What is the RSPO and is RSPO certified palm oil actually sustainable?
The environmental destruction caused by palm oil has lead to many ethical consumers boycotting brands and products who use it. This has lead to a need for sustainable palm oil which is why the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was created. But whether it's actually making the palm oil industry sustainable is another story...
What is the RSPO?
The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was formed in 2004 in an attempt to make the palm oil industry more sustainable. It's a voluntary association with palm oil producers, processors, traders, manufacturers, retailers, banks, investors and some environmental organisations. Therefore, it's not an independent regulator but is instead made up of stakeholders in the palm oil industry.
So, does the RSPO actually ensure sustainable palm oil?
According to environmental groups, investigative journalists and whistleblowers, there are many holes that allow unsustainable palm oil to be fed into certified sustainable palm oil supply chains. The RSPO has been accused by Friends of the Earth of "being used by the palm oil industry to greenwash corporate destruction and human rights abuses, while it continues to expand business, forest destruction and profits".
Meanwhile, indigenous populations have reported violence, exploitation, loss of access to their ancestral lands and even deaths they say have been caused by contamination of drinking water from palm oil processing plants.
Researchers found palm oil plantations with eco-friendly endorsements have lost 38% of their forest cover since 2007 while non-certified areas have lost 34%.
Why does the RSPO receive criticism?
The RSPO receives criticism from activists and environmental groups for what they say is a failure to adequately audit companies or penalise them when they break the rules.
“The credibility or efficacy of the RSPO is entirely reliant on NGOs...to look at what's actually happening and try and enforce the standard. If we don't do it, any number of sins will just get rubber-stamped and greenwashed." - Tomasz Johnson of the Environmental Investigation Agency.
The organisation also faces a common problem with industry-led sustainability initiatives: trying to get all members to agree to improve standards. Achieving sustainability may clash with companies' profit motives leading to them not taking action.
Well, does the RSPO protect critically endangered orangutan habitat at least?
Scientists testing the effectiveness of palm oil certification in sustainability objectives have cast doubt on whether RSPO certification is achieving real improvements in the sustainability of palm oil production.
Researchers also found orangutan populations declined at similar rates between RSPO-certified and non-certified plantations between 2009 and 2014. Outbreaks of fire increased at similar rates between both and poverty increased in villages neighbouring certified and non-certified plantations.
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