Palm Oil

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) has launched the next level of criteria for producers to comply with as it tries to move towards 100% sustainable production.

The RSPO NEXT standard is a voluntary add-on to the existing RSPO Principles & Criteria (P&C), to further prevent deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions while strengthening human rights commitments.

Up until now, RSPO P&C has banned the clearing of primary forest and areas with high concentrations of biodiversity, rare ecosystems or of national or global significance. RSPO NEXT extends this to only planting on areas with low vegetation and low carbon stock, including in the soil.

Similarly, planting on peatlands moves from avoidance to a ban, while regulations on burning for land clearance and on greenhouse gas emissions are extended from applying to not just plantations themselves but to land around them.

Growers must also support smallholder suppliers as they try to become more sustainable and agree terms for decent living wages for their own workers.

In addition, a new requirement is for all mills to be able to identify, in percentage terms, all the sources of their palm fruit used in oil production.

RSPO was unable to say how many of its 2,633 members would be taking up the RSPO NEXT standard as it was still early in its rollout. It is voluntary as RSPO believes making it compulsory would exclude growers not yet able to implement it from the entire RSPO certification system.

Users will be able to show their support by buying credits but only if they are already subscribing to 100% certified sustainable palm oil. Even then, they will only be able to make a public claim to RSPO NEXT when at least 20% of their purchases come from RSPO NEXT growers.

Danielle Morley, RSPO’s European director of outreach and engagement, said it was planning a series of roadshows in producing countries to engage growers with an outreach and communication programme in consumer markets.

“We anticipate that RSPO NEXT will become a new benchmark for the leading companies and others will follow their example,” Morley said.

Currently, only 20% of palm oil produced globally is certified by RSPO, up from 18% in the previous year, with only about 50% being sold as sustainable palm oil.

Morley accepted that RSPO had to do more to increase uptake of sustainable palm oil in order to be more effective.

“We recognise that we need to work much harder to increase and stimulate the market demand for sustainable palm oil and we have now set regional targets for it.”

The targets, to be met by 2020, include 100% uptake in Europe, 50% in Indonesia and Malaysia, 30% in India and 10% in China, the latter where market awareness is at its lowest.

Morley said one of the many problems in the struggle for improvements was that 40% of palm oil production globally came from smallholders. RSPO was helping these to convert with a fund towards the costs involved.

“A large effort is underway and we talk about continuous improvement the whole time. What we have launched with RSPO NEXT is evidence of that continuing improvement.”

Despite its efforts with RSPO NEXT, the organisation has again been criticised for not doing enough to stop deforestation and environmental pollution.

Greenpeace Indonesia forest campaigner Ratri Kusumohartono quickly branded RSPO NEXT “a failed upgrade” saying it would not halt deforestation or save peatlands from drainage, which were the two biggest environmental problems.

But Jonathan Horrell, director of global sustainability at Mondelez International, defended RSPO NEXT.

Horrell, who sits on RSPO’s board of governors, said he believed it would add to efforts to reduce environmental damage by the industry.

“Certainly, we welcome RSPO NEXT. It addresses some of the key gaps in RSPO, in particular around deforestation, peat and fire and gives much greater clarification around these, which is to be welcomed,” he said.

“We actually think no peat, no deforestation and no fire should be universal in palm oil production and a couple of years ago we published our own palm oil action plan and asked our suppliers to publish their own policies that met our specifications, and to do so across all their sources. RSPO NEXT will now give our suppliers another opportunity to demonstrate they are meeting these criteria for sustainability.”

Mondelez, which has Cadbury, Oreo, Ritz, Tuc, Toblerone, Nabisco, Philadelphia, Belvita and Mikado among its brands, buys 0.6% of the world’s production of palm oil, 80% through RSPO green palm certification.

“RSPO NEXT is an important part of the process to continually improve the sustainability in palm oil production, which is a major challenge that needs to be addressed with urgency,” said Horrell. “We believe the principles added in RSPO NEXT should be universally adopted.”

RSPO NEXT has been created after consultation with RSPO’s 2,633 members including companies such as Aldi, Boots, Sainsbury’s, Marks & Spencer, Waitrose, The Co-operative Group, Tesco and the Body Shop International.

Datuk Darrel Webber, RSPO CEO, said: “RSPO NEXT is an important milestone and can become a new industry benchmark for others who are working hard towards our common goal of 100% certified sustainable palm oil.”