from Europe. No comments were made by persons or companies from Africa and Latin America, reflecting the lack of translation of the draft criteria into Spanish and French. The lack of input from North America, Pakistan, India, China, Korea or Japan suggests that these markets are not yet sensitive to the social and environmental impacts of oil palm development.

2. What is in the standard?

The next draft of the principles and criteria and accompanying guidance, which constitute the RSPO ‘standard’, will be released as the third draft for further public consultations in June 2005, so these notes seek to summarise not duplicate that document. The standard accepts the need for a ‘triple bottom line’ – social, financial and environmental, also described at CWG 2 as the ‘Three Ps’ – ‘People, Profits and Planet’. The comments that follow address mainly the social and environmental aspects.

2.1 Social criteria:

The draft criteria include provisions requiring:

q A commitment to transparency

q Compliance with the law

q Demonstrable right to use the land and absence of legitimate land conflicts

q No diminishment or loss of customary rights without free, prior and informed consent (FPIC)

q Documented and acceptable systems for resolving disputes and achieving negotiated agreements based on FPIC

q Social assessments of impacts of existing operations

q Implementation of health and safety requirements

q Open and transparent communications

q Assurances of acceptable pay

q Recognition of the right to organise and free collective bargaining

q Protections of child labour, women, migrant labourers and smallholders

q No forced labour or discrimination

q Contributions to local development where appropriate

q Participatory social and environmental impact assessments of proposed new plantations

q No new plantations on indigenous peoples’ lands without FPIC

q Fair compensation of indigenous peoples and local communities for land acquisitions and extinguishment of rights, subject to FPIC and negotiated agreements.

Texts on these issues were agreed without great controversy. The only principle that elicited a warm debate was the one that read: ‘the right to use the land can be demonstrated.’ SW/FPP noted that in some major producing countries laws relating to land are extremely contradictory and thus the phrase should be qualified to read: ‘The legal right to use the land can be demonstrated and is not contested by other users’. Spokespersons for the processing and manufacturing industries objected that many of those who ‘contest’ plantations ‘are not from the area’ (ie opportunistic claimants) and that acceptance of this phrase would slow SPO recognition. SW/FPP noted the importance of finding consensus on this issue, but pointed out that most plantation owners ‘are not from the area’ either. Given the contradictory nature of the law, it was crucial that protections were in place to protect indigenous peoples and local communities from unilateral expropriations. After some discussion revised wording was agreed:

The right to use the land can be demonstrated and is not legitimately contested

It was agreed that clear guidance should be provided on FPIC mechanisms, and that there should be no forced removals to establish plantations, while national standards or interpretations should provide comprehensive lists of the national laws which should be adhered to.

The CWG established two further sub-groups, one of which will review the indicators for compliance with the draft principle requiring demonstrable improvements in performance, and the second of which will develop a list of which documents companies should make available to comply with the required commitment to transparency.

2.2 Environmental criteria:

The draft criteria include provisions requiring:

q Maintenance of soil fertility

q Erosion control

q Water management

q Integrated Pest Management

q Restricted use of pesticides

q Monitoring and control of off-site impacts

q Environment impact assessments

q Plans to manage biodiversity

q Waste management, reduction, recycling and reuse

q Zero burning (except under exceptional circumstances eg for serious pest outbreaks)

Texts on all these issues were agreed without great controversy. However, there was quite a long discussion about pesticide use. Notably, the representative for Tenaganita / Pesticides Action Network-Asia argued for clear guidance on which pesticides could be used. It was agreed that the Stockholm and Rotterdam agreements should be used as part of the guidance. SW/FPP also invoked the FAO International Code of Conduct on the Distribution and Use of Pesticides. It was agreed that a Sub-Group of the CWG should be convened to develop a list of banned chemicals.

With regard to the establishment of new plantations a key criterion requires that:

Primary forest and any area containing one or more High Conservation Values must not be converted to plantation.

It was remarked at CWG 2 by a spokesperson for the manufacturing sector, that this principle is ‘the soul of the RSPO’. The principle was discussed in some detail but the text, as it stood, was affirmed. It was also agreed that guidance should be given on where plantings should be made, on the requirements of the CBD, on what constitutes HCV and that areas defined as HCV based on social criteria (ie crucial to livelihoods and sacred sites) might be opened to oil palm if the indigenous peoples and/or local communities gave their free, prior and informed consent. Industry spokespeople did however express considerable concern about how and when this criterion should be applied. Among the industry views expressed:

q The FSC definition of HCVF was not acceptable

q The criterion should not halt oil palm planting as 4 million to 5 million additional hectares of plantings will be needed to meet global demands for oils and fats in the next 20 years

q The question of which areas should be open to conversion was a matter of national sovereignty and was the government’s responsibility

After some discussion it was proposed that the start date for when this criterion should apply should be the date the criterion is accepted by the RSPO.

2.3 Key concerns:

A number of other issues were also raised at CWG 2, but led to inconclusive results or even to disagreements.

2.3.1 Mandatory or voluntary standards?

At the first meeting of the Criteria Working Group (CWG 1), Sawitwatch and FPP sought clarification on whether the proposed criteria were for a mandatory (legally binding/govt. enforced) or a voluntary set of standards. CWG 1 was informed that the current aim of the RSPO was for a voluntary set of standards, although it was hoped these might encourage changes in law and governance where needed.

During the consultation period, a large number of comments on the draft criteria raised this question again, directly or indirectly. Some commentators called for measures to be adopted by governments, such as:

q Laws to protect the rights of indigenous peoples

q Titling of indigenous peoples’ and smallholders’ lands

q Strategic impact assessments

q Land Use planning

Other commentators rejected certain standards arguing that they are the responsibility of government, such as:

q Respect for customary rights.

q Measures to compensate prior land users for loss of access to or rights in land

q Observance of international standards on labour and human rights

At CWG, the Board reaffirmed its commitment to a voluntary process and even expressed the view that the RSPO ‘is not intended to influence governments’. Sawitwatch/FPP expressed the view that, in the medium term, broad adherence to the criteria will require interventions, and legal and procedural reforms, by governments. In the meantime, if the criteria are initially to be applied voluntarily by a number of ‘market leaders’, the criteria must, in SW/FPP’s view:

q Not be limited to what is already in national laws but should invoke appropriate international standards

q Include robust and locally acceptable means of resolving conflicts, many of which result from inadequate or contradictory laws

q Be subject to fully independent monitoring and evaluation.

The CWG apparently accepted that standards should be uniform between countries and not require mere compliance with national laws. Conflict resolution mechanisms were also agreed. A brief discussion on verification was also held (see below). However, the issue of what is the appropriate role for government in the process remains contentious or, at least, unclear.

2.3.2 Responsibilities and incentives in the supply chain:

At the second meeting of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RT 2), it was agreed that the RSPO seeks sustainable production and use of palm oil (PO). The draft criteria however only refer to standards for production and provide no criteria that imply any responsibilities by users – investors, purchasers, processors, transporters, retailers or consumers. Indeed at RT2 manufacturers and purchasers indicated that they would not expect observance of the criteria to result in any change in the prices paid for sustainable palm oil (SPO), a view reiterated in CWG 2.

This has elicited a strong reaction from producers who feel the onus is unfairly being placed on them alone to transform the sector. Certainly all this begs the question of what will be the incentives for reform – if this is to be a voluntary process – especially if alternative buyers and retailers can be found who do not care about the SPO standards. A plantation company representative noted that without a premium, RSPO criteria would only be widely adopted if the growing markets for PO in China, India and Pakistan were also made environmentally sensitive. The Board noted that currently the European market only accounts for 25% of the PO trade. One member of the CWG argued that, in fact, compliance with ‘Best Management Practices’ such as integrated pest management, recycling of ‘waste’, no burning policies etc. were actually money savers and thus no extra premium would be needed to encourage compliance. It was agreed that the cost implications of adopting RSPO standards was not really known and this should be assessed.

The few clear recommendations made by commentators on how the criteria should apply to users include suggestions that criteria should be set requiring:

q Observation of labour and community relations standards by users

q Observation of food quality standards

q Limits on what proportions of SPO / Non-SPO should be allowed to carry the SPO label.

These issues were briefly discussed at CWG2. However, the meeting did not agree to include standards for the whole supply chain and the discussion on this issue was frankly confusing.

Sawitwatch/FPP expressed the view that the costs and/or responsibilities of transition to SPO must be equitably borne by all in the production chain. Sawitwatch/FPP also expressed the view that a separate study was required of chain of custody procedures to establish whether it is practicable to accurately track and control the proportions of SPO and non-SPO used in PO products. SW/FPP noted that without such a study RSPO can only responsibly insist that SPO products must be 100% from verified sources.

The meeting was informed that the RSPO has indeed commissioned a Chain of Custody study from Proforest. SW/FPP asked that the TORs of this study being provided to the CWG and another member of the CWG requested that information about the study be posted on the RSPO website. The results of this study should be available during the first half of 2005.

2.3.3 Smallholders:

The RSPO currently defines smallholders as any family based enterprise producing palm oil from less than 50 hectares of land. As such the term includes, inter alia,

q Outgrower schemes on major nucleus estates (eg PIR/NES schemes in Indonesia)

q Outgrower schemes on centralised land consolidation projects (eg FELDA schemes in Malaysia)

q Cooperative smallholder schemes (as in Indonesia)

q Independent small farmers (the majority of African oil palm production is of this kind).

Good statistics on smallholder production is lacking. Our guess is that some 10-20% of palm oil from Malaysia comes from smallholders, where the average holding is about 4 ha.; up to 40% of palm oil in Indonesia comes from smallholdings, where the mean holding is about 2 ha.. Near 90% of palm oil produced in Nigeria is from smallholdings, in which most oil palms are cultivated as part of mixed farming strategies. Nigeria does not export significant quantities of palm oil.

To date, the voices of these millions of smallholders have barely been heard by the RSPO directly. They are not represented on the RSPO Board (although there is a place on the Board for smallholders, it is vacant). They are not represented on the CWG, except indirectly by the social NGOs.

SW/FPP have voiced concerns about this situation at both CWG 1 and CWG 2. At CWG 2, SW/FPP called for the establishment of a ‘Task Force on Smallholders’ which would:

q Comprise the social chamber of the CWG with coopted smallholder representatives

q Carry out a diagnostic survey of smallholder situations and views

q Hold two rounds of consultations between CWG 2 and CWG 3 with full participation of smallholder representatives to develop answers to the questions above

q Regularly report all activities and progress made to the RSPO Secretariat (and thereby the Board)

q Promptly report back to the full CWG the results of the diagnostic survey and the two rounds of consultations

q Raise funds for these activities.

Not enough time was given at CWG 2 to discuss this proposal. CWG members noted that any sub-group should include members of all the chambers of the RSPO and should include representatives of those on government-owned smallholder schemes. It was agreed that economies of scale would disadvantage small-scale growers from compliance with RSPO criteria. One NGO suggested that one solution could be to ask mills to assist smallholders to achieve quality production. Proforest noted that group certification could also help reduce the costs of verification. It was decided to set up a CWG Sub-Group on Smallholders which will correspond by email to decide on next steps.[5] SW/FPP noted that by itself the sub-group would be no more inclusive of small-holder representation that the CWG and the need remained for the RSPO and CWG to reach out to small-holder groups directly to ensure their voice was heard.

2.3.4 Genetically Modified Oil Palms:

At CWG 2, SW/FPP argued for the inclusion of a criterion placing a moratorium on the use of genetically modified oil palms. SW/FPP argued that as no procedures yet exist for the testing and monitoring of GM Oil Palms (GMOPs), the sustainability and social implications of such plants is completely unknown. SW/FPP drew attention to the two recent resolutions of the World Conservation Congress. The first of these calls for a moratorium on further releases of GMOs and for the development of credible knowledge and information concerning the conservation risks of

[1] At CWG 2, one industry member of the CWG made the provocative statement, partly in jest, that it could be argued that the way the RSPO had been set up was designed to exclude smallholders, so it was curious it was now trying to include them!

GMOs. The second resolution also urged ratifications of the Cartagena Protocol under the CBD which invokes the precautionary principle, imposes the burden of proof for the safety of GMOs on those developing GMOs and recognises a government’s right to ban imports of GMO-based products.[6] This suggestion was not supported by any other NGOs present, including conservation organisations.

Industry spokespersons opposed the proposal, on three grounds. A spokesperson for the processing industries, argued that the criterion was unnecessary as no GMOPs were likely to be developed for another 15 years A spokesperson for the manufacturing sector argued that, given that European consumers were concerned about GM in their foods – a factor which had curbed the increase in the sale of soy oil-based products in Europe – and given that GMOPs were not likely to be grown in the near future, it would be inadvisable to unnecessarily raise consumers’ fears by referring to GMOs. A spokesperson for the Malaysian palm oil sector noted that GMOPs are indeed desirable, such as forms that are drought resistant and have shorter trunks. He argued that it would be wrong to discourage development of GMOPs, as further yield increases were needed to meet rising global demands for oils and fats. More efficient use of existing land would lessen pressure on the environment.

The proposed criterion was not accepted.

2.3.4 Translation

A serious problem is the lack of RSPO secretariat capacity to translate the RSPO draft criteria into key languages. At CWG 1, SW/FPP argued for the need to translate the criteria into French, Spanish and Bahasa. However this was not done and partly explains the total lack of comments on the draft criteria from Africa and Latin America and contributes to the continued exclusion of small farmers, local NGOs and smallholder organisations in Malaysia and Indonesia.

SW/FPP repeated the call for ‘official’ translations of the RSPO draft criteria for the second round of consultations in mid-2006. SW/FPP noted that unofficial translations would be better than nothing but for comments on the draft criteria to bear weight it is preferable that they related to translations endorsed by the RSPO.

No clear decision was taken on translations but the secretariat called on RSPO members to volunteer to help bear these costs.

2.3.5 Quality control:

The CWG is also meant to advise the RSPO on the best way of verifying claims.

At CWG 1, Sawitwatch/ FPP had also raised a number of questions on the issue of how observation of the criteria should be verified and how the verifiers should be accredited. RSPO did not respond concretely to these questions at the time, the suggestion being that these were issues for a later phase of the process. However, a number of commentators on the draft criteria raised the same questions, in response to which ProForest issued a paper for the consideration of the CWG.[7] Based on the assumption that the RSPO will indeed be promoting a voluntary approach, the

[1] The 3rd World Conservation Congress held in Bangkok on 17-25 November 2004 passed two resolutions on GMOs (RES WCC 3.007 and RES WCC 3.008) see See also Chris Lang, 2004, Genetically Modified Trees: the ultimate threat to forests, World Rainforest Movement, Montevideo

[1] ProForest, 2005a, Discussion Paper, Verification and control of claims for the RSPO Criteria for Sustainable Management of Oil Palm (sic.), ms.

ProForest discussion paper proposes a process of third party verification of claims with verifiers being accredited either by an accepted accreditation agency or by a successor body of the CWG. The paper highlights the risks of conflicts of interest developing if verifiers have financial links with the operations they verify. At CWG 2 the Board of the RSPO expressed the view that verification should be by independent, third party assessment.

Sawitwatch/FPP expressed the view that:

q Given that it is suggested that RSPO will be a voluntary process, verification should indeed be by independent third party verifiers, accredited by an RSPO endorsed accreditation agency or committee;

q Costs of verifications should be borne by the producers[8] and paid into an independently administered and audited ESCROW account from which verifiers are paid;

q There should be a complaints process to challenge claims and certifications.

2.3.6 Phased implementation?

The same ProForest discussion paper also recommends consideration of a process of ‘phased implementation’ whereby producers can be recognised once minimum baseline requirements are met and then keep their recognition dependent on a publicly declared, time-bound action plan for improvement of performance, with assessments of gaps and annual independent verification of progress.

At CWG 2 Sawitwatch/FPP expressed serious reservations about this proposal because:

q Previous proposals for, and experiments with, phased certification have tended to leave social criteria for later phases, thereby marginalising affected workers, farmers and indigenous peoples.

q The same is observable with the minimum baseline requirements proposed by ProForest (2005a:7).

q It is unclear how smallholders could cope with such a process.

Members of the Board of the RSPO noted the possibility that RSPO members could be scored for their degree of compliance and awarded graded according to their score: from light green (say 20% compliance), dark green (50%) gold (90%) and platinum (100%). There was no apparent conclusion to this discussion.

2.3.7 National Standards:

Previous standard-setting procedures for forestry have noted how international generic standards designed to be applicable to all countries need to be complemented with national interpretations which set out in more practical and factual detail how the international standards are to be applied in specific national or regional contexts. ProForest has developed a second discussion paper on this matter setting out a series of considerations on procedures required for the effective and acceptable development

[1] Since the majority of palm oil is not sold before shipment, it is hard to identify which other users in the supply chain should contribute to verification costs.

and application of such national interpretations for the RSPO.[9] The paper seeks to answer questions about:

q Who would manage such a process and who else would be involved?

q Would interim local guidelines be required first?

q How might such standards be evolved?

q How will their quality be assessed?

q How will they be recognised and who by?

There was not enough time at CWG 2 to discuss this issue in any detail, but it was repeatedly noted that national interpretation or guidance will be needed to make RSPO criteria applicable and relevant to national laws, policies and contexts.

Sawitwatch/FPP expressed the view that national guidelines or sets of indicators will be required if the generic social principles and criteria are to be adequately fitted to national realities in producer countries. SW/FPP suggested that effective development of national guidelines or indicators will require:

q Fully participatory involvement of all affected parties, especially indigenous peoples, women’s groups, smallholder representatives, trades unions and NGOs

q Shared control of national standard-setting processes by private sector, smallholders and civil society groups with no group(s) allowed to pursue a process to the exclusion of others

q Capacity building processes among affected groups to explain the current scope of proposed standards and their intent

q Field investigations of social issues especially relating to labour conditions and land tenure in production zones

q Legal investigations to determine the current scope and limitations of national laws and international obligations.

There was no time in the meeting to address any of these issues.

3. Next steps:

At CWG 2 a revised programme of work for the RSPO was announced as follows:

q Further public consultations on the RSPO criteria are planned (a meeting in PNG has been tentatively scheduled for March)

q Agreed minutes of CWG 2 should be available in April 2005.

q The revised draft of the criteria would be made available sometime thereafter.

q The next 60 day period for public comments on the draft criteria will be June and July 2005.

q The next Criteria Working Group meeting will be held in KL in 21-22 Sept. 2005.

q The next meeting of the RSPO (RT3) will be in Singapore in 22-23 Oct. 2005.

4. Getting your voice heard:

You have various means of getting your opinions into the RSPO process, including:

q Writing direct to the secretariat or the Board:

[1] ProForest, 2005b, Discussion Paper: National Interpretation of the RSPO Criteria for Sustainable Management of Oil Palm (sic.), ms.

q Waiting for the next official comment period and filing comments as then directed

q Writing to members of the Criteria Working Group. Ask the secretariat for a list of members emails.

q Or contact us at Sawitwatch and the Forest Peoples Programme at: and

28 February 2005

[1] FoE, 2004, Greasy Palms:Palm Oil, the Environment and Big Business, London. E. Wakker, 2004, Greasy Palms: the social and ecological impacts of large-scale oil palm plantation development in Southeast Asia, FoE, London.

[2] WRM, 2004, The Bitter Fruit of Oil Palm: Dispossession and Deforestation. Montevideo.

[3] WWF and industry members are also promoting a parallel initiative named the Roundtable for Sustainable Soy Production. The Forest Conversion Initiative works ‘in partnership with stakeholders that are taking on the responsibility of finding economically viable solutions, committed towards producing and purchasing products from well-managed sources that have not contributed to the loss of valuable tropical forests and that respect the rights of indigenous peoples and forest communities’ M. Diemer and B. Roscher, 2004, Curbing the Loss of Diversity: Update of WWFs Forest Conversion Initiative, RT2.

[5] At CWG 2, one industry member of the CWG made the provocative statement, partly in jest, that it could be argued that the way the RSPO had been set up was designed to exclude smallholders, so it was curious it was now trying to include them!

[6] The 3rd World Conservation Congress held in Bangkok on 17-25 November 2004 passed two resolutions on GMOs (RES WCC 3.007 and RES WCC 3.008) see See also Chris Lang, 2004, Genetically Modified Trees: the ultimate threat to forests, World Rainforest Movement, Montevideo

[7] ProForest, 2005a, Discussion Paper, Verification and control of claims for the RSPO Criteria for Sustainable Management of Oil Palm (sic.), ms.

[8] Since the majority of palm oil is not sold before shipment, it is hard to identify which other users in the supply chain should contribute to verification costs.

[9] ProForest, 2005b, Discussion Paper: National Interpretation of the RSPO Criteria for Sustainable Management of Oil Palm (sic.), ms.


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