The environmental atrocities of the palm industry that were witnessed in the 1990s served to give the
oil palm industry a pretty bad reputation among environmentalists. These abuses were well known and damaging the reputation of a material that should by all other accounts have a good environmental standing. Palm oil is, after all, the most efficient oil in that we can get more oil from a single palm plant than any other natural oil available.
Using biodiesel reduces tailpipe emissions in cars and trucks. The large volumes of palm oil available create stable supply streams and drive down pricing. The Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was created in 2002 to repair the reputation of palm oil and save an oil with so much potential. The RSPO was initiated by Unilever, AAK, Migros, MPOA (Malyasian Palm Oil Ass.) and WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature) (RSPO.org/about). A few who started the RSPO certainly had financial motivation for its genesis but principals like WWF and Migros to be motivated by the efficiency of palm oil, its potential as a viable biofuel and the health of our planet. Sadly, there is a mound of evidence documenting that the RSPO as currently established is unable to self-monitor, halt the rampant corruption seen between growers, auditors and government officials, or protect the environment that it claims to serve.
The RSPO relies upon 3rd party auditors to verify member adherence to RSPO Principals &Criteria. Auditors place excessive trust in client assessments with the burden of proof of violations falling on complainants which are NGOs and community members. These groups do not have the finances or staff to adequately police the oil palm industry. There is a pervasive culture of patronage politics in these regions (Varkkey, 2012). Board positions in oil palm companies are coveted opportunities among retired government officials.
RSPO certified palm oil produced by RSPO certified growers has been found to be created through the destruction of primary forest and peat land resulting in habitat destruction of critically endangered species (EIA, Who Watches the Watchmen, 2015). Practices used to clear primary rainforest and peatland produce as much greenhouse gas as what is seen from the combustion of fossil fuels. Palm oil is also produced using child and forced labor (US Dept. of Labor; Finnwatch, The Law of the Jungle, 2015).
The United Nations Program on Reducing Emissions (UN-REDD) stated that “[w]hile RSPO and other standards require certain provisions that would in principle limit deforestation there is very little quantitative evidence that this is actually the case.” Evidence that does exist is a recent NASA study which provided space-based confirmation that the Earth’s tropical regions during 2015 & 2016 were the cause of the largest annual increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide seen in at least 2,000 years. NASA satellite recorded atmospheric carbon dioxide increases that were 50% larger than the average increase seen in recent years. These increases equate to 6.3Gt of carbon. Researchers noted that tropical Asia’s increased carbon release came mainly from Indonesia & was largely due to increased peat and forest fires. (WASHINGTON, Oct. 12, 2017 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/).
“Companies are turning a blind eye to exploitation of workers in their supply chain. Despite promising customers that there will be no exploitation in their palm oil supply chains, big brands continue to profit from appalling abuses. These findings will shock any consumer who thinks they are making ethical choices in the supermarket when they buy products that claim to use sustainable palm oil,” said Meghna Abraham, Senior Investigator at Amnesty International.
“Corporate giants like Colgate, Nestlé and Unilever assure consumers that their products use ‘sustainable palm oil’, but our findings reveal that the palm oil is anything but. There is nothing sustainable about palm oil that is produced using child labour and forced labour. Something is wrong when nine companies turning over a combined revenue of $325 billion in 2015 are unable to do something about the atrocious treatment of palm oil workers earning a pittance.”
It is the Palm Free Council’s belief that palm and palm kernel oils as currently produced are simply not sustainable. Any claims of sustainably sourced palm or palm kernel oils are simply greenwashing and misleading the consumer.