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What about the Round Table of Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO)? Isn’t their purpose to ensure palm oil is sourced sustainably?

The RSPO was initiated by Unilever, AAK, Migros, MPOA (Malaysian Palm Oil Ass.) and WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature) in an effort to repair the image of the oil palm industry amid the environmental scandals committed over the previous 20 years. The goal was to alleviate buyers’ concerns regarding deforestation resulting from the oil palm industry by promoting the idea of “sustainable” palm oil. The system relies upon 3rd party auditors to examine palm plantations and ensure adherence to the RSPO Standard. Successfully following this process allows palm producers to sell their product as “RSPO certified”. Material bearing the RSPO seal secures a higher price out on the open market. Using RSPO certified material also gives the end users and their customers a false sense of security in thinking the material is sustainably sourced.

The RSPO Standard does not allow the use of trafficked labor. Even so it has been found that trafficked labor is supplied by contractors to RSPO certified plantations (EIA, 2015). Trafficked laborers’ passports are typically taken, they are paid less than the legal minimum wage and often work 7 days a week. All these practices are illegal but are openly done under the cover of trafficking. Children of trafficked workers are not recognized by the countries in which they live. They are not able to attend school or use public healthcare. If a child is born to a trafficked laborer, that child is country-less and has even fewer options than their very poor parents. Allowing the proliferation of a population of desperate people leads to the success of extremist groups like ISIS which is already present in Mindanao Philippines.

The RSPO enacted the New Planting Procedure (NPP) in 2010. The NPP states land concessions must be appraised for high conservation value (HCV) and Social and Environmental Impact Assessments (SEIA) must be done prior to clearing and planting. The NPP should halt, for example, the practice of planting on peatland or primary forest or using land claimed by indigenous people without first getting permission. HCVs are biotic, environmental, communal or cultural values that are considered exceptionally important. They may provide essentials for local people, critical environmental needs or support threatened ecosystems. The RSPO lists six HCVs covering these criteria. The RSPO Standard states no new developments, beyond November 2005, may replace primary forests or any area required to maintain or enhance one or more of the HCVs. Even so, the EIA found instances where land was cleared before the assessments were even complete. Oil palm board members also hold positions on the complaints panel within the RSPO. If Oil Palm companies were efficient at policing themselves in the first place, we wouldn’t need the RSPO.

Big companies committed to zero deforestation are doing so in name-only, if they are using palm oil. When companies like L’Oreal or Unliever say they are using sustainably sourced, RSPO certified palm oil, what does that mean? It means it’s up to you, the consumer, to demand certified palm free products.